Maryland Film Festival-DAY 4 & Final Thoughts

Sunday May 4, 2005

Another beautiful day in dear old Bawlmer greeted film goers for the last day of the 10th annual. And it started with a bang with, what is becoming, the festival's annual performance by the world renowned Alloy Orchestra performing the background score for Josef von Sterberg's 1927 silent film "Underworld" (****). This one is purported to be the gangster film that started the genre. Writer Ben Hecht ("The Front Page" and "Scarface") won the first Academy Award for "Best Writing" for this work. I first heard The Alloy Orchestra at The Telluride Film Festival preforming for the original silent great "Nosferatu" in 2000 and have seen them about 7 times since-usually at the MFF. The 3 musicians sound like many more and produce original scores to many diverse silent films. They are spectacular and not to be missed if you have the opportunity to see them.

I followed this one with the fun documentary "Strictly Background" (***). Director Jason Connell follows 10 career background movie extras to show what it's like to try and get your 15 minutes of fame even if you are just a head shot in a crowd scene full of hundreds of extras. I was particularly drawn to this film as I have had experience as an extra in several movies and TV productions. Although I never looked at it as a career option, these 10 LA folks do and will go to great lengths to fulfill their dreams to be in the movies at any (or no) cost. In fact it's really not about the money at all for these characters. And that is part of what makes them, as well as this documentary, so fascinating. The filmmaker mentioned that it will be shown on TV sometime this year and available on DVD. A humorous look into the inner workings of this aspect of show business that remains, er, strictly background.


Reflecting back over the last 4 days I started making mental notes of the pluses and minuses of my hometown festival and thought I'd sum up how far the festival has come and where it needed improvement as its entered the 2nd decade of existence:
-The last couple of years, the opening night event has been held on the campus of The Maryland Institute of College of Art. Why not return it to The Senator full-time where it all began-which would serve to promote both the festival and the last movie palace in Baltimore. That would be the perfect marriage-and it would have been even more appropriate this year having Barry Levinson hosting both the first MFF as well as its tenth anniversary.
-It is time that the concept of "nothing but shorts" to open the festival needs to be finally put to rest. Although the compilation this year was the best yet, there is nothing special that they bring to the table. Many people I've talked to over the last 4 days agree with me that having a full length film would better serve the attendees than, what amounts to, a hour's worth of short films made by virtual unknowns. The novelty has definitely worn off and, if the organizers want to include them, then select a couple of the shorter, better works to show preceding the main event.
-Although The Charles' location for the majority of the screenings has always been a plus, I missed the Senator's special 70mm screenings that were held there during the early years.
-The parking situation improved drastically by providing free street parking around The Charles allowing patrons better accessibility to the event.
-I loved the free outdoor screenings and the tent village with its workshops and panel discussions with filmmakers and other notables.
-The majority of the screenings I attended started late-which didn't allow a lot of leeway if you had tickets to another event immediately following-which is a huge no-no for film festivals with tight schedules!
All in all, though, I'd give the festival a C+. Overall, it was an enjoyable weekend of diverse films as I look forward to year 11.