Recapturing the Allure of Silent Era

The 4th Annual Maryland Film Festival

Thursday May 2nd Through Sunday May 5th

May 02, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Movie Critic

When the first Maryland Film Festival unspooled in 1999, one of the unquestioned highlights was a screening of the 1924 silent version of Peter Pan, complete with live musical accompaniment. This year, finally, the festival is going to try and capture that same sort of magic again, but with a twist.

Claire (11 a.m.) is a brand-new, 57-minute silent film, shot with a hand-cranked 35mm movie camera and shown with an original score performed live -- in this case by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

Director Milford Thomas based his film -- the story of a young girl found in an ear of corn by an elderly male couple -- on a Japanese fairy tale, but set it in the 1920s American South.

Everything about the look of the film is meant to invoke the silent era, when the magic of a film meant what you could do inside the camera, not what you could do on a computer backed by umpteen-million-dollars'-worth of technology. Expect to be beguiled.

At 1:30 p.m., Le Grand Blanc de Lamberene offers yet another look at the life and career of the late Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer. But this modern documentary, shot on location at Schweitzer's hospital in Gabon, offers a twist: It tells his story from the African perspective. The portrait that emerges is not entirely positive.

Jazz composer and Towson University band director Hank Levy, who died last year, is profiled in A Head of Time, Ahead of Time (4 p.m.). Directors Richard and Ruth Slade interviewed Levy, as well as many of his students, to press an argument that he deserves a far more lofty position in the world of jazz than perhaps his reputation suggests. Who knew Towson was such a hotbed of jazz?

By now, you're probably all festivaled out, but take heart: There's only one more film to go. As part of its mission to spotlight movies deserving greater recognition than they've received thus far, MFF 2002 is closing with Madison ( 7 p.m.), starring Jim Caviezel, Bruce Dern and Mary McCormack in the tale of a dying Indiana river town making one last stab at glory -- by not only serving as host for a major hydroplane-boat race, but by sponsoring a boat as well.

"This is just one of those films that was a hit at Sundance a year ago, then looked like it might fall through the cracks, but now looks like it's going to get a major studio release," says MFF major domo Jed Dietz. "We wanted to be one of the forces that helped it along."

As the last images of the festival fade away, be sure and relive some of the highlights at the closing-night party, set to take place in a tent outside Heritage Cinema. A ticket to Madison or an all-access festival pass will get you in. Expect plenty of good food, good music and good vibes, as plans get under way for MFF 2003.

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