A family drama set in Hamilton. The struggles of a young homosexual growing up in the slums of Manila. A film noir cast entirely with sock puppets.
Yep, it must be time for the Maryland Film Festival, an annual weekend-long cinematic feast that offers local moviegoers the chance to meet filmmakers and see films that might otherwise escape their notice.
The eighth annual festival, set to run May 11-14 at the Charles Theatre (save for the opening-night shorts program at the Senator Theatre and a few screenings at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center), will showcase some 30 feature films and nearly 100 shorts. As always, the schedule - currently about 80 percent complete - offers an eclectic mix. There's a silent film (Rudolph Valentino's 1925 The Eagle), a mix of live action and animation (Sarah Watt's Look Both Ways, the tale of a woman who's a walking disaster area), a look at a little-remembered World War II invasion of Alaska by the Japanese (Tom Putnam's Red White Black & Blue), even an homage to '60s beach films (Jay Edwards' Stomp! Shout! Scream!).
John Waters will be back, with his annual excursion to cinema's outer fringe. This year, he'll play host to a screening of German director Fatih Akin's Head On (Gegen die Wand), a non-traditional love story involving two German Turks and their determination to lead their own lives, regardless of what anyone thinks.
And while the festival refuses to kowtow to big-name movie stars - this is a festival geared toward the filmmakers, not celebs - some familiar names will be showing up at the Charles. Thanks to the guest-host program, which invites people to introduce screenings of their favorite movies, the Ravens' Matt Stover will be on hand for October Sky, a marvelous film about rocket-science dreams arising from the West Virginia coal mines. Actor Matthew Modine will explain his affection for Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, in which he stars. Also showing off his cinematic good taste will be musician Branford Marsalis, whose choice is the Oscar-nominated Vietnamese film The Scent of Green Papaya, a drama centering on a young servant girl who comes to work for a wealthy family.
Festival founder Jed Dietz, whose unflagging enthusiasm helps explain the festival's continuing success, is especially excited about bringing Auraeus Solito's The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros to town. "It's fantastic, just an incredible movie," he says of the comedy-drama about an impoverished young Filipino boy trying to come to terms with both his homosexuality and his place in his family. Dietz praises the film for taking us to a place we'd never think of going - the slums of Manila are hardly a major tourist destination - and for creating a central character whose ability to survive makes for quite a story.
"His navigational instincts are pretty darn strong," Dietz says.
For programmer Dan Krovich, the early favorite for a festival highlight looks to be Hamilton, homegrown director Matthew Porterfield's drama about unwed parents Lena, 17, and Joe, 20, and their life in a working-class Northeast Baltimore neighborhood.
Krovich said he especially likes what the film doesn't say, that it leaves audience members to draw their own conclusions. "You're given a lot of information, but not all the information," he says. "You have to put the story together yourself, from what you have seen."
Programmer Skizz Cyzyk, who in his free time organizes Baltimore's annual underground film festival MicroCineFest, praises the virtues of Evan Lieberman and Eddy Von Mueller's The Lady From Sockholm. As befits a film noir acted out by sock puppets, the film's bad guy is named Big Toeny.
"It's pun after pun," assures Cyzyk. "It's just clever the whole way through."
Here's betting that's not the only festival offering that will warrant such praise.
For the full festival schedule, ticket prices and other information, visit www.mdfilmfest.com or call 410-752-8083.