Capturing Poe's spirit on film

Local filmmakers create shorts to accompany BMA's exhibit on the master of the macabre

(Handout photo )
November 29, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Jim Lucio hadn't made a movie in years. But the combination of Edgar Allan Poe and the chance to have his work shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art proved irresistible.

"I set out to make it funny; I hope it comes out this way," says Lucio of "APE," a film "very loosely" based on "The Murders In the Rue Morgue," which will be one of 17 Poe-inspired shorts to be shown at the BMA over the next two Fridays. "I haven't really made a film in years, since the '80s. But surprisingly, when I saw the finished product, it didn't stray too much from the visions I had in the '80s. My approach, my style, what I think is funny. ...I guess I haven't changed that much."

Lucio, whose day job is visual arts coordinator for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, is one of more than a dozen area filmmakers whose work will be featured in "A Cinematic Celebration of Edgar Allan Poe." Put together in cooperation with the 48 Hour Film Project, a competition that regularly challenges participants to make short films with an emphasis on speed and ingenuity, BMA officials saw this as a handy film component for their exhibition, "Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon."

Given Poe's reputation as an early master of the short story, using him and his work as the inspiration for an evening of short films seemed a natural.

"This gave us the opportunity to engage some really significant people in the Baltimore art scene," says Preston Bautista, the BMA's director of public programs. "I think Poe is sort of right for this material. My goal is that this would be a local, contemporary take on Poe."

Although organized through the 48 Hour Film Project, the Poe program bends its rules slightly. Normally, participating filmmakers sign up and have just two days to make their film, which must include a common line of dialogue or prop. For the Poe films, organizers sought out some of the area's more established filmmakers, who were then given a theme ("Love & Loss," "Fear & Terror" and "Madness & Obsession," the same themes represented in the BMA exhibit), a character and a line of dialogue to include in their finished work. While all films were shot over the last month, filmmakers were welcome to use more than 48 hours to put everything together.

"Everyone was so excited about the idea that they begged me to have more time," says Rob Hatch, who has been organizing 48 Hour Film Project competitions in Baltimore for five years. "With the regular 48, some of the films are really good, but some of them run up against a bunch of hurdles. This way, filmmakers have more of a chance to hone their projects, especially the script-writing. I figured this would make for better movies all-around, and more enjoyment for everybody."

The films to be shown vary in length from just under two minutes to just over 10. They include comedies, dramas and straight-out horror. Six are direct adaptations of Poe's works, including two versions of "The Tell-Tale Heart" that happily defy convention. One is an animated short from Karen Yasinsky, while the other, by Stephanie Barber, takes a 20-minute film short from 1941, starring Joseph Schildkraut, breaks it up into small pieces and redistributes them into a substantially different film.

"Yeah, 'redistributes' is a good word," says Barber. "I just did it really quickly, and I haven't seen it projected yet. But it might be really nice."

More confident in his work is Nick Prevas, whose 10-minute "Rabbit Hole" was inspired by Poe's "The Raven" but includes more than a few nods, he says, to Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland."

"I've always been a really big fan of his poems and stories - I'd say he's a really big inspiration in everything I do," Prevas says of Poe, who began his literary career while living in Baltimore and died here in 1849. "This film is how I dissected what that poem really means."

Prevas, who shot the movie in HD video over about four days, says he enjoys working under the sorts of limitations set by the 48 Hour Film Project, even when they're not followed so rigidly.

"I like working within some boundaries," he says. "Sometimes, those restrictions actually help you creatively."

Plus, he says, "I love being able to say this is actually inspired by a Poe piece."

If you go
"A Cinematic Celebration of Edgar Allan Poe" takes place at 8 p.m. Friday and Dec. 11. The event is free. Call 443-573-1700 or go to artbma.org

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