Wearing 3-D glasses, sisters Anna Hughes, Catherine Hughes… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Station North was abuzz with thousands of cinema addicts and more casual moviegoers this past weekend, for the 14th annual Maryland Film Festival.
The Festival brought some 100 films and an even higher number of filmmakers to the neighborhood. As always, the Charles Theatre was the hub for the action, which included favorites such as a screening with devious filmmaker John Waters, and newer fare such as a disturbing flick starring a 12-year-old.
Festival director Jed Dietz, who's seen attendance at his annual event grow every year, said he was surprised by the adventurousness of the crowd.
"I'm often impressed by the intensity of the reaction — sometimes within seconds," Dietz said. "There was the sense that people felt very strongly about what they were seeing in both directions, positive and negative."
Here are scenes from this weekend's cinema extravaganza.
Settling the score
A film without spoken dialogue, with sets that define the term "abstract," set in a foreign country and starring not a single recognizable face.
Welcome to Sunday morning at the Maryland Film Festival, where the three-piece Alloy Orchestra continued their tradition of presenting a silent movie accompanied by their own original score. The result is always unique, but this year, Alloy really topped themselves.
Their choice was the 1920 German "From Morning Till Midnight," a little-seen masterpiece of German Expressionism — movies far more interested in mood than narrative — that left more than a few audience members scratching their heads (in a good way).
Think that's an exaggeration? The first audience question during the post-film Q&A was a plaintive, "What the heck was that?"
Not that anyone was really complaining. Sometimes, it's good to be puzzled.
'It was very unique and interesting," a smiling Lauren Mercier said on her way out of the screening. "I didn't realize they were doing that kind of thing back in those days."
John Waters may be the hometown hero of every Maryland Film Festival, thanks to his annual Friday-night pick. This year's choice, Barbara Loden's 1970 "Wanda," once again offered audiences the sort of cinematic experience they'd probably never had, and his introductions are always crowd-pleasers, both perceptive and funny.
"This movie is so Baltimore," Waters said in introducing the film, about a Scranton, Pa., housewife who takes up a life of crime (thanks to her gun-toting thief of a boyfriend) more out of a sense of ennui than anything else.
"She wears her hair in curlers to go to court and try to keep her child. ... She has her purse stolen while she's asleep in a theater. I saw that happen at the Howard Theatre all the time."
Twelve-year-old Sydney Aguirre, who gave a naturalistic performance as the cold-hearted protagonist of David Zellner's disturbing "Kid-Thing," admitted she was a little surprised after watching the film for the first time.
She didn't realize it was going to be as emotionally dark as it was.
"But we had so much fun" making it, she deadpanned after Saturday's screening.
'God Bless America'
Waters may be crown prince of the MFF, but Bobcat Goldthwait is proving a worthy runner-up.
For the third time, Goldthwait sent his latest film to the festival — and for the second time, he came along to introduce it.
"God Bless America" may be his funniest, most perverse film yet, the story of a terminally ill laid-off office worker and his teen accomplice on a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style killing spree. Their objective: Eliminate the teens who whine that their cars aren't fancy enough, the babies who refuse to stop crying, the parkers who deliberately take up two spaces and — especially — the vacuous and determinedly impolite judges of a certain televised talent show.
Offensive? Yes. Over-the-top? Sure. Indefensible? Possibly. The movie, he said with a laugh, has been described as "leftist snuff porn." But the audience loved it.
"I don't know what it says about Baltimore that you've embraced me so much," Goldthwait said. Goldthwait also gave a shout-out to Waters, whom he has repeatedly called an inspiration.
"He's kind of my awfully cool gay uncle," Goldthwait said, "that my mom didn't want me to hang out with."
Reliving the past
Cecil Thompson, who works for Washington's Synetic Theater, had a special reason to be at Friday's screening of "The Source." Living in California in the early 1970s, he lived much of that documentary. Literally.
"The Source" uses home movies and archival photographs to tell the story of The Source, a psychedelic-era spiritual family founded by former Marine and jujitsu expert Jim Baker, who went by the name Father Yod, or YaHoWha. He eventually surrounded himself with dozens of followers, marrying more than a dozen of them, and moved to Hawaii.
Thompson was one of those family members, going by the name Explosion Aquarian.
"It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," he said after the screening, noting he remained with the family for about two years. "It was a very interesting time."
Want to know how to really get into the film festival spirit? Take a tip from Ken McNaughton, an actor and seasoned world traveler who, after watching a Friday-morning screening of a Greek film called "Attenberg," made no effort to hide his enthusiasm.
"I just had the feeling while I was watching it that this was the best movie I'd ever seen," he said, happy to leave his hyperbole unchecked.
Well, he did qualify it just a little. "Of course," he added, "I don't know how long I'll feel that way."