22nd annual series will run April 4-28

FILM FESTIVAL PUTS OFFBEAT ON SCREEN

March 17, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Just when you thought it was safe to go to the Baltimore Museum of Art, they're back.

They are the planners of the 22nd annual Baltimore International Film Festival, that yearly orgy of the avant garde and the offbeat and, in some cases, the off guard, which they're set to unleash over four weekends in April.

"We're trying to bring the kind of original cinema to Baltimore that's not on the normal art house circuit and might not ever get here otherwise," says George Udel, the festival program director, who booked the films this year. And, as before, there's a Saturday afternoon children's festival contained within the larger event (see accompanying box).

Films will be presented Thursdays to Sundays during the four weekends in April. The breakdown looks like this:

April 4: A selection of shorts called "Director's Choice" opens the festival at 7:30 p.m. The films include "A Little Vicious," directed by Immy Humes, the longest at 30 minutes, an engaging documentary about a town faced with a pit bull problem; "Lunch Date," directed by Adam Davidson; and "Touch My Lips," directed by Jim Garrard. The last film is a world premiere, called "In Your Own Sweet Way," directed by Baltimorean Patrick Kahoe, who will introduce the film.

April 5: The festival offers as its 7:30 show "All the Vermeers in New York," by independent filmmaker Jon Jost. Set in the decadent upper strata of the Big Apple, it's about a stockbroker who falls in love with a French actress he meets at a Vermeer exhibition. But the movie itself is a Vermeer, shot with ultrafast film in such a way as to give it the texture of the 17th century Dutch artist's pallette.

At 9:15 p.m. Barbara Kopple's "American Dream" receives its Baltimore premiere. Kopple, a widely respected documentary filmmaker who won an Oscar for her "Harlan County, U.S.A.," has spent the past five years on this work, which covers a controversial labor strike at the Hormel Meat Packing plant in Austin, Minn. The film examines the issues brought on by labor-management conflicts as they affect rank-and-file membership over the long term. After the screening, Ms. Kopple and her associate Cathy Caplan will appear at a reception.

April 6: At 7:30, the festival presents the new Bertrand Tavernier film, "Life and Nothing But," also getting its Baltimore premiere. The great French filmmaker has of course made such films as "Coup de Torchon," "A Sunday in the Country," "Round Midnight" and "Beatrice." He has collaborated with Phillipe Noiret six times and "Life and Nothing But" marks the seventh; the film is about a casualties officer, after the Great War, trying to help two women find lovers who perished in battle. The movie will be followed at 10 by a champagne and dessert reception.

April 7: The festival continues its tradition of honoring a notable character actor with a "Biffy" statuette (the name derives from the sponsoring organization, the Baltimore Film Forum), as symbol of long years of excellent work. This year's recipient is Vincent Gardenia, who has appeared in movies high (he was the father in "Moonstruck") and low (he was the cop in "Death Wish") for many years. A selection of clips from Gardenia's career will be shown, as well as "Age-Old Friends," an HBO drama starring Gardenia and Hume Cronyn, set in a retirement home. The actor is expected to attend; a reception will follow the screening.

April 11: At 7:30 p.m., the American premiere of Alexander Surin's "The Arsonists," takes place. It's a look at juvenile delinquency, Soviet style, as a young woman named Sasha tries to beat the system at a "special industrial school," as the Soviets euphemistically call it.

The second showing that night, at 9:45, is a much anticipated film called "Driving Me Crazy," which is about itself. That is to say, director Nick Bromfield was hired to do a documentary on the making of a European stage show about black music; but it ends up being about Broomfield's attempt to get his film about the making of a documentary of a Broadway show finished, complete with fights with producers and writers, and his own anger at the show he nominally has been hired to chronicle. It's supposedly a classic of bickering.

April 12: The 7:30 showing is Barry Brown's "Lonely in America." Brown, an editor who has worked most notably with Spike Lee, directs a comic story of an Indian man who comes to the United States in search of the American dream but who cannot quite get with the American way.

The 9:15 show represents the directorial debut of the much respected English screenwriter Dennis Potter. Potter, who wrote Pennies From Heaven," "Dreamchild" and "Gorky Park," tells a story called "Blackeyes," in which fantasy and reality provocatively blur. In it an aging novelist (Michael Gough) "creates" a perfect woman, who nevertheless develops a mind of her own. Others in the film are Carol Royle, Nigel Planer and Gina Bellman.

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