`Fluid Movement' is silly, but not watered down

Charming film has roots in Baltimore

Maryland Film Festival

Film Column

May 03, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Fluid Movement is so quintessentially Bawlamer, so uncomplicatedly good-hearted, that when it's over, all you want to do is wrap your arms around it and call it Hon.

This 22-minute documentary from Baltimore native Beth Pacunas, set for a screening at 6 tonight at the Charles as part of the Maryland Film Festival, lets us watch as a group of performance artists coerce a bunch of everyday Joes and Janes into staging a water ballet at the Patterson Park pool.

The result - "A way to live in a '50s musical," says organizer Keri Burneston, a self-described "visual artist" who obviously grew up on a steady diet of Esther Williams - is a joyously amateurish, marginally synchronized aquatic extravaganza buoyed by good spirits and simple intentions.

And Fluid Movement is just one of more than a dozen feature-length and short films depicting life in the city that plays host to the festival, a welcome fixture on the local cultural scene for going on four years now.

"We love showing things that have their roots here in Baltimore," says festival head Jed Dietz, while stressing that films are selected based on the quality of the work, not the hometown of the filmmakers. "Each one of these [local films] sort of speaks to things that we like."

What the folks in Fluid Movement are doing may seem utterly hokey and more than a little silly, but that's the point. Pacunas' non-judgmental camera is content to just watch as events play out, letting the pictures and the people say what they want. And what they want to say is, "Hon, let's have some fun."

The film's title, taken from the name of the performance troupe, picks up the story in early summer 2001, as auditions are held for Cirque de L'Amour, an hour of synchronized swimming and other aquatic exhibitions planned for July. The folks who show up are not all fine physical specimens, and some of them wouldn't know synchronized swimming from synchronized watches. But not a one of them cares about all that.

"I kind of undulate like a fish," says one land-bound gentleman, who proceeds to demonstrate a sort of pseudo-cheerleader gyration of the type once made famous by Wild Bill Hagy. "That's my best move, I think."

Another offers that "I came today because I like acting," before adding, almost as an afterthought, "I like water."

Pacunas, who two years ago put together a delightful (and award-winning) short about Little Italy's annual Outdoor Film Festival, has a welcome knack for allowing people to tell their own stories; her camera offers a welcoming platform from which to speak, without then turning around and grafting her own point of view onto what they say. It's not always easy to let events stand on their own, but she does, with ingratiating results.

The people responsible for Cirque de L'Amour are "formidably sincere," Megan Hamilton, head of Baltimore's Creative Alliance, says in an on-camera interview. She goes on to label them "cute," and mean it as a compliment.

"There just isn't a lot of cute out there," she says. Fluid Movement will make you realize how unfortunate that is.

(Admission to Fluid Movement, including a live performance by some of the stars of Cirque de L'Amour, requires a separate $15 ticket, available where festival tickets are sold. A portion of the ticket price will benefit Fluid Movement, the performance art group.)

Other local films

Other films shot in and around Baltimore, usually by local filmmakers, include:

The Last Season: The Life and Death of Memorial Stadium (5 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday), a work-in-progress from first-time directors Charles Cohen and Joseph Mathew, looks at both the history of the stadium and the unsuccessful fight to preserve at least a part of it.

Love, Josh (9 p.m. Friday, with Adrift), from Oscar winners Susan Hadary and William Whiteford (King Gimp), watches as a 15-year-old Gilman student deals with his father's death from liver cancer.

The Season: Cal Ripken, Jr. (6 p.m. Saturday), a co-production of ESPN and Major League Baseball, follows Cal as he plays in what would be his final season as an active ballplayer. The Iron Man himself will be on hand.

Soft for Digging (9:30 p.m. Saturday), a mystery shot on a tiny budget in the woods of Maryland (shades of The Blair Witch Project), is the story of an elderly loner who witnesses the murder of a young girl and becomes obsessed with convincing the police it really happened.

Talking to Strangers (1 p.m. Saturday), Rob Tregenza's 1988 drama - filmed in a series of 10-minute, single-shot takes - follows a budding artist as he travels through Charm City and meets an assortment of the characters living therein.

Several shorts were shot in the area, including Todd Rohal's Hillbilly Robot (included in "Comedy Shorts," 11 a.m. Sunday); Josh Slates' Here and There ("Shorts 1," noon Friday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday); Danny Meltzer's Fater and Robbie Chafitz's Time Out ("Shorts 3," 12:30 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday); and Patrick Duaghters' Any Creature ("Slamdance Shorts," 2 p.m. Sunday).

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