Wednesday May 7 - Sunday May 11
16TH ANNUAL MARYLAND FILM FESTIVAL
"Station North" Baltimore.
Director of Programming Eric Allen Hatch’s Maryland Film Fest 2014 “Insider Picks”
Maryland Film Festival is back May 7-11 for our 16th annual festival. As with each of the last 15 years, we’ll have ~50 feature films and ~75 short films. I know that’s a lot to read up on, so here’s a cheat sheet. The following isn’t me wearing my hat as MFF director of programming, but me giving some civilian insider tips that I think would be of special interest to my friends and all the cool kids who read the Shank. Whether you’re looking for this year’s Dogtooth, Tiny Furniture, Capturing the Friedmans, or Turin Horse—or all of the above—we have you covered. Thanks to Benn for giving us the space to enthuse about these films and filmmakers!
HERE ARE 12 MOVIES I THINK EVERYONE WILL FLIP OVER
A great indie rom-com whose central character just happens to be a bi-sexual Iranian-American hipster. The film’s tension stems from the fact that she’s nervous about coming out to her parents (much to the frustration of the women in her life). Warm, hilarious, and insightful, I loved every minute of this film!
ART AND CRAFT
Fascinating and funny documentary about an unforgettably quirky art forger who generously “donates” perfect fakes of small works by big artists to institutions all over the country, often duping them into placing the pieces on their wall. But has he met his match when a museum employee with an equal dose of OCD gets wise to his scheme?
A big-hearted Mexican coming-of-age comedy with a bit of a transgressive bite. A mom and her awkward pubescent son are lounging at a sleepy beachfront motel, when a teenage girl starts getting to know the boy better—something Mom might not be ready for. I saw more than 40 features at the most recent Toronto International Film Fest, and this hilarious humanist comedy was quite possibly the best.
DEEP CITY: THE BIRTH OF THE MIAMI SOUND
If you’re into Numero’s Eccentric Soul reissues or documentaries like Thunder Soul and Wheedle’s Groove, this documentary about the Miami record label that launched the likes of Betty Wright and Clarence “Blowfly” Reid is tailor-made for you. No Searching for Sugarman surprises here, just fantastic soul music, warm personalities, and rich history passionately presented.
EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL
I’ve never seen a film quite like this before. It’s the true-crime story of a bank robbery in Texas, told with a mixture of reenactments and documentary interviews. The catch? The director himself was one of the participants in the crime. A riveting film that has stuck in my head for weeks after seeing it.
This dark comedy about a broken man who specializes in de-programming young cult members reminds me of Todd Solondz’s very best, boasting expertly crafted drama and thrills to boot. The superb cast of this SXSW standout includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead and The Wire’s Lance Reddick; we’re one of the few fests that’s been able to screen the film in the wake of that premiere, so don’t miss it!
If you love documentaries like Jesus Camp and Hell House, films willing to dig deep into subcultures on the fringe of mainstream Christianity, look no further then this documentary about pastors who double as MMA fighters! Just don’t expect a finger-wagging film that preaches to the converted.
Of the hundreds of films I watched in preparing the fest this year, none had me laughing as hard and as often. Winner of the grand jury award for narrative feature at SXSW 2014, it’s a satire of Brooklyn hipsters for whom getting to the beach becomes an impossible odyssey. If you love Girls, you’ll love this; and if you hate Girls, you’ll love this: the milieu is similar, but its characters are handled with a really dark and cutting edge.
KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER
The Zellner brothers, the team behind off-beat MFF audience favorites Goliath and KID-THING, return with this film set in Japan and Minnesota. The story? A Japanese woman thinks her worn VHS copy of Fargo is sending her instructions on how to retrieve that film’s buried booty. Gorgeously shot, and punctuated by moments of trademark Zellner humor.
If you can picture Cassavetes’ Husbands and Mike Leigh’s Naked in a stew spiced by just a dash of Judd Apatow, you’ll be in the right ballpark for this endlessly surprising, ever-inventive blend of comedy and drama. Two brothers with very different personalities reconnect as their lives fall apart, forming a new and uneasy bond driven by increasingly impetuous behavior. Seeing this at SXSW made me feel like the ante had been raised on what U.S. indie films can deliver.
THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT
Set in a Berlin apartment on a sunny afternoon, this moving-image sculpture moves people, objects, and pets in and out of the frame with a visual sensibility that owes something to Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman, yet with a lighter touch and sense of surprise all its own.
WHO TOOK JOHNNY
Simply one of the most gripping documentaries I’ve ever seen, a must for fans of films like Capturing the Friedmans, The Thin Blue Line, and Paradise Lost. When paperboy Johnny Gosch disappeared in 1982, his picture appeared on milk cartons, catapulting the issue of missing children into the public’s imagination. Disturbing allegations and shocking theories about Johnny’s presumed abduction have come forward—some pointing to a conspiracy of horrific proportions.
HERE IS ONE TOTALLY INSANE FILM FOR THOSE WITH EXTREMELY OPEN MINDS AND STRONG STOMACHS
This latest work from S. Korean master Kim Ki-duk (The Isle) is his most crazed and relentless yet. This wordless but sonically dynamic film opens with an act of violence as extreme as any previously depicted on film—a scene that had audience members at its Toronto premiere variously running for the exit, squealing in horror, or laughing manically (all valid reactions). It only gets crazier from there—but if you can take it, it’s all in the service of an amazing plot and a rather profound statement about human nature.
HERE ARE 4 AWESOME, CHALLENGING ART-HOUSE FILMS FOR THE REAL HEADS
From Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, the group behind Sweetgrass and Leviathan, comes this film that takes viewers on several real-time rides on the cable car that leads to and from Nepal’s Manakamana temple. It really does adhere to that structure, so viewers will want to be prepared to adjust their attention spans accordingly; but if this sounds appealing to you, I think there’s every chance you’ll find it richly rewarding.
EL LUGAR DEL HIJO / THE MILITANT TRAILER from Manolo Nieto on Vimeo.
From Uruguay comes this character study of a taciturn student organizer who relocates from the big-city university to a rural outpost after his father passes away. The film has one foot in the stark aesthetic of Argentine producer Lisandro Alonso (MFF 2010’s Liverpool), and another in quirky comedy.
Tsai Ming-Liang’s latest is definitely for patient viewers only; always known for his signature long takes, he’s stretching out his painterly set-ups even further with this first digital feature. But if his films are your cup of tea (we’ve screened his I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone and Walker in past years), you’ll want to make time for this new development in one of world cinema’s most important bodies of work.
VANQUISHING OF THE WITCH BABA YAGA
Jessica Oreck’s film essay, driven by rich visuals and sound design at once futuristic and psychedelic brings to mind Sans Soleil in its combination of documentary, travelogue, film essay, folklore, and animation—and it’s possibly the only movie I’ve seen since that Chris Marker masterpiece that I feel is worthy of the comparison.
HERE’S A QUICK RUNDOWN OF OUR 3 KILLER REPERTORY CULT TITLES
BARBARELLA w/ MATMOS
A 35mm print of the ecstatic, sex-crazed 1968 sci-fi film, presented by electronic duo Matmos, who took their name from the film! Join us in submitting to the irrepressible adventures of Barbarella and dashing rebel leader Dildano!
LIQUID SKY w/ Slava Tsukerman
This early 80s sci-fi film about aliens descending on downtown New York’s art scene in search of heroin—and deciding instead to bottle the human orgasm. Presented by director Slava Tsukerman from his own 35mm print!
PUTNEY SWOPE w/ DJ Spooky
Robert Downey, Sr.’s landmark underground film Putney Swope tells the story of the new head of a stodgy advertising agency (Arnold Johnson) who transforms the painfully white business into a Black Power outfit producing ads that are deliriously R-rated. Introduced by composer, visual artist, author, and film theorist DJ Spooky.
Freedom Summer would almost certainly be on this list, but I haven’t seen it yet (festival director Jed Dietz saw it at Sundance); director Stanley Nelson is probably the world’s best historical documentarian, and his Jonestown is easily in my top 10 docs.
So many amazing short films, with the indescribably mesmerizing Buffalo Juggalos jumping out at me as something Shank readers should know about.
Festival regulars John Waters (Abuse of Weakness) and Alloy Orchestra (He Who Gets Slapped) are both back; Ping Pong Summer, Michael Tully’s ode to summers spent in ‘80s Ocean City, which debuted at Sundance and took home an audience award at Sarasota, is having its local premiere with us! Ticket sales tell me you guys are already hip to these ones!
And, naturally, so much more. Got a question for me? Leave a comment here, or hit me up on Twitter at @ericallenhatch. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you at the movies!