Maryland Film Festival announces movie highlights

'Meek's Cutoff,' starring Michelle Williams, is on lineup of regional premieres

April 12, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore films, rock documentaries, movies from Thailand and Portugal and one described as a "stylish gangster thriller from the Democratic Republic of Congo" are just a few of the films that will play at this year's Maryland Film Festival, which announced a partial list of its lineup Tuesday.

Overall, 115 or so features and short films will be played at the festival, which runs May 5-8 at The Charles Theatre and several locations in the city, said the festival's director, Jed Dietz. The Senator Theatre, where the festival held some of its first screenings, will not be among them.

All of the films will be regional premieres, Dietz said. For the festival, now in its 13th year, that's the primary concern. The festival doesn't have a competition showcase and is not concerned with being the first American berth of international movies. Its goal is to bring the best of the medium to the area, Dietz said.

"We're not caught up in the premiere thing," Dietz said. "We want the greatest films possible. That's all we think about."

This year's films come from across the globe, but also include several that were made by Baltimoreans. Perhaps the best-known selection is "Meek's Cutoff," where Academy Award-nominee Michelle Williams stars as a pioneer woman in pre-Civil War Oregon. Another is "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," a Thai drama by art house favorite Apichatpong Weerasethakul that won last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Also at the festival this year is "Ne Change Rien," a documentary by Pedro Costa, the critically acclaimed Portuguese filmmaker; and "The Interrupters," by Steve James, one of the directors of the award-winning documentary "Hoop Dreams."

From Baltimore, there's "The Learning," a documentary on Filipino teachers in Baltimore's school system, and "Freaks in Love," which follows the veteran punk band Alice Donut and is one of several music documentaries in this year's lineup.

"If you look at the program, you would get a real sense, in our limited space, of what's happening in the art form," Dietz said.

Of the 115 films in the showcase, about 45 are full-length features; the rest are short films.

Planning for the lineup begins as soon as the last festival ends, Dietz said.

Programmers select films from filmmakers' submissions and by attending festivals around the continent, including Toronto, Sundance and Slamdance.

The festival received roughly 1,000 submissions from budding filmmakers, mainly through the website, said Eric Hatch, the festival's program director. About seven or eight of the films played at Sundance, the country's premier independent film festival, Hatch added. Others, like "Uncle Boonmee," are films the programmers have had on their radar because the filmmaker had been featured at the festival before.

The Charles Theatre in Station North will again be home base for the festival. A filmmaker's tent and village will be erected at the Maryland Institute College of Art's campus as well, Dietz said.

"We're eager for it to come back to the festival," Dietz said of the Senator. "It's been a big part of the festival before, but they just aren't ready yet."

Dietz said the full schedule, including Q&As and other events revolving around the festival, will be revealed on its website,, within the next two days. Tickets, which start at $10, will go on sale on the website by this weekend, Dietz said, and will be available on site once the festival begins.

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