Md. Film Festival goes to extremes

`Poppins' sing-along, `Porn Theatre' set

April 06, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

With a schedule that runs the gamut from Dorothy Hamill and Mary Poppins to John Waters and a soap opera set inside a porn theater, this year's Maryland Film Festival, set for May 5-8, promises a weekend of cinematic extremes.

"I think we have always shown movies which are compelling and difficult, but also engaging," says festival head Jed Dietz, noting that films require at least one champion on the MFF advisory board. "We don't program anything that people sort-of feel good about. It's always about passion. Somebody else [on the board] might hate it, but it has to be something that somebody wants to advocate for."

That includes a sing-along screening of Disney's Mary Poppins, hosted by Olympics figure-skating champion Hamill, and Porn Theatre, this year's selection by that master of the borderline tasteless, Baltimore's own John Waters.

"It's not a sexploitation film in any way," assures Waters, who labels it instead an "intellectual soap opera." After seeing it in Europe, where it was released under the title La Chatte a deux tetes (The Cat With Two Heads), he pushed for release of the film here in the United States.

"It's a great art movie that takes place entirely inside a porn theater," he says. "It was as if a great drama could take place inside the Earle," referring to Baltimore's venerable porn movie house.

(Not everyone agrees. Said one Web critic, "If you overlook this film, trust me, you'll lead a long and happy life and not feel you've missed anything.")

With films showing at the Charles Theatre and the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center, the seventh annual festival - which Dietz estimates is about 80 percent booked - includes 14 documentaries and 13 narrative films. Among the latter are new releases from Welcome to the Dollhouse's Todd Solondz, whose Palindromes is the story of a 13-year-old girl determined to bear a child, and 24 Hour Party People's Michael Winterbottom, whose 9 Songs recalls the passionate affair of a London couple. Among the documentaries is the latest from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), whose Reel People follows an independent filmmaker's efforts to run a free movie house on the island of Fiji.

Dietz, who along with programmers Dan Krovich and Skizz Cyzyk scours the festival scene to find films for Baltimore's annual celebration of all things cinematic, said he is especially anxious to see how audiences react to a documentary called Murderball, a visit with an intense group of paraplegic rugby players.

"There is as much testosterone in this film as you'll see in anything NFL Films has done," Dietz says. "They play wheelchair rugby, and they play it viciously. They're completely disdainful of the Special Olympics ... type of viewpoint."

Krovich said he was especially intrigued by Lipstick & Dynamite, offering audiences the chance to spend time with pioneering lady wrestlers ("They've got great stories, from coming up through that world," he says) and the narrative film Sugar, about a young woman who moves alone into a tiny apartment where the former occupant may or may not have moved out. "It's really creepy, really weird," he promises. "It will get comparisons to Eraserhead."

Vintage film offerings include the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird, with U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski as host; Vittoria De Sica's 1949 The Bicycle Thief, hosted by comic-book writer (and inspiration for the film American Splendor) Harvey Pekar; and the seldom-seen silent version of Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 Blackmail, with accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.

For more information on MFF 2005, including ticket prices, call 410-752-8083 or check the Web at www.mdfilm fest.com.

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