Cinema paradise

UP FRONT

Whirlwind: A dizzying array of movies descends upon Baltimore for the new Maryland Film Festival, starting tonight. Here are a few suggestions to help you shape four perfect days in dreamland.

April 22, 1999|By ANN HORNADAY AND CHRIS KALTENBACH | ANN HORNADAY AND CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN FILM CRITIC; SUN STAFF

After weeks of anticipation, it's finally here: Opening night of the new Maryland Film Festival, which will unspool starting tonight at the Senator Theatre with a gala screening of Barry Levinson's home-movie documentary, "Diner Guys."

But that's the easy part. "Diner Guys," which traces the lives of the men who inspired Levinson's 1982 movie "Diner" over nine years, is the only thing playing tonight (the screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Levinson, then with a block party at the Charles Theatre on Charles Street). For three days starting tomorrow, expect a frustrating amount of hair-tearing when it comes time to decide which film to see.

More than 50 films will be shown throughout the long weekend, many of them only once, creating quandaries of Solomonic proportions. How to choose, for example, between a big-screen showing of "Duck Soup" and the rarely seen 1940 classic "Pastor Hall"? How can any self-respecting cinephile possibly choose between seeing underground auteur Adolfas Mekas' "Hallelujah the Hills" -- an antic homage to cinema -- and a screening of "The Leopard" -- the uncut, un-dubbed version! -- introduced by painter Donald Sultan? And just how long does it take to drive from the Charles to the Orpheum?

We can't answer the last question (we'll be finding out ourselves over the course of the next few days), but we can offer some guidance. We've come up with some suggestions regarding how to map out your days at the festival, designed to maximize the number and diversity of films seen.

Bear in mind that the festival has left several slots open to re-screen films that prove to be audience favorites, so don't make that angry phone call yet. And remember the cardinal rule of any festival: an open mind and a flexible temperament guarantee a good time.

Herewith, The Sun's idea of three perfect days at the Maryland Film Festival. And remember, all times are subject to change.

Friday

This being Day One of the real festival (now that the Opening Night festivities are over), we're going to try and ease you into things. Which means a day heavy on eclectic (from war films to exploitation flix), but light on shoe leather (you won't have to set foot outside the Charles).

Kick off things at 11:30 a.m. with "Pastor Hall," a rarely seen British war film from 1940 (here in a restored, uncut print) that was essentially banned from American theaters upon its release. Although its champions included no lesser a figure than Eleanor Roosevelt, its depiction of the Nazi concentration camps -- then only a horrible rumor to many -- was thought too strong for American audiences. "Pastor Hall" is based on the true story of Pastor Martin Niemuller, sent to Dachau for criticizing the Nazi Party. Director Ray Boulting's almost half-century career would later include Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn in "There's a Girl In My Soup."

At 2:30 p.m., Baltimorean Lisa Lewenz's "Letter Without Words" uses home-movie footage shot by her grandmother to look at life among the Jewish population of 1930s Germany. That's preceded by director Mark Pellington's "Father's Daze," a portrait of his father, Baltimore Colts great Bill Pellington and his struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

There's some time between shows here, so it might be a good idea to grab a quick bite (food will be available at the theater) before the 4 p.m. screening of Baltimore filmmaker Paul Zinder's "Mom Mom Loves Herbert," a multi-generational look at his family prompted by an examination of his parents' mixed marriage (one's Jewish, the other's Catholic).

The fare's been pretty heavy so far, but that's going to change quickly. At 5:30 p.m., those who don't offend easily will want to sample exploitation mistress Doris Wishman's "Nude On the Moon," as two guys make themselves a rocket ship, blast off for the moon and discover it's home to a giant nudist colony! See this, and ponder how it could have been excluded from the American Film Institute's best-of list. (Bonus: Wishman herself is scheduled to be there as host for the screening).

Next up may be the highlight of the entire festival, as John Waters introduces one of his favorite films at 8 p.m. -- Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Noel Coward (!) unwittingly combining to produce a bad-taste classic, "Boom!" (based on a Tennessee Williams play, no less). Waters says he was once invited to a party at Taylor's and told her how much he loved the film; she regarded him as one would a stalker, and he's never been invited back. Who needs a better recommendation?

After (finally) grabbing some dinner, it's time for the nightcap, an 11:30 p.m. double-feature that begins with Mike Mitchell's short film, "Herd," the tale of a fry cook and an almond-eyed alien visitor. Your day at the festival ends with Canadian director John Paizs' "Crime Wave," with Paizs and Baltimore underground auteur Skizz Cyzyk as hosts. Says festival organizer Jed Dietz, "God knows what this thing is going to be like."

Saturday

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