With three days of films staring you in the face, it can be a challenge to parse the schedule and decide what's a must-see. Thankfully, Sun movie critics Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach are here to help. Check out their picks for each day. All films are at the Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St., unless otherwise noted.
It's always nice to start off one's visit to the Maryland Film Festival with a classic, and they don't get much more classic than Robert Mulligan's 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird (10 a.m.), both a great film -- every decision made with regard to the movie was dead-on perfect, from filming in black and white to casting Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer with a firm sense of right and wrong -- and one of the finest translations of page-to-screen ever. Not only was Peck's Finch the inspiration for an entire generation of fathers, who prayed they could measure up to his example, but Mockingbird also preached racial equality at a time the sermon sorely needed to be heard. The movie will be introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who should bring an interesting perspective to things.
If Mockingbird speaks to you as strongly as it has spoken to generations of American filmgoers, you may want to follow it up with director Charles Kiselyak's documentary Fearful Symmetry (2 p.m.), which looks at the making of the film and includes a look at author Harper Lee, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel remains a staple of high-school curricula.
For something different, however, try one of the several shorts programs at this year's festival. "Past Present Future Shorts" (1:30 p.m.) offers stories delving into everything from astrology and fortune-telling to political mudslinging and two men who discuss the meaning of life.
Scott Kecken and Joy Lusco-Kecken's We Are Arabbers (3:30 p.m.) offers a look at the horse-drawn produce stands that have plied Baltimore's streets for generations but appear to be on the verge of extinction.
Now's a good time to grab dinner; if you're lucky, you might get a table at Tapas Teatro, next to the Charles. But leave enough time to make it to the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center, 1301 Mount Royal Ave., for a conversation with director Jonathan Demme (7:30 p.m.), whose filmography includes such seminal works as Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia and Beloved. Sun film critic Michael Sragow will show clips from several of Demme's films and serve as host.
End your day with a laugh. Paul Provenza's The Aristocrats (10:30 p.m., Brown Center) lets 100 comedians tell the same joke -- a dirty one, I'm told, one that's been around since vaudeville days. Try to figure out why you laugh when some people tell it, but not when others.
-- Chris Kaltenbach
"Sesame Street for adults": That's what MFF programming manager Skizz Cycyk has dubbed Lee Boot's Euphoria, a unique performance-art-meets-education feature (7 p.m., Charles Theatre 2). As in his 2001 short Making Euphoria (but with new material), Boot aims to dislodge the belief that consumption of goods or drugs breeds happiness. He substitutes the idea that joy comes from spiritual growth and creativity -- or maybe just whimsical activities like packing beach balls into suitcases and experimenting with real clay feet.
The work of Boot and his collaborator, John Chester, can put you in a realm of happy kismet and good karma, where coincidence becomes as pertinent as in The Hitchchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As soon as I took Making Euphoria out of the VCR, I picked up a book about a drug dealer and soon was reading that this antihero was "euphoric over the new possibilities" of flying dope out of Mexico in 1973. I mention this for two reasons. Boot himself likes to use books as building blocks for his art projects (he once worked out his love-hate for the printed word by taping books together to make an easy chair), and Boot won funds from the National Institutes of Health to fashion work that urges teens and adults to go beyond just saying no to drugs -- and say yes to something better. Boot's film should demonstrate that transcendent exertion sets you free and gets you high and actually changes your brain for the better. His and Chester's teamwork has always had a funky luminosity. It's cockeyed yet sane.
A gleefully inorganic but equally potent brand of cine-manic jolliness should rouse early birds when The Sun's Chris Kaltenbach, an authority on vintage 3-D movies, invades Charles Theatre 1 at 11 a.m. with 1954's 3-D melodrama, Gorilla at Large, lunging straight at you. Best known for the moment when an ape grabs a young Anne Bancroft, it revolves around serial murder at a circus. The gorilla is the suspect. Sample tough-cop dialogue: Lee J. Cobb: "You've always been this alert?" Lee Marvin: "Always on my toes!" Cobb: "Well, get off 'em. You're a cop, not a ballet dancer."