Filmmaker and author John Waters leads the Q and A for his annual
 personal selection (the late director/actor Barbara Loden's 1970
drama "Wanda") 

May 4, 2012-Day 1

 Another beautiful spring day in Baltimore and five screenings at The Charles Theater hub are in the offerings.  After only 4 hours of sleep, here are quick reviews.  Full coverage, including information gathered at the Q&As, will be posted next week (after some much needed sleep): 

"Volcano" (*** 1/2-99 minutes)-This Icelandic gem was a tough way to start the festival but ultimately quite rewarding.  Director Runar Runarsson's masterful depiction of a relationship between an elderly man about to retire and his sweet subservient spouse is accompanied with superb acting, especially by lead Theodor Julisson, and the stark beautifully photographed Reykjavik landscape.  Fans of Mike Leigh take note.  Realistic to the bone, this one will stay with you long after the lights come up.  The film repeats Sunday at 11AM and is scheduled for art house and international release on May 14. 

"The Source" (****-105 minutes)-Ever want to know what it was like to be a part of one of the spiritual psychedelic cults that took form in the late 60's and early 70's without actually joining?  Directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopolos incredible documentary will give you that chance as they chronicle the "family" founded by jujitsu expert and stuntman Jim Baker, aka Father Yod, aka YaHoWha.  To help bring in the funds, the group (which ultimately grew to over 140 followers) worked in Baker's vegetarian restaurant "The Source", which was frequented by L.A. celebrities and served as a setting for a scene in "Annie Hall".  The directors obtained extensive and amazing archival footage, meticulously maintained for years by cult member Isis, and recent interviews with many key cult members to produce, as chief programmer Eric Hatch correctly stated in the program guide "one of the major documentary events of the year".  Not to be missed, the film repeats Saturday at 6:30PM.  In case you can't screen it at the festival, the doc was picked up by the SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival that runs June 18-24.

(l to r) Presenter Skizz Cyzyk, former cult member Explosion Aquarius, 
directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos

"Kid-Thing" (** 1/2-83 minutes)-Director David Zellner ("Goliath") returns to the festival with this quirky understated droll "comedy" (very much in the style of an early Jim Jarmusch) that features newcomer 10-year-old Sydney Aguirre, a tomboy for the most part who is left alone to her own naughty, and, at times, evil devices.  The film is nothing more than a series of vignettes that oftentimes had me scratching my head as I waited for her to receive a much needed spanking or arrest.  Somehow a 10 year old girl shoplifting, mistreating animals as well as a handicap child at her birthday party, and ignoring a person in a life-threatening situation left me with a sour taste in my mouth instead of producing a laugh from my gut.  The film repeats Saturday at 5PM.   

(l to r) actor Nathan Zellner, director/actor David Zellner, actor Sydney
Aguirre, and cinematographer Clay Liford, and Programming Director
Eric Hatch
"This Is Not A Film" (*** 1/2-75 minutes)-Knowing the context of this documentary is paramount.  The film is an important statement of one man's defiance of political injustice if he is caught expressing his artistic vision.  Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has already been sentenced to six years in prison and ordered not to make pick up a camera for 20 years for making movies depicting Iranian life.  While awaiting the results of his appeal (his lawyer tells him at best the 20 year ban will be eliminated and possibly his prison time reduced by half) he sets up a camera in his apartment as he records his daily activities and ponderings.  At one point a colleague arrrives and films him as he reconstructs his latest script in his apartment.  Panahi put this film  on a flash drive and buried it in a cake to get it to the outside world at last years Cannes Film Festival.  This is not a film in the true sense of the word (hence the title), but a poignant document of one man's fight against oppression in the name of art.  In limited release since last February, the doc repeats at the festival on Saturday at noon.

"Lovely Molly" (***-95 minutes)-Director Eduardo Sanchez hit a grand slam out of the box with his and Daniel Myrick's 1999 Internet-driven hit "Blair Witch Project".  It has taken over 13 years for him to come close to that success but he appear to may have finally found a worthy successor.  Sanchez returns to Maryland (to an incredibly creepy 18th century house in Hagerstown) to produce this psychological haunted house spookfest of a tale that, thankfully doesn't resort to the tired tricks and scares of most films of this genre.  Molly (competently played by Gretchen Lodge) has just married and she and her hubby have returned to their deceased parent's house to set up house.  Apparently, Molly's upbringing was far from ordinary and those things that go bump in the night slowly change her from a beautiful spunky newlywed into a . . . well, best not to know.  Hubby (Johnny Lewis) is not around most of time as he is performing his trucking duties, while sis (aptly played by Alexandra Holden) is her only support.  Then there is that house.  Almost a supporting character in itself, the mansion is the scariest locale since "Psycho".  And Sanchez, as he did in Blair Witch, once again utilizes the minicam to record the action in an ingenious manner.  Lots of fun.  A limited release in NY, LA, and, yes, Baltimore (at the Egyptian 24 Cinemark in Arundel Mills) is scheduled for May 18.  The film repeats at the festival on 11PM Saturday.

(l to r) actor Gretchen Lodge, co-editor Andrew Vona, actor Alexandra
 Holden, and presenter Skizz Cyzyk 

Emmy winning Casting Director Pat Moran


Thursday May 3, 2012-Opening Night

The incredibly mild winter in Baltimore this year spilled nicely into spring as temperatures in the high 70's greeted the opening night throng celebrating the 14th annual festival.  New this year was a huge white after-party tent gracing the front lawn in front of the entrance of the Brown Center on the campus of the Maryland Institute of Art-the traditional cite of Opening Night.  As in past years a distinguished host gave the opening remarks and introduced the Shorts Program which has now become the mainstay of the festival.  Festival director Jed Dietz opened the proceedings and then introduced writer and editor, and former Johns Hopkins grad, Andrew O'Heir (Salon.com).  We were then treated to a selection of these 5 narrative short films that prepared the audience for what could be the best Maryland Film Festival yet:

"I Am John Wayne"  (** 1/2-18 minutes)-The weakest of the five, this minimalist short by director Christina Choe follows a black urban cowboy who cares for his best friend's horse after his untimely death.  The stilted acting and story just didn't take hold and seemed much longer than its 18 minute running time.

"Fishing Without Nets"  (****-17 minutes)-The program standout is this powerful narrative about modern day Somalia pirates.  Director Cutter Hodierne spent three harrowing months in Kenya (he planned for five weeks of  filming) to produce this remarkable short.  Top-notch cinematography, score, and acting (from local amateurs) make this director one to watch.  Hodierne mentioned during the Q&A that he plans a full-length film on the subject. 

"Cork's Cattlebaron"  (*** 1/2-15 minutes)-Director Eric Steele puts us in a steakhouse in Omaha Nebraska where we witness a life-altering conversation between two company employees.  A tour-de-force performance by veteran actor Robert Longstreet, who does most of the talking, makes this little gem click.   

"Modern Man"  (***-3 minutes)-Humorous, quick, but to the point, film depicts just how far modern technology has defined and influenced modern relationships.  Directors Kerri Lendo and stand-up comic John Merriman co-star. 

"The Kook" (***-18 minutes)-We are in the Catskill Mountains with a religious cult who are about to embark on a journey to a distant galaxy.  The alien leader is being transmitted to them by a bad guy who appears to the group through a hologram with the aid of a dish antenna.  When one of the group discovers that the "alien" is actually a local dude, she tries to warn the others-and that's when the fun begins.  Terrific acting by T. Shara Meer makes this one a great way to wrap up the 79 minute program.

Stop back here for daily updates and a full wrap-up after the festival.

Festival Director Jed Dietz opens the 14th annual 

(l to r) Jed Dietz, Director of Programming Eric Hatch, and Programming 
Administrator Scott Braid

Writer and editor Andrew O'Hehir hosts the Opening Night

(l to r) Jed Dietz, director Gregory Mitnick ("The Kook), actor 
T. Sahara Meer & director Christina Choe ("I Am John Wayne"), 
director Eric Steele"Cork's Cattlebaron"), directors Kerri Lendo & 
John Merriman ("Modern Man"), screenwriter John Hibey  & director 
Cutter Hodierne ("Fishing Without Nets")

The Brown Center on the campus of the Maryland College of Art

The after-party 

Baltimore independent filmmaker & educator Steve Yeager (l) and
director Cutter Hodeirne ("Fishing Without Nets") discuss film 
at the after-party