Documentaries to dominate film fest

Some topics: TMI, Afghan women, Washington church


April 11, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The Maryland Film Festival, Baltimore's annual celebration of all things cinematic, will return for its sixth year next month with a slate of more than 150 movies, including a record number of shorts and a features schedule dominated by documentaries.

"The documentaries are just incredibly strong. You see that all around the festival world," says festival major-domo Jed Dietz, noting that buzz at January's Sundance Film Festival was dominated by the strong slate of documentaries. "There is a real energy in the filmmaking community that is all about the docs. ... It's so happening that great filmmakers like Barry Levinson are totally fascinated by them."

Among the offering at this year's festival, scheduled for May 6 to 9, will be what could be called a documentary-in-the-works from the Baltimore-born filmmaker, his partner on TV's Homicide: Life On the Street, Tom Fontana, and Ted Bogosian.

The film, 50/50, uses both documentary and fiction filmmaking techniques to look at genetics research and its effects on the early detection of Huntington's disease, a nervous condition passed down from generation to generation (folk singer Woody Guthrie was among its sufferers). A 20-minute compilation of scenes caused quite the stir at Sundance, Dietz says, primarily from filmmakers outraged at the mix of fiction and nonfiction storytelling.

"It was quite an explosive mix," Dietz says.

Other documentaries on the festival schedule (which Dietz estimates is 80 percent complete) include:

Afghanistan Unveiled, a look at female journalists working in male-dominated Afghanistan, where the former Taliban rulers took a dim view of women in the workplace.

Ann Coulter, a work-in-progress on the conservative author and commentator from Maryland Institute College of Art faculty member Patrick Wright that Dietz promises is "gonna blow people's minds."

Containment: Life After Three Mile Island, which concentrates on the people who have lived with the legacy of America's worst nuclear accident.

Heir to an Execution, filmmaker Ivy Meeropol's reflection on her grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed as Soviet spies in 1953.

Let the Church Say Amen, which spends time with the congregation of a storefront church in Washington.

Monster Road, the story of Bruce Bickford, an eccentric filmmaker of eclectic talents, best known (if known at all) for some claymation shorts he made to accompany songs by Frank Zappa.

Riding Giants, a look at hard-core surfers ("outlaw surfers," in Dietz's words) from Stacy Peralta, whose last film was the skateboard-pioneer epic Dogtown and Z-Boys.

For his part, Skizz Cyzyk, the festival's programming manager, says he's looking forward to the eclectic and extensive mix of shorts on tap for the festival, ranging from a musical whose hero has a fondness for attractive dead girls to a local film about defending oneself from scorpions. He also notes that this year's shorts, more than 100 in all, feature appearances from a number of celebrities, including Hank Azaria, Bob Odenkirk, Jim Belushi and John Stamos (in dual roles, no less).

"The number of shorts has almost doubled from last year," says Cyzyk. "Which is funny, since we'd decided that, this year, we were going to raise the bar on shorts. But there were a lot of good ones out there."

Among feature films to be shown at MFF 2004 are Sundance favorite Easy, about a young woman trying to figure out her love life; Love, Sex & Eating the Bones, a romantic comedy in which a man obsessed with pornography falls for a celibate advertising executive; Skin Deep, a love story between a black man and a white woman that was a big hit at last year's American Black Film Festival in Miami; and The Best Thief in the World, director Jacob Kornbluth's story of a woman seeking her identity on the lonely streets of New York City.

Other expected highlights of the festival:

The Story of the Weeping Camel, a film shot in Mongolia that uses local people and animals to tell the story of a family that raises camels, including one that was rejected by its mother as a newborn. ("It's the most beautiful, wonderful story," says Dietz.)

A discussion with Irish director Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father), with Sun movie critic Michael Sragow as host.

Harold Lloyd in Speedy (1928), a silent film with accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.

The annual film from Baltimore's own steward of schlock, John Waters. This year's offering: Dog Days (2001), from Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, in which a disparate cast of characters (including a teacher, a pimp, a private detective and an elderly widower) seek entertainment in ways alternately sexual and violent.

Maryland Film Festival

When: May 6 to 9

Where: Charles Theatre, 1711 North Charles St.; Brown Center, 1301 Mount Royal Ave.

Information:; 410-752-8083

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