A weekend at the movies

May 10, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

World-premiere films. Movie stars. Local guys and gals made good, returning home to maybe show off a little. A block of Charles Street teaming with people watching and talking about the movies.

Maryland Film Festival 2004, Baltimore's sixth annual celebration of all things cinematic, unspooled over the weekend at the Charles Theatre, offering a little bit of something for all tastes - major studio premieres shared the bill with short films made by city grade-schoolers - and proving once again that film culture is alive and well and quite happy to take over the local art scene an entire weekend.

"However many times we do it, it's so stunning to see people be excited by these movies and the movie-going experience in its broadest form," festival founder Jed Dietz said yesterday. "We set out each year to learn from what we've done and have a better festival than the year before, and I think we've done that again."

Not even the Preakness Parade, which made getting to the festival something of an adventure Saturday morning, and Mother's Day, which made for some difficult Sunday-morning choices ("Do we serve mom breakfast in bed or go see Speedy at the Charles? Hmmm."), dimmed everyone's enthusiasm.

Crowds wrapped around the block Saturday afternoon to see Saved! a Christian high school comedy from UMBC grad Brian Dannelly; bought every ticket there was to a Saturday evening screening of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster; embraced visiting Afghan journalist Mehria Azizi, one of the stars of the remarkable documentary Afghanistan Unveiled (which featured female Afghan journalists interviewing women about their living conditions in that war-ravaged country); and marveled at how John Waters is consistently able to pick some of the oddest, most disturbing films for his annual Friday night feature, and yet still manage to nearly sell out the house.

His offering this year, the Austrian film Dog Days, offered men and women who pick the hottest day of the year to have one of the worst days of their lives. The experience proved delightfully uncomfortable to most people in the audience, who long ago learned the annual Waters selection is usually not a good first-date film.

"I don't think there's any point to picking an easy movie," said Waters, adding he's "always flattered" that so many people show up.

Dietz, whose indefatigable optimism and constant good cheer go a long way to assuring the festival runs smoothly, proudly noted that more than 100 filmmakers were flown into town for the festival (about 80 showed up last year). He praised the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center, which served as an alternate venue for selected screenings.

MICA also served as host for Saturday night's conversation with director Jim Sheridan, whose In America proved one of the most popular films to play the Charles last year. Prodded by Sun movie critic Michael Sragow (and lauded by Mayor Martin O'Malley, who spent most of Saturday showing the Irish-born director around town), Sheridan spun tales of his filmmaking exploits and offered insight into his directing techniques. The man responsible for such films as The Boxer and In The Name of the Father, movies in which the British handling of Irish insurgents has not exactly been shown in the best light, even offered some insight into the use of film as a political tool.

"I am a propagandist," Sheridan told his audience. "I'm trying to give voice to violence, and therefore diffuse it ... It's when people are not acknowledged that you have problems."

Also in town was director and Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish, who brought along his latest movie, the real-estate musical Open House, for its world premiere. Saturday night, while desperately looking for someone to drive him down to the Inner Harbor (so he could buy souvenirs for his two young children back in California), Mirvish had nothing but praise for the festival.

"This is a really strong regional festival," Mirvish said. "It has a relaxed environment that is not competitive, which is great, and it has really appreciative audiences, which for many reasons, at the end of the day is the most important thing."

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