Lack of formality is a hallmark of the Maryland Film Festival


May 04, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Movie Critic

One of the distinctive pleasures of the Maryland Film Festival is the chance it offers to catch filmmakers with their hair down. As wonderful as the films frequently are, the opportunity to actually meet and talk with the people responsible for them -- sometimes after the screening, sometimes in the Charles' lobby, sometimes even over lunch at the North Avenue McDonald's -- is often what makes this festival-going experience so memorable.

It's also what separates Maryland's annual celebration of the cinematic arts from the dozens of other festivals staged each year. There is no formalized competition, so filmmakers don't have to walk around on pins and needles, wondering what prizes they're going to win. There are no big-name studio executives walking around with money to burn, so filmmakers aren't constantly trying to sell themselves. And since all the screens are within walking distance of one another, no one has to worry about hitching a ride across town so they'll arrive in time for their big moment.

This year's ninth annual festival should offer even more opportunities for informal schmoozing, as organizers have instituted something new: a steady stream of free workshops, panel discussions and Q&A sessions. All will take place in the parking lot on Charles Street across from the theater, in a Tent Village that promises to be as much a center of activity as any of the actual film-screening venues.

"There was always this informal stuff happening," festival major-domo Jed Dietz says of the congenial atmosphere that has always been one of the Maryland festival's strongest selling points. "We figured this year, let's just formalize this a little bit."

Funded largely through a $30,000 grant from M&T Bank, the Tent Village opens even before today's first film is shown. At 10 a.m., the winner of a screenwriting contest sponsored by the Baltimore Film Office will be announced, followed at 10:15 a.m. by "Breakfast with the MFF Filmmakers," offering food provided by Sofi's Crepes and Greg's Bagels.

Beginning at 11 a.m., with new programs offered almost every hour while the festival is open -- until 11 p.m. today, midnight tomorrow and 4 p.m. Sunday -- the Tent Village will offer what amounts to a weekend-long filmmaking class, on topics ranging from special effects to storyboarding, editing to music. There will even be a pair of outdoor screenings, projected onto the wall of the adjacent parking garage. Italian director Mario Bava's 1968 Danger: Diabolik!, the stylish tale of an ultra-successful thief who shares an underground hideout with his beautiful girlfriend, will be shown at 9 p.m. tonight, while the late Don Dohler's Nightbeast, a low-budget sci-fi Schlocker centering on a small-town sheriff and a bloodthirsty alien, is slated for 9 p.m. tomorrow. Everything under the tents is free.

For those for whom simply watching and learning about movies isn't enough, there's a session on "Making a Film Career in Baltimore," scheduled for 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Dietz, who champions his four-day cinematic revelry as a chance to celebrate filmmaking without all the trappings and marketplace pressures endemic to so many other festivals, says inspiration for the Tent Village came from two disparate sources: New York's annual Fashion Week, where what's going on outside the main venues is often more intriguing (and more popular) than the main event, and the master classes with festival filmmakers that the MFF has sponsored over the past few years.

"The filmmakers have been really excited about doing this," he says. "We've never done it before, so we have no idea how it will go over. But it looks good."

Who knows? Maybe some aspiring filmmaker will find inspiration under this year's festival tent and pass that knowledge on in coming years. That's the sort of legacy that would make any film festival proud.

For a complete schedule of Tent Village activities, go to

Playing today

Today's highlights at the Maryland Film Festival:

Killer Of Sheep (11:30 a.m., Charles Theatre), Charles Burnett's 1977 underground classic, chronicling frustration and resilience in the Watts ghetto.

Crazy Love (1 p.m., Charles), the exceedingly strange but absolutely true tale of the love between New Yorkers Burt Pugach and Linda Riss.

The Paper (3 p.m., Maryland Institute College of Art), Aaron Matthews' chronicle of the trials facing modern print journalism, as typified by the Penn State daily newspaper, The Daily Collegian.

"Filmmaking on a Shoestring" (4 p.m. at the festival's Tent Village, across the street from the Charles), offers a chance to hear from five filmmakers with movies showing at MFF 2007: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine (War/Dance), Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party), Sean Meredith (Dante's Inferno) and Mary Hardcastle (The Visit).

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