May gathers movie mavens

Waters, Levinson to appear at Maryland Film Festival

April 07, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

John Waters and Barry Levinson together again: that's one of the highlights Maryland Film Festival director Jed Dietz has announced for the event to be held May 1-4 at the Senator and Charles theaters and the Walters Art Museum.

Waters and Levinson helped launch the Maryland Film Festival in 1999 and both will attend the fifth annual festival: Waters to present one of his favorite films (a wildly popular yearly happening), and Levinson in a role not yet decided.

They will join other filmmakers such as Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song) and diverse non-film personalities such as Time columnist Margaret Carlson, Baltimore Ravens defensive coach Mike Singletary, and 60 Minutes II correspondent Vicky Mabry in a four-day celebration with a distinct Baltimore flavor.

With urban warmth, rascality and bigger-than-life hair, the movie and the musical of Hairspray have sold the city's character to the world. The festival acknowledges that phenomenon in its new poster, which includes a Baltimore "Hon" with teased locks and fabulous '50s-'60s clothing - and Hairspray film creator Waters in a tasteful turtleneck.

More important, the festival has developed unique traits and programs of its own. Dietz believes that a festival should be a place where movie-lovers and moviemakers come together. So he won't schedule a picture unless someone connected to its production or its subject agrees to field questions about it from the audience.

Along with programming manager Skizz Cyzyk and programming administrator Dan Krovich, Dietz likes to link movies with more general culture, high and low - and society, and politics. That's why, back in '99, MFF instituted the Guest Host program of people outside the film world showcasing movies of their choice. This year Carlson will introduce Hitchcock's sexiest and most topical thriller, Notorious (1946), about uranium and Nazis in South America, starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Mabry's and Singletary's selections will be named later.

Because of MFF's broad view and the creative explosion in fact-based filmmaking, the festival always includes a wide selection of documentaries - and doesn't ghettoize them as sidebar presentations. (In 2003, the nonfiction films may end up comprising 60 percent to 65 percent of the total schedule.)

Cyzyk in particular champions Horns and Halos, a movie that details the controversy surrounding J.H. Hatfield's George W. Bush biography, Fortunate Son - and raises questions of whether the media's tarring and feathering of Hatfield was part of a broader plan by Bush supporters to squelch investigations into the president's wild past. Dietz holds up with pride the similarly iconoclastic Unprecedented, a movie that had other festivals running scared because it exposes the long-term Republican strategy behind the fight for Florida's votes in the 2000 presidential election. On more of an Animal Planet than a C-SPAN note, Krovich singles out Shelter Dogs, a documentary that humanizes - maybe the right word is "caninizes" - the debate over whether abandoned dogs should be put down or be allowed to live the rest of their days in a shelter.

As the programmer for Baltimore's offbeat movie festival MicroCineFest, Cyzyk has for years been keeping tabs on the makers of Horns and Halos. Writer Taylor Branch (Parting the Waters) brought Unprecedented to Dietz's attention. And Krovich first saw Shelter Dogs in New York as a work in progress for the Independent Feature Project.

But for the first time this year, the festival staff veered from an invitation-only policy, called for entries - and struck gold. Among the submissions Dietz and company programmed are the documentaries American Eunuchs, about castration; One Small Step: The Story of the Space Chimps; and This is Duckpin Country, the tale of a duckpin bowling alley in Federal Hill.

The festival maintains its reputation for cutting-edge fare with 11 shorts programs, including Feast for the Senses - according to Cyzyk, a parade of fantastic creations of surefire appeal to Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton fans. Also certain to be a standout, says Dietz, is Bill Morrison's 1996 The Film of Her, a 12-minute account of one man's eroticized obsession with early archival film footage. And the festival will see the North American premiere of Isaac Julien's three-screen abstract movie Baltimore at the Walters, with Van Peebles in attendance. He appears in the movie both as himself and as a double.

On the music front there's Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, recounting the amazing resurrection of a forgotten American club singer, and King of Bluegrass: Jimmy Martin. The unique Alloy Orchestra - the percussion-instrument equivalent of the dancers in Stomp - will provide live accompaniment for a new print of Douglas Fairbanks' swashbuckling Technicolor spectacular, The Black Pirate.

The festival hasn't forgotten Baltimore's taste for funk. No tributes have been announced on a par with 2001's salute to Herschell Gordon Lewis, the schlockmeister of Blood Feast. But Waters has selected French director Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone, and the festival has also programmed Noe's new Irreversible - and Noe is like Herschell Gordon Lewis for highbrows.

For ticket information and scheduling, go to or call 410-752-8083.

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