Closing Credits

Quirky movies and lots of movie talk, rather than glamour and prizes, make the Maryland Film Festival a hit.

May 07, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

This year's Maryland Film Festival may go down as the year Baltimore's annual celebration of all things cinematic had to go it alone - and did just fine, thank you.

Its first two years, the MFF kicked off with a never-seen Barry Levinson film and an Oscar-winning short subject; this year, it opened with a documentary by a member of the festival's advisory board. Although the four-day event always has focused on filmmakers rather than actors, previous festivals brought out such familiar faces as Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, Jill Hennessy, even the Amazing Randi; except for festival mainstay John Waters, this past weekend brought nary a star to Baltimore.

Even the festival's Guest Host program, which asks local celebrities to introduce a screening of their favorite film, took a different tack this year. Instead of such big-name films as "The Godfather" (former mayor Kurt Schmoke) or "The Wizard of Oz" (Attorney General Joe Curran) or even Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Predator" (Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson), Mayor Martin O'Malley presented the obscure "Into the West," a delightfully mythic film about two young Irish Gypsies, a magical white horse and a love that never dies.

But if the big draws were missing from this year's festival, few seemed to notice. Attendance at the Charles was steady; even Friday morning's offerings, which normally draw sparse crowds, put people in the seats. Scattered screenings throughout the weekend sold out, (including "Plaster Caster," the story of a woman whose hobby is crafting models of male rock stars' genitals).

Movie talk dominated the 5900 block of Charles Street the entire weekend, as people took the opportunity to discuss film with like-minded strangers.

And enthusiasm wasn't limited to the host venue. Nearly packed houses assembled at the Heritage Cinemahouse on North Avenue, the site of eight film screenings and a Saturday-night party. And more than 250 people gathered at Bengies Drive-In Saturday night to welcome director Herschell Gordon Lewis, who arrived in a hearse for a showing of his 1964 gorefest, "2,000 Maniacs."

There were many highlights of the weekend, beginning with the spirited discussions that followed Thursday's opening-night screening of Lynne Sachs' documentary on the Catonsville Nine, "Investigation of a Flame" (and were reprised Saturday, during both an encore screening of Sachs' film and a showing of the antiwar documentary "Unfinished Symphony: Democracy and Dissent").

Surprise appearance

Young actress Sarah Stusek, so good as the 10-year-old victim in "Riders," made a surprise appearance at Saturday night's screening of that film.

And film editor Paul Seydor pulled double duty Friday, waxing eloquent about his work on and passion for both a film ("Cobb") and a director (Sam Peckinpah, the subject of Seydor's documentary, "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage").

The filmmakers, too, seemed to enjoy the festival's laid-back atmosphere. No big money deals get made, and no prizes are awarded; as Dan Mirvish, co-founder of the annual Slamdance Festival, noted, it's no fun making friends with a fellow filmmaker, then losing to them in a competition. It was a weekend for cinephiles only.

"That makes it a little less stressful for the filmmakers," said "American Chai" director Anurag Mehta. "They can just enjoy showing their films to an audience."

Sure, the weekend wasn't glitch-free. The inevitable projection bugs popped up; animator Rachel Max, for example, good-naturedly endured twice having her short, "I Was a Strip Club Virgin," start without sound. One filmmaker, "The Opponent" director Eugene Jarecki, found himself stuck in New York and couldn't make it to town.

Police repeatedly ticketed cars parked on Lanvale Street, even though festival organizers had received permission to let people park there for free. (One suggestion: Stop using bags marked "No Stopping or Standing: Tow Away Zone" to cover the meters.)

And filmmakers who took advantage of the festival's offer of free Orioles tickets had to endure a four-game sweep by the Yankees.

But in the end, none of that doused festivalgoers' enthusiasm - there were too many great films and fascinating filmmakers that took your mind elsewhere.


Selected snapshots from Maryland Film Festival 2001:

They're definitely not for everyone, but the campy, blood-splattered films of goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis certainly have a following. And those fans turned out in force Friday night for a showing of his 1972 film, "The Gore Gore Girls," a murder mystery set inside a strip club and brimming with the usual raunch, violence and toplessness.

His fans, pardon the expression, ate it up.

"It was great, how the gore scenes were drawn out beyond comprehension," said Rob Miller. "It became absurd, how long the scenes were."

"It looked like a lot of fun to make it," chimed in his friend, Mary Stewart. "It makes you want to go out and get a camera and make a movie yourself."

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