Maryland Film Festival 2011: At home and abroad

Three-day event manages to be simultaneously local and global

May 05, 2011|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

In one day at this year's Maryland Film Festival, you can see a Cannes Palme d'Or winner, like Thai director Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," and watch a homegrown documentary, like Ramona Diaz's "The Learning,' about Filipino women recruited to teach in the Baltimore school system.

"One of the exciting things I've noticed this year is that, simultaneous to the festival's continued growth into international cinema, we're also seeing an explosion of world-class filmmaking here in Baltimore," said programming director Eric Hatch.

Hatch points out that there are more festival entries by Baltimore-based directors than in any year since he started in 2007, whether by documentary-makers like Diaz and Skizz Cyzik ("Freaks in Love') or feature directors like Josh Slates ("Small Pond").

For more than a decade, the ambitious reach of this annual May celebration, from its Station North home to the world, has marked the Maryland Film Festival as a major regional event. From the start, festival director Jed Dietz strove to connect Baltimore artists and filmgoers to national moviemaking bodies like Sundance.

The Producers Club, the organization behind the Maryland Film Festival, also funds and administers the Maryland Filmmakers Fellowship in partnership with Sundance Labs. The fellowship is designed to move a project into preproduction. Winners must use their grant solely to further their winning project, then acknowledge the fellowship in the end credits and screen the film in Maryland before its opening. The program has backed such rich, unconventional films as Rodrigo Garcia's "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her," Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us," and "Swimmers," by Easton director Doug Sadler.

This year's festival is the first to feature two winners of the Maryland Filmmakers Fellowship. Dietz describes Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's "On the Ice" as a "terrific feature that was shot with nonactors in the extremely remote town of Barrow, Alaska." Andrew Dosunmu, the director of "Restless City," a feature about a Senegalese musician living in New York City, won a Maryland Filmmakers Fellowship in 2005 for another script, "Mother of George." Dietz says, "Having seen their work in script stage, it's great to have both of these filmmakers here with their first finished feature films."

The great New England writer Sarah Orne Jewett once told Willa Cather, "One must know the world so well before one can know the parish." The Maryland Film Festival has deepened its roots while expanding its world-view. The panoramic result is like Cinerama for cineastes.

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