Guide to viewing yourself silly)


The Maryland Film Festival


So many movies, so little time.

One hot ticket at this year's Maryland Film Festival will be tonight's local premiere of "King Gimp," Susan Hadary and William Whiteford's Academy Award-winning documentary about Towson artist Dan Keplinger. The screening at the Senator is sure to be splashy, but the weekend offers numerous other hot tickets. In fact, you'll have more than 100 films and shorts to pick from. To help you make the tough choices, we've created a road map of movie-going for each day of the festival.



A film festival should be festive, so A.J. Poulin's Los Angeles-shot documentary about dogs and their devoted owners seems like an ideal way to head into the Maryland Film Festival's first full day. As a bonus, the director and his dog are slated to introduce the morning screening at the Charles Theatre.

9:30 a.m. -- If canine cinema qualifies as a genre, "A.J.'s Dogumentary" promises to be a prime example. It should satisfy any questions you might have about such manifestations of pet-pampering as psychic readings and day care. Last year's inaugural Maryland Film Festival scored with some offbeat documentaries, and the feature-length "A. J.'s Dogumentary" sounds as though it'll be weird and wonderful. To further put you in the mood, it will be accompanied by a short film called "Sporting Dog." Best of all, you're invited to bring your own dog to this screening.

When the kennel, er, theater doors open, you'll have some free time before trotting off to the next film. The best place to hang out between films is the Charles' spacious lobby. Judging from last year's fest, it'll be a cinematic agora in which a diverse crowd will be trading opinions, eating snacks and refueling coffee cups.

One of the great things about film festivals is that we're all in this thing together, so it's common for perfect strangers (imperfect ones, too) to strike up conversations with you as you meander through the lobby.

12:15 p.m. -- Looking over the midday choices, you can hardly go wrong with whatever you select. I'm planning to get into a Cuban groove Friday afternoon. "La Esquina Caliente" is a documentary about the Orioles' 1999 trip to Cuba. This film, with co-directors Michael Skolnik and William O'Neill scheduled to speak, receives its American premiere in the same auditorium where you saw "A. J.'s Dogumentary."

2:15 p.m. -- As a Baltimorean, I have enough team spirit to want to watch them O's playing down in the land that birthed Elian. But I'm really excited about the program that follows. I first saw "I Am Cuba" (1964) at Colorado's Telluride Film Festival in 1992, where it dazzled movie buffs who in most cases had heard about this near-legendary film but never had an opportunity to see it.

Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov ("The Cranes Are Flying") shot this film at the height of the Cold War, when Cuba and the Soviet Union were going out of their way to express their friendship. The film doesn't have a plot so much as fictional characters who collectively amount to a portrait of post-revolutionary Cuban society. Kalatozov was so ardently supportive of the then-new Castro regime that his film verges on romantic delirium.

How you respond to the film's propaganda content is your business, but what everybody can admire is the film's dazzling form: sparkling black-and-white cinematography, highly mobile camera work and startling editing.

It's as bold as the films made decades earlier by the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein (especially his "Que Viva Mexico"). However, like a Fidel Castro speech, it goes on. In fact, it goes on for 141 minutes, and so you'll have to hustle to the next recommended screening and hope it starts a few minutes late.

4:30 p.m. -- Two programs are devoted to George and Mike Kuchar, twin brothers who made a name for themselves in New York avant-garde film circles in the early 1960s with ultra-low-budget, idiosyncratic films that are campy riffs on Hollywood melodramas. They influenced the likes of our own John Waters.

The first program is devoted to the brothers' recent video work. (A selection of their earlier films will be shown Saturday at 5 p.m.) The brothers, who originally co-directed their films but now work independently, will both be here for their festival programs.

8:00 p.m. -- You'll have plenty of time for dinner after your immersion in Kuchar culture. The don't-miss Friday-night attraction is the cult favorite (and little-known) "Clean, Shaven."

Director Lodge Kerrigan's unsettling debut feature concerns a schizophrenic man (played by Peter Greene) searching for his daughter. Incidentally, this man's odd habits include mutilating himself with a razor blade. What really makes the film memorable, though, is its densely textured soundtrack.

Although Kerrigan isn't scheduled to be here, "Clean, Shaven" will be introduced by the man who picked it for inclusion in this year's festival, John Waters, who knows a thing or 200 about unusual subject matter.

11:00 p.m. -- If you haven't had enough for one day, there are some late-night options. Among them is a screening of "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle," Julien Temple's 1980 British documentary about the pioneering punk rock band the Sex Pistols.

For those who want to party Friday night, there's a Filmmakers' Party starting at 9. It's off-site at the Charles Palace (the former Masonic Temple), 225 N. Charles St. This party is open to anybody with a ticket stub for any Friday program and anybody with an all-access festival pass.

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