The 10th Annual Maryland Film Festival-DAY 1

Thursday May 1, 2008

I can't believe it has been 10 years! I know it's a cliche but, hell, time is going way too fast when I realized that the my festival circuit started in January 1999 with my first excursion to Sundance (my first of 7 in the last 10 years), followed by the first Maryland Film Festival in Aprill 1999, the Telluride Film Festival in 2000, and each AFI Silverdocs documentary film festival beginning in 2003. Hopefully, I will eventually make it to Toronto, SXSW, and maybe even Cannes! Until then, I'm kicking back and getting ready to start one the best 4 days a movie lover, such as myself, can experience. It all started here in 1999 with hometown Oscar winner Barry Levinson kicking off the festival in grand style with a rough cut of his own documentary featuring the original Diner Guys that so colorfully populated his masterpiece of the same title. It was like watching home movies of guys we all grew to love as they were dramatized on the big screen. (No mention tonight was made of his good friend, diner guy Chip Silverman who tragically passed away earlier this year). How fitting was it that festival director, Jed Dietz brought back Barry to MC the sold out opening night festivities once again 10 years later! Barry started by humorously exploring what it was like watching movies in his youth in Baltimore and how it has changed over the years. Those in the audience old enough to relate were brought back to their youth as he rattled off the venues we all attended when it cost just 25 cents to watch movies all day long at these palaces-which, other than a few like our beloved Senator, have long since disappeared. After this, he got a little political as he jabbed Baltimore's legislature for not making it more financially feasible for outside filmmakers to set up shop in our town. That it made him "crazy". We all felt his pain as we realized that the number of projects over the recent past have dropped off dramatically. Then began the introduction of the filmmakers. As Jed pointed out to the audience, he believes that this festival is the only one whose opening night is devoted solely to shorts. This has been the tradition here for several years and, although past compilations have left a little bit to be desired, this year's group was outstanding and memorable. First off was the amazing 3-D short (and short is aptly named for this 90 second gem) entitled "Gnatual Wonders" made by Bennet Battaile that focused on gnats at the Gnat Training Research Lab. The "trained" gnats formed geometric shapes that, literally, came off the screen! This was followed by the Academy Award nominated "Salim Baba". This one brought to mind the great "Cinema Paradiso". Directors Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello made this character study which focused on a man in Kolkata, India who is the town's cinema projectionist (using a 100 year old camera!). Using a film stock of over 50 items, he is the editor of film that has been discarded over the years. This touching portrait shows the power of the cinema in a place one would least expect it. Following these two were Michael Langan's amazing "Doxology", a 7 minute stop action animation that has to be seen to believed involving . . . well, I'm not sure what it involves, but it was one hell of a ride just the same (something involving tennis balls-I think)! The filmmaker said during the Q & A that it took a year to make this 7 minute gem. "My Olympic Summer" told the fictionalized tale of the filmmaker who happened on old films of his parents and built a story about their life that most people in the audience thought was fact. Great storytelling that effectively had the audience gasp when he revealed that it was not a documentary. Next up was Ben Mor's "Help Is Coming" a riveting doc made in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans Ninth Ward. Jed revealed that he was only one of 3 filmmakers who were allowed to film there during this time. He made the most of it as he turns the devastation into a morality tale involving the highest officials in the land. Lastly was the hilarious short by Chicago indie filmmaker Heidi Van Lier who returned to the MFF with this brilliant piece, entitled "Politics Of Preschool" about a 5 year old girl who think she knows how to get the upper hand on the most popular dude in her preschool. Great script and delivery by the lead and a great way to end the proceedings. The party in the lobby of The Brown Center on the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art was a great way to meet up with old friends as well as the filmmakers. We're off and running and looking to see a full day's and weekend's worth of screenings. Jed has brought a great collection of films, some of which made the festival circuit at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, as well as some classic films (including the John Waters introduced film: Claude Chabrol's great 80's flick"Story of Women"). I'll be reporting each night over the next 3 nights so check back to get the day's wrap-up. OUT!