20th Annual Maryland Film Festival
Jed Dietz, the Founding Director of MDFF, points out that the Parkway Theatre and his organization has been a rallying point for art house films, cinema classics, as well as prestige pictures, the likes of which could go on to win Oscars. It’s also been a rallying point for diversity and inclusivity on the big screen. The whole operation has also been a showcase for students.
This year seems to be no different. The slate of films playing at MDFF 2018 is diverse and inclusive. It also includes a few new voices, some students but emerging artists on the rise as well. A few of which have local connections to either Baltimore or the nearby Maryland area.
John Waters is the transgressive filmmaker from Baltimore who is known world-wide for his cult films. The last film he directed was in 2004. Waters turned 72 this year, but he’s still very much active. He mainly works as a public speaker, writer and author, but every year since MDFF began, Waters has hosted a film here, which has been held up as a centerpiece.
John Waters Presents is what his centerpieces are called. This year, Waters presents I, Olga Hepnarová, which was number-two on Waters’ Best of 2017 list in Artforum, an international monthly magazine. Waters describes the film as “a hypnotic black-and-white docudrama based on the case of a pretty, twenty-two-year-old chain-smoking lesbian from Prague who in 1973 hopped in a truck and mowed down twenty pedestrians on a sidewalk.” It’s a description that put to shame my personal number-two movie of 2017, I, Tonya.
Opening night is Wednesday, May 2 and will take place at 8PM at the Parkway Theatre. There will only be one showing that night. That showing will be a collection of six, short films, ranging in length from 5 to 19 minutes. These shorts, simply called Opening Night Shorts, are being hosted by Bradford Young, a celebrated cinematographer who is African-American. He was nominated for an Oscar for Arrival (2016), making him the first African-American to be up for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards and only the second black person in history. Young was the Director of Photography for Mother of George, which was the Closing Night Film at MDFF 2013. Last year, Young directed the short film and music video Black America Again, which was set in Baltimore.
Opening Night Shorts include Accident, MD by Dan Rybicky, which centers on the actual town named Accident in western Maryland about ten miles equidistant from both Pennsylvania and West Virginia’s borders. The Opening Night Shorts also include Hair Wolf by Mariama Diallo about cultural appropriation, The Jump Off (pictured above) by Jovan James about a possible, spiritual sequel to Moonlight (2016) and Milk by Heather Young (no relation to Bradford) about a pregnant dairy farmer. Tickets are $100 and gets you a meet-and-greet with the filmmakers and access to an after-party.
The closing night is Sunday, May 6 and the Closing Night Film is All Square (pictured above) by John Hyams. It’s about a small-town bookie who starts betting on Little League games. It’s a working-class comedy that revolves around a scummy character. It stars Michael Kelly who’s from Philadelphia but he’s worked over the past few years in House of Cards, which is shot in and around Baltimore. The same is true for Hyams’ movie, principally setting up shop in Dundalk, a suburb of Baltimore on its south side near the Chesapeake Bay.
Another notable film is Charm City by Marilyn Ness. Ness is an Emmy-winning producer of non-fiction. This documentary follows three people, the head of the Rose Street Community Center, a captain in the Baltimore Police Department and a city councilman. Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter calls it the documentary-equivalent to HBO’s The Wire, as Ness culls together three years of studying East Baltimore’s issues like having the highest per capital murder rate.
Don’t Leave Home by Michael Tully is his fourth, narrative feature. It’s a thriller about a female artist who looks into strange disappearances in the Irish countryside. WBOC interviewed Tully nearly six years ago as he was about to make his previous narrative Ping Pong Summer (2014) about a ping pong player in 1980’s Ocean City, Md.
Father’s Kingdom by Lenny Feinberg teaches us about George Baker, a civil rights activist somewhere between Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King, Jr. who came from Rockville, Md. and rose to prominence in the 1930’s. Baker aka “Father Divine” created the International Peace Mission, which were properties all over the world that were home to Baker’s religious orders that were mainly about promoting desegregated living but also things like celibacy and strict modesty.
Sollers Point (pictured above) by Matthew Porterfield is named after Sollers Point Road, a two-lane strip in Dundalk where the movie is set. Porterfield follows an ex-convict on house arrest, living with his dad, played by Jim Belushi, and trying to re-adjust to life on the outside. I interviewed Porterfield nearly eight years ago when his film Putty Hill (2010) played at the Chesapeake Film Festival and the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival that year. Porterfield is a Baltimore native and even teaches at the Krieger School at Johns Hopkins University.
This is Home by Alexandra Shiva documents Syrian refugees who are involved with the Baltimore International Rescue Committee (IRC). Shiva tackles the experience of relocation, displacement, culture clashes, racism and PTSD.
We Are Animals by Jeremiah Zagar is an adaptation of a 2011 novel about a boy in upstate New York having a tough childhood along side his brothers. Some have called it this year’s Moonlight (2016). It doesn’t deal with the poverty and drug culture of that film but it does touch upon a boy dealing with possible same-sex attraction. There isn’t a Maryland connection here, but Zagar is from Philadelphia and still provides for those within this tri-state area to feel a kind of regional kinship.
MDFF 2018 begins May 2 and runs till May 6.
For more information, showtimes and tickets, go to https://mdfilmfest.com/.