Cinema as art

a passion for film

Programmer of BMA's defunct film series urges: Seek out 'riskiest film in town'

August 24, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,

Baltimore movie-lovers voiced concern when the Baltimore Museum of Art canceled its free monthly film series. For two years, Eric Hatch, the series' programmer, had put together a lively and original slate that typically attracted 150 to 200 people, including younger audiences new to the museum.

But Hatch, 34, will continue to be a key presence on the Baltimore film scene as a programmer for the Maryland Film Festival. And it sounds as if his crusade to bring more variety to local audiences - and more audiences to films of quality - had just begun.

How did you develop your own film taste?

I grew up in Columbia, in a house without a television ... and my Dad, who loves great American movies, took me and my older sister to repertory series at the Biograph and the Key in D.C. and the Charles in Baltimore. I got to know movies like The Big Sleep, Citizen Kane and Duck Soup early on. I don't know if many 10-year-olds growing up in Columbia knew who Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges were, but I sure did. ... [At St. Mary's College of Maryland] I got to know the great international cinema of the 1960s and 1970s [on videotape]. Before that, Godard was just a name that I knew had been dropped in a Woody Allen film, Manhattan. That reference may have been rudimentary, but it turned me on to a bigger world in which people took film seriously as art; it seemed really mysterious to me back then.

I moved to Baltimore within a few months of graduation, and within a year I was writing music reviews for City Paper and working at Video Americain. Everyone who worked there had their own taste in films and helped expand my notions of what individual tastes could be when they developed beyond consensus taste. So did my customers: If someone I liked or respected took six films out I didn't see, I knew I wanted to see them.

Did you and your friends yearn to see these films on the big screen?

You hoped that would be possible, but when I came to town the Charles was a single screen and struggling; it had briefly closed and then reopened. There was the Senator, Rotunda, and Harbor Park, and the Orpheum, and later the Maryland Film Festival; that was it. I did see some amazing films at the Orpheum: a Sam Fuller double-bill - there's a guy whose best movies are not on video, like The Crimson Kimono, a masterpiece!

I gradually moved from being a film lover doing music criticism into film criticism and then film programming. I assisted Skizz Cyzyk at Microcinefest and had a couple of evenings at the Red Room at Normal's Books and Records on 31st Street, where I showed underground films by George Kuchar, Stan Brakhage and Les Blank (including Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, which was not as famous then as it is now).

Did you find that collegiate audiences attended these events as much as you'd expect, given the number of schools in this area?

Baltimore has had a huge explosion in its music scene - Rolling Stone called it the best music scene in the country. Music came first, and film lagged behind. Now young attendance is way up at the Charles and significantly up at the film festival; maybe people had been retreating into DVDs and not realizing there were more opportunities popping up to see great old movies on a screen, and great movies that are not so old, in Baltimore. When I went to see The Shining at the Charles it was virtually a sellout, and it was mostly young people.

How did the BMA series come about?

It was a complete cold call. ... . After I began writing on movies for City Paper and solidified my friendship with Skizz Cyzyk and got to know Jed Dietz [Maryland Film Festival director], I began to think I had enough credibility to put something on at the BMA. To the museum's credit, they called a meeting and were excited. I had some help from John Standiford at the Charles, who does the theater's rep series; we'd get together and I'd bounce some titles off him and he'd say "this place might have that" or "good luck finding this one."

And what was your programming philosophy?

I pitched, and then stuck to, this premise: There was an explosion of international cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, but the average moviegoer might not know anything more than Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa. And there are some exciting voices emerging in film-festival circuits today, directors who are looking forward by looking backward to that earlier time. By showing some of the films of the '60s and '70s in juxtaposition with contemporary films, we allow audiences to make connections. "Wow," you might say, "this South Korean director is a big Michelangelo Antonioni fan!"

And the point is not to have an audience love every film without reservation, but to engage with it, correct?

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