It's that time of year again, when film fans salivate and film critics duck for cover. It's film festival time. Movies. Lots and lots of movies, some of them good, some of them bad, some of them strange, some of them weird, but all of them . . . movies.
It's the 23d edition of the annual Baltimore International Film Festival, opening April 1 at the Senator Theatre and then running at the Baltimore Museum of Art for the next four weekends in April. The festivities accumulate until 21 different features, a double-feature program and three programs of short films have been shown.
"We've put together an eclectic festival that brings the best of current world cinema to Maryland audiences," said Victoria Westover, festival director and executive director of the Baltimore Film Forum, which administers the festival.
The festival opens with "Daughters of the Dust," a highly praised first effort by Julie Dash that examines the culture of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands off South Georgia. The Gullahs have remained true to their African ways and are reluctant to emigrate to the mainland; the movie is set on a day at the turn of the century when one family decides to make such a move. It is said to be extremely visual and, presumably, will look gorgeous on the Senator's big screen. A champagne reception at 7:30 p.m. precedes the 8:30 screening.
On April 2 -- this and all subsequent screenings will move to the Baltimore Museum of Art -- the Mexican film "Cabeza de Vaca" will be shown at 8 p.m. Set in the years after Columbus' discovery of the New World, it chronicles the journey of a Spanish aristocrat through the Americas of the 1520s. Directed by Nicolas Echevarria, the film makes the point that the pre-Christian Americas were themselves cultures of intense spirituality.
Another Spanish-culture film runs at 7 p.m. April 3. This is "Confessing to Laura," directed by Jaime Osorio Gomez. Set in Colombia's deadly civil war of the late '40s, it follows an extramarital affair, drawing power from the juxtaposition of the political and the domestic. It was Colombia's entry to this year's Academy Awards. At 9 p.m., "In the Shadow of the Stars" will be shown. A backstage documentary, it covers the chorus of the San Francisco Opera, and finds a group of singers obsessed with stardom and ambition. Directed by Irving Saraf and Allie Light, it's another Oscar nominee.
The early show, at 7 p.m. April 4, is "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One." It's a relic from the '60s, directed by William Greaves as a "mix of drama, cinema verite and improvisation." Filmed in Central Park, it begins with a plot but then permutes into something quite strange, including a mutiny by its own crew. Mr. Greaves will be there to explain everything when the movie is done. The late show, at 9:30, is "Proof," an Australian psychological thriller about a blind photographer, his friend and his lover, who become involved in an intense plot. Writer-director Jocelyn Moorhouse was nominated for seven Australian Academy Awards and received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival for this film, which will go into national release this spring.
On April 5, the 7 p.m. screening is "Thank You and Good Night!" A personal film by Jan Oxenberg, it begins as an account of her grandmother's life but transmutes into a kind of early Woody Allen essay on comic angst and being a Jewish-American. Oxenberg herself will appear after the screening.
The 23d Baltimore Independent Film and Video Makers competition winners will be shown April 9 at 7 p.m. The program consists of 11 short features, including competition winner "The Japanese Version," by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker.
For the prurient, "The Good Woman of Bangkok" (7 p.m., April 10) should prove irresistible. Directed by Australian adventurer Dennis O'Rourke, it penetrates Bangkok's oldest profession as it studies the life of a prostitute. The director is one of her customers, and he will be there to answer questions after the screening. The late show (9:30 p.m.) that night is "Tinpis Run," billed as "the first fiction feature ever made in New Guinea, and by a native Papuan" director. Directed by Pengau Nengo, it follows a Papuan chief who is trying to live in both his ancient culture and modern times as the owner of a taxi company.
A classic returns at 7 p.m. April 11, when the film that some consider the most suspenseful ever made is shown in a restored version. This is Henri-Georges Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear," about four end-of-the-road European losers who volunteer to drive a nitroglycerin shipment through the jungles of Brazil to put out oil well fires at a remote site. Hit a bump and go boom! The movie stars Yves Montand. It was a great world-wide hit back in 1953, but 43 minutes of anti-corporate American sentiment, references to homosexuality and views of Third World poverty were eliminated. This is the complete version, all 148 minutes.