Meet 2nd term Vermont Republican State Senator Norm McAllister.
This week he was arrested and plead not guilty to "three felony counts of sexual assault and three misdemeanors of prohibited acts, the charges arising from what police describe as a sex-for-rent scheme involving several unwilling tenants."
In graphic allegations that shocked McAllister's colleagues, the governor, and the courthouse, prosecutors outlined a tale of several years where McAllister sexually assaulted two tenants/employees and attempted to assault a third for rent on a trailer on his diary farm.
by Scott Braid, Maryland Film Festival Festival Programming Administrator
It's that time of year again where I give readers of the Shank my hot tips for what to see at the Maryland Film Festival. Due to a glitch of Google drive I lost the original version of my list (which I had spent 4 hours writing) and so have to put it back together with not much time. So please forgive any typos and punctuation errors made in my sleep-deprived haze.
It should go without saying that I love all of the films at MDFF and that these are just a few things that, if I were an attendee, I would prioritize in my viewing schedule.
As we all know the lead up to this year's MDFF has been very different than any other year. Given the events of the last few weeks here, it seems only proper to begin my list by highlighting some of the more politically progressive and thought-provoking works that will screen within MDFF 2015.
DO THE RIGHT THING directed by Spike Lee A film that urgently needs revisiting in the current moment in Baltimore. Spike Lee's seminal account of exploding racial tensions during a steamy Brooklyn summer in the 1980s should not be missed.
BEATS OF THE ANTONOV directed by Hajooj Kuka An incredible and awe-inspiring tale of the resilience of the human spirit under the most extreme, war-ravaged conditions imaginable. The Sudanese of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains regions of Sudan, continue the struggle to maintain their culture and livelihood during the oppressive and perilous ongoing civil war. BEATS won the People's Choice Documentary Award at TIFF 2014.
WELCOME TO LEITH directed by Michael B. Nichols and Christopher K. Walker A thrilling and blood-boiling account of white-supremacist Craig Cobb's attempts to take over a small town in North Dakota, to begin his dark dream of a whites-only homestead. Riveting from its first frame to its last, a reminder of the dangers of fundamentalist belief and extreme right-wing politics.
VENICE directed by Kiki Alvarez One of the first crowd-funded films to come out of Cuba, VENICE is a heartfelt look at female friendship over the course of one long night in the streets and clubs of Havana. Marked by strong female characters and written by the actors themselves in collaboration with the director, VENICE shows three female friends searching for freedom from their problems and the strictures of a male dominated world. One of my favorite films from TIFF 2014.
BEST OF ENEMIES directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon An expertly crafted document of the extremely contentious prime-time debates between liberal author, playwright and political commentator Gore Vidal and his arch-conservative nemesis William F. Buckley, Jr., during the 1968 conventions. Both fun to watch and educational, a must see for anyone who saw it happen or has no idea who these people are!
GOD BLESS THE CHILD directed by Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck A stirring portrait of a group of siblings faced with an irresponsible and often absent parent. The film's documentary-like approach to observing children as they interact with each other and the outside world without the benefit of adult supervision, pays off in a richly layered and emotionally complex film. A true work of art.
UNEXPECTED directed by Kris Swanberg A smart and insightful look at the racial and economic disparity between two expectant young mothers. A young, white teacher and one of her African-American students bond over the fact that they have both become pregnant around the same time, but they face very different realities. Deftly directed by MDFF alum Kris Swanberg.
THE REAPER directed by Zvonimir Juric An unflinching and masterful narrative centered around an ex-con who is unable to escape his past in a small Croatian village. Recommended to fans of Haneke, Bruno Dumont and the like.
CROCODILE GENNADIY directed by Steve Hoover A charismatic Ukrainian pastor wages a one man war against rampant childhood drug addiction on the streets of Mariupol. Executive Produced by Terence Malick this is a tough, uncompromising and breathtaking piece of documentary cinema.
If you have more adventurous tastes and you're looking for something a little more cinematically afield, I would highly recommend the following:
FUNNY BUNNY directed by Alison Bagnall A wonderfully quirky buddy comedy about an eccentric young millionaire shut-in named Titty; an internet celebrity named Ginger that Titty desires; and Gene, a door-to-door crusader against childhood obesity who is unexpectedly pulled into their orbit.
A WONDERFUL CLOUD directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko If you can imagine Woody Allen and John Waters collaborating on a romantic comedy together then you start to be in the ballpark of this hilariously bonkers film. From the unique mind that brought you MDFF 2010's 0s & 1s, A WONDERFUL CLOUD is an MDFF must see!
WHY DO THE WTF SHORTS RUN AMOK? directed by various It's all here! A pee shy cop, unwelcome attempts at a roommate threesome, Ronald Reagan, a misbehaved turkey, a murderous crow, botched home invasion, internet voyeurism, horny conquistadors, lovers spurned, and your morning announcements!
Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you at the festival!
by Eric Allen Hatch, Maryland Film Festival Director of Programming
Each year as Maryland Film Festival approaches, Benn is kind enough to offer me some space to take off my hat as MFF director of programming and share some “insider picks” that I think friends and Shank readers will particularly dig. Thanks, Benn! I’m really proud of this year’s lineup, and proud to be welcoming over 100 awesome films and filmmakers to our beautiful city May 6-10.
In no order other than that ordained by our alphabet:
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution—Stanley Nelson directed my favorite documentary of the 2000s (which, of course, is Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple). With that film and titles like Freedom Riders, he’s shown an unparalleled ability to bring history to gripping life—not to mention deliver definitive takes on his chosen subjects. What else to say, except the obvious: this seems like a particularly crucial film to see right now.
Breaking a Monster—Last year, this short film went viral, offering an affectionate portrait of Unlocking the Truth, a jaw-droppingly precocious pre-teen African-American heavy metal band. Partially as a result of the short, the band was signed to Sony and picked up by a 70-year-old manager known for co-creating Welcome Back, Kotter and grooming the Jonas Brothers. The band has now re-teamed with the director of the short film, Luke Meyer (who co-directed LARP-ing doc Darkon, a big hit at MFF 2006), for this endlessly entertaining feature-length look at what happened next.
Christmas, Again-- Noel (Kentucker Audley) sells Christmas trees off a lot in New York, living a quiet and solitary life in the camper that anchors the site. As Christmas nears, a mysterious woman lands in Noel’s life, and tries to find a way into the closed-off, emotionally blocked world he’s constructed. If you think independent filmmakers do drama and romance better than Hollywood, a)you’re right; b)see this film.
Entertainment—It’s the Neil Hamburger movie—sort of! Gregg Turkington, best-known for the aforementioned persona, a caricature of a sad, old-school comedian armed with a comb-over and offensive punchlines, stars here as “The Comedian”—a sad, old-school comedian armed with a comb-over and offensive punchlines. Endlessly roaming a desolate American landscape, performing two-bit gigs in Z-grade venues, The Comedian offers provocateur Rick Alverson (who recently unleashed the pitch-black The Comedy with Tim Heidecker) another opportunity to probe the extreme dark corners and breaking points of humor.
For the Plasma—Here we have just another shot-on-Super 16mm feature about two young women in Maine who observe trees and a field with digital cameras and supply that “data” for use in making global stock-market predictions. This is one of the strangest, scrappiest, and most challenging films in the lineup, and a lot of people won’t know what the hell to make of it—but viewers on its wavelength may just have their minds blown. I’m recommending this one to people who love the novels of Kobo Abe and Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating, so if this is (or isn’t!) you, know thyself!
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party—We’re world-premiering this expertly observed drama, which takes us deep into the complex social sphere of the son of a mega-church preacher; he and many of his friends are harboring sexual secrets dad might not approve of. I love the way this film paints a picture of a contemporary American Christian community, and the little glances and disapproving words that regulate conformity within it—or at least try to.
In the Basement—Ulrich Seidl is a dark fellow. And if you follow John Waters’ annual picks for Maryland Film Festival, he’s also the only director JW has selected twice (with Dog Days in 2004 and Paradise: Faith in 2013). This isn’t Waters’ pick this year (that would be William Friedkin’s Killer Joe), but it’s of the same masterful quality of Sedil’s earlier work. Here’s what he has for us this time around: an insane documentary about secret lives in the basements of seemingly mild-mannered Austrians: amateur taxidermists, shooting ranges, BDSM chambers, collections of Nazi memorabilia, and more.
Jauja—A very beautiful, stark, and strange Argentine period piece set in Patagonia, built around Viggo Mortensen searching for his disappeared daughter. If you like films about existential crises, here ya go! Mortensen not only delivers a performance that’s Klaus Kinski-esque in its angst and physical arduousness, he also composed and performed evocative original music for the film with experimental musician Buckethead (!). In other words: Viggo’s all in! Director Lisandro Alonso’s earlier film Liverpool was a standout in MFF 2010, and this new work is a next-level development in his work.
Sailing a Sinking Sea—Director Olivia Wyatt has crafted a gorgeous immersive ethnographic doc about the Moken people of Burma/Thailand, who maintain their traditional sea-worshipping lifestyle and spend most of the year largely disengaged from contemporary technology. Wyatt conveys a staggering amount of sensory detail, filling our eyes and ears with amazing sights and music. If you’re down with Sublime Frequencies, this is a home run for you. Executive-produced by Will Oldham, BTW.
Stinking Heaven—This one blew me away, an intentionally abrasive dark comedy about the tumultuous dissolution of a 1990s New Jersey commune of ex-addicts who make their living selling "health tea." Shot on period video cameras, it feels sort of like a Mike Leigh movie w/ a few drops of proudly analog grunge added to the stew. If you wished Computer Chess had been about addiction, death, and imploding relationships: boom!
Tab Hunter Confidential—A sweet, fascinating, and well-told documentary portrait of the Hollywood heartthrob, who lived a secret life as a gay man in the unforgiving, tabloid-crazed era of the 1950s—and then reinvented himself as a cult-film star alongside Divine in Polyester. Another classy, top-notch work from the director of Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story and I Am Divine.
Tired Moonlight--Gorgeously shot vignettes built around a mix of local non-professionals and ringers (including Girls’ Alex Karpovsky) coalesce into a rich and poetic portrait of a pit-stop town in Montana situated amidst stunning natural beauty. Britni West’s film is made with first-hand intimacy and love, and it’s the very best kind of experimental film: the kind that truly results in something new.
Uncle Kent 2—For people who loved, hated, or are utterly unaware of Uncle Kent "1," this is a really deranged mind-fucker, a raucous, micro-budgeted This Is the End or Being John Malkovich. Director Todd Rohal is the reigning king of psychotronic filmmaking, known to MFF fans for previous warped features like The Guatemalan Handshake and The Catechism Cataclysm (whose star, Steve Little of Eastbound and Down, also appears here). If you miss MicroCineFest, run don’t walk!
Welcome to Leith—Like edge-of-your seat documentaries? This is one of the most gripping I’ve seen in years. It concerns a notorious white supremacist who targets a North Dakota town of roughly 25 residents, buying up land for himself and his buddies to try to stage a takeover of the city council. The kind, decent people who live there are not down. A tense, troubling, and exciting viewing experience all at once.
Western—In the neighboring towns of Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Mexico, a rugged cattleman and a populist mayor navigate changing times as the specters of cartel violence and xenophobia threaten harmonious cultural and economic exchanges between the U.S. and Mexico. With an uncanny, visceral ability to conjure muggy days and thunderous nights, and boasting exciting narrative, characters, and visuals all at once, this documentary from the directors of 45365 and Tchoupitoulas feels like a masterpiece to me.
What else? This is just the tip of the iceburg. We’ve got dozens more features for you to explore (including new work from Andrew Bujalski, Hannah Fidell, Bobcat Goldthwait, Alex Winter, and both Joe and Kris Swanberg) and a baker’s dozen shorts programs (including the latest film by Baltimore’s own Matt Porterfield), as well as some special events: Abdu Ali presenting Do the Right Thing; Dina Kelberman and Alan Resnick presenting Showgirls; John Waters presenting Killer Joe; and Alloy Orchestra presenting their original live score to The Son of The Sheik.
Have questions? Want recommendations geared even more specifically to your taste? I’d be happy to field them on Twitter at @ericallenhatch. And for more general info, find us at @mdfilmfestival. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at the festival.
In other Baltimore news, today, the Department of Public Works announced the termination of an employee for watching 39 hours of pornography on his work computer during the 82 hours he was investigated.
It is estimated that this DPW supervisor cost the city taxpayers $28,400 in hour he was supposed to be working but was instead watching a porno DVD on his computer.