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The 10th Annual Maryland Film Festival-DAY 2

Friday May 2, 2008

As if to summon the start of summer, the first full slate of films at the MFF was greeted with a beautiful summer-like day with full sunshine and temperatures in the lower 80's.

The proceedings started off with a bang with the much buzzed-about powerful new documentary by Patrick Creadon ("Wordplay") entitled I.O.U.S.A. (*** 1/2). Patrick and executive publisher of Agora Finanacial, Addison Wiggin said that the version we saw to kick off the first full day was actually the Sundance version while the other 2 upcoming screenings were updated and slightly different versions. This version was about to be even further changed before the film is released. The film documented the state of this nation's national debt and was a gloom and doom essay on what our future generations will have to deal with due to the fiscal responsibilities of past and current administrations. Over the course of its 85 minutes, Creadon spewed enough facts to spin your head faster than Linda Blaire's in "The Exorcist". Although this was necessary to fully inform how we got to this miserable fiscal state, the filmmaker needs to tighten up this aspect of the film in order to keep the viewer from zoning out. Ultimately, it is one scary horror story-especially when you realize that it is reality!

Next up was a small indie film by Austin filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner, ("Goliath" **1/2). The brothers (who produced a series of short films before this their first feature) also star in this dry comedy about a loser who faces one miserable experience after another, and, as if things couldn't get worse, the only positive in his life, his cat Goliath, goes missing. The filmmakers take us through a series of comedic set pieces some of which work, while others are long and tedious, that eventually results in the main character finally losing it. It's takes an interesting turn but, by then, I was looking at my watch wondering what time the next film would start.

The evening started with the festival's annual John Waters' introduced film. Each year John picks and MC's one of his favorites. This year, it was the great legendary French director Claude Chabrol's 1988 "Story Of Women" (***). After a few opening humorous comments, John mentioned that it originally had very limited distribution in the U.S.-probably because of the subject matter. Isabelle Hubbert gives a great riveting performance of a woman who performed illegal abortions when France was under the Nazi-corroborating Vichy government. Based on a true story, this film presents the moral issues of abortion rights and the death penalty that is centered around Huppert's character. Although the story moves along at a snail's pace and the drama doesn't really escalate until the final reel, Huppert's astonishing performance was well worth the time spent seeing a film that most would never get to see otherwise.

The day ended taking in brothers Jay and Mark Duplass' latest, "Baghead" (***). I absolutely loved their first film "The Puffy Chair" (which I reviewed in my 2005 Sundance Diary). Although not as strong, this one was another great relationship based film which the brothers seemed to really understand. Four friends (2 male and 2 females) go off to a desolate summer retreat to try and write a screenplay, starring themselves, in order to get them started on the road to fame and fortune. What happens along the way is both funny, touching, and surprising. The hand held camera with its incessant in and out focus might drive you crazy but it actually adds to the documentary feel of the proceedings. Actress Greta Gerwig (who is in no less than 4 films at the festival!) was on hand for the Q & A and the charming actress/screenwriter/director shows why she has a long career ahead of her! Stay with this one and you will be amply rewarded as the film takes unexpected twists and turns that most will not see coming. Greta mentioned that the film was picked up and will be distributed in the summer. Great news!

Strolling outside at the tent village across the street from The Charles was a musical performance by Clair Sardina singing Abba songs. Claire and her husband Mike are the subject of the documentary "Song Sung Blue" which I'm checking out first thing tomorrow. Later Friday night, the outdoor free screening of "Yellow Submarine", hosted by Baltimore's own muralist/painter/author Dr. Bob Hieronimus (who wrote 2002's "Inside The Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic"), was showing to a nice crowd in temperatures that mirrored mid summer instead of early May.

Looking forward to Saturday and another full slate of films. Check back tomorrow to get the update.