Festival was just a little different


May 10, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Some thoughts on last weekend's fourth-annual Maryland Film Festival, which attracted a record 9,780 paying customers.

Festival organizers had to be happy with the turnout for Thursday's opening night, as an estimated 650 people turned out for "10 Under 20," a program of shorts made by filmmakers not normally thought of as major drawing cards.

What they saw was cutting-edge but refreshingly accessible filmmaking, highlighted by Brooke Keesling's charming animated Boobie Girl, Robbie Chafitz's disarming Time Out (a combination of Bugsy Malone and Boyz 'N the Hood) and Mitchell Rose's hilarious How to Speak Body - Tape 5.

As the opening night attendance suggests, there seemed to be an awful lot of people at the MFF willing to try something different. A lot of people came to experience the festival, rather than to see a specific movie: It wasn't unusual to spy couples in the Charles Theatre lobby staring at the schedule, deciding what looked intriguing, then buying tickets.

The most enjoyable surprise of the weekend came Sunday, when director Melvin Van Peebles made an unbilled appearance in support of his film, the groundbreaking blaxploitation flick Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Thirty-one years after the film was released, Van Peebles is still fighting The Man at every turn - with a sly smile on his face.

The award for the most nimble act of diplomacy goes to young Rachel Ripken, daughter of Cal and Kelly, who obviously has perfected the art of taking sides without taking sides. The scene was the post-screening discussion of The Season, a riveting and comprehensive look at the Iron Man's final season by director Mitchell Scherr. After mom and dad testily disagreed over whether he is spending more time at home since his retirement, dad asked Rachel who was right. "I am," she replied.

Speaking of baseball, hats off to Charles Cohen and Joseph Mathew, whose The Last Season: The Life and Demolition of Memorial Stadium, brought tears to the eyes of the faithful who showed up for Friday afternoon's screening. The film could use a little more context, to help those not familiar with the stadium's sad fate understand why what happened happened. But to those who cherished the old ballpark for what it meant to the city and its people, watching it was an emotional experience.

John Waters did nothing to tarnish his legendary outlandishness with his choice for this year's festival, Fuego, an Argentinian soft-core porn film from 1969 starring the decidedly top-heavy (and outlandishly hammy) Isabel Sarli - and directed by her husband, Armando Bo. They don't make eyelashes like Isabel's anymore.

The most unexpected hit was Kevin Fitzgerald's Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, a documentary look at some of music's most rhymin' DJs. Both screenings, at the Charles and at the Heritage Cinema on North Avenue, played to standing-room-only audiences.

As for the most talked-about film, that was probably Judith Helfland's Blue Vinyl, a serious but light-hearted look (an odd combination, but it works) at the environmental hazards posed by vinyl siding. People either loved it or hadn't seen it; there didn't seem to be much of a middle ground.

The weekend's biggest draw, according to organizer Jed Dietz, was Saturday morning's showing of the 1953 3-D film House of Wax. I seriously doubt it was because I served as host.

Cinema Sundays

The Cat's Meow, Peter Bogdanovich's take on the 1924 death of director Thomas Ince and rumors that William Randolph Hearst was responsible (Ince fell sick on Hearst's yacht), is this week's feature for Cinema Sundays at the Charles.

The film stars Edward Herrmann as Hearst, Kirsten Dunst as his mistress, actress Marion Davies, Cary Elwes as Ince and Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin, the man some people believe Hearst was really after.

Tickets for the 10:30 a.m. Sunday show are $15, and include coffee and bagels. Information: www.cinemasundays.com or 410-727-FILM.

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