Wednesday May 4 - Sunday May 8
2016 MARYLAND FILM FESTIVAL
"Station North" Baltimore.
by Eric Allen Hatch, Maryland Film Festival Director of Programming
Hi! Eric Hatch here, director of programming for Maryland Film Festival. This is my 10th year programming the festival, and I’m particularly excited about this year’s lineup, bringing to Baltimore nearly 50 features and 100 short films. You can scroll through them and/or download a PDF of our 89-page program book here. That’s a lot of info to absorb, so each year Benn is kind enough to let the programming team run take off our official hats and run through some “insider picks” highlighting some titles that Shank readers might particularly respond to—namely, some of the most risk-taking, deranged, and/or politically charged titles in our lineup. So: thanks, Benn… and let’s jump in!
This immersive documentary about a small-scale farm in Oregon dispenses with all formalities and sets you down right in the sweat and grit of the soil. No talking heads, no pat explanations, just visceral immediacy as three young farmers tend to goats, deal with extreme weather, and cope with the fact that the government might be regulating their farm out of existence. If you’ve seen experiential docs like Sweetgrass and Leviathan, this is another meditative work that operates in their aesthetic zone and delivers that very high caliber of viewing experience.
CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR
Do you want to see a slow Thai film that gets a little mystical, a little funny, and a little cosmic? Of course you do. If you’ve already seen director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century or Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives—well, this is his new joint, and you’re in for a similar treat.
We’ve been big boosters of new Greek cinema here at MDFF, and this is the latest work by one of the minds behind two of the biggest and baddest—Athina Rachel Tsangari, producer of Dogtooth and director of Attenberg. Here she gives us a dark satire of male ego and competitiveness run rampant, as six male friends on a yacht develop a cutthroat, quickly escalating game to determine who among them is the all-around best by every measure.
This cool, collectively made omnibus project has five awesome independent filmmakers (a who’s-who of young MDFF alumni) transcribing a dream, and then adapting into a short film a dream another of the filmmakers had (randomly and anonymously assigned). The results are top-notch surrealism, bursting with energy and imagination.
For me and my co-programmer Scott, this was the breakout U.S. indie film at this year’s SXSW film fest. It’s a dark comedy about a now straight-laced business-type dude who returns to his hometown to settle his grandmother’s affairs. When a series of mishaps leave him without his wallet and phone, he’s forced to turn to an old friend from high school, and he’s dragged into his stoner, metal-head past in one crazy night that’ll remind cinephiles of Scorsese’s After Hours and, more recently, Magary’s The Mend. Director Kris Avedisian is mind-blowing as the titular crier.
DO NOT RESIST
It would be hard to come up with a documentary more timely or more potent than this investigative look at the militarization of U.S. police forces. It uses police-brutality protests in Ferguson as a window into an important question: why are there tanks and Robocops patrolling the streets of small U.S. towns—not to mention, well, Baltimore? There are moments of Roger & Me absurdity as the film pulls the curtain up on the big-money interests behind one of the worst things happening in America today.
Anna Rose Holmer’s first narrative feature is flush with atmosphere, following a middle-school girl who shifts from boxing to drill team. As she seeks acceptance from her new peers, they start succumbing one by one to a mysterious wave of shaking and fainting spells. What gives? I’ll only tell you that the last five minutes of this film are some of the most vital and alive cinema I’ve seen in quite some time.
Billed as a documentary made from found footage on YouTube, Fraud unfolds with hyperactively edited pixely video footage of an American family in mundane situations. And then things get really, really weird. As what we see on screen gets darker and more transgressive, we start asking ourselves if what’s we’re seeing is real footage or a put-on. I honestly don’t know—but either way, the end result is equally impressive and brilliant. In 10 years of programming this festival, I’ve never seen a film quite like Fraud.
HOW HEAVY THIS HAMMER
A forty-something schlubby guy becomes increasingly absorbed in a fantasy computer game, increasingly reacting to real-world interactions with distraction and irritation as he drops the ball as husband, father, and employee. If you love classic Todd Solondz, this is the film for you. Bonus points if you remember MDFF 2007’s Frownland, another film this ace Canadian dark comedy brought to mind. This and Koza (see below) were my top 2 films out of the 45 I saw at the most recent Toronto International Film Festival.
I love this brooding yet wry Slovak drama that blurs the lines between reality and fiction, using a former Olympic boxer to play a down-on-his luck former Olympic boxer. Slowed by years of hard living and needing money to pay for an abortion, he’s trotted out by a disreputable manager for sketchy small-prize fights in the cold North of Europe. This isn’t a boxing movie so much as it is a grim and highly satisfying visual experience.
THE LOVE WITCH
This is only new film in our lineup screening from a 35mm print, and it’s a beauty. Situated somewhere between Hitchcock’s Marnie; Bell Book and Candle; Polanski’s Repulsion; and the films of Jess Franco, director Anna Biller’s story of a witch with an itch to kill uncannily conjures the look and feel of old-school technicolor horror. Watch the trailer and I’m sure you’ll agree.
This is a feature-length animated documentary about an early 20th Century surgeon who decided he could fight impotence by implanting goat testicles in human men, performing dozens of these procedures—as well as making a mark on early radio history and state politics. For most of you reading this, I feel like that’s probably enough said.
Possibly the most visually stunning film in the festival, this documentary takes us to a remote salt flat in Bolivia, where an isolated community’s traditional lifestyle—not to mention one of the most beautiful places in the world—is being disrupted by large-scale mining for precious minerals used in smart-phone batteries.
UNDER THE SHADOW
There’s atmosphere and jumps to spare in this horror film set in late-‘80s Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War. When a missile strikes an apartment building but doesn’t detonate, a mother tries to calm her daughter, who becomes convinced that the missile has angered ancient malevolent spirits. Critics are comparing this to The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; I personally found it a lot scarier than either.
SHORTS: Every Short For Itself and WTF Shorts Against All
Our WTF Shorts program has become one of our signature events each year. This is the pepper into which we stuff all the most excitingly unhinged, fucked-up, and otherwise unclassifiable shorts we see. It’s a cavalcade of psychotronic delights; you won’t see anything like Zia Anger’s My Last Film this year, and you’ll either hug me or hate me after Calvin Reeder’s absolutely perfect film The Procedure.
What else? Well, as always we’ve got the legendary John Waters presenting a favorite film. Last year he went with the greasy Southern neo-noir Killer Joe, and this year he’s switching it up into different terrain, choosing Terence Davies’ emotional and elegant The Deep Blue Sea. For you silent-film heads, we’re bringing back the great Alloy Orchestra (featuring Roger Miller of Mission of Burma), who this year present the 1924 French avant masterpiece L’inhumaine (The Inhuman Woman). And as with most years, we’ve got a guest-host selecting and hosting a favorite film—this time activist (and John Waters-endorsed mayoral candidate) Deray Mckesson, who selected the very awesome 1994 coming-of-age film Fresh, which (along with Anna Biller’s The Love Witch) is the only other film screening on 35mm this year.
There are well over a hundred films and filmmakers coming to town, so read up and get those tickets here: mdfilmfest.com. And if you want to holler at me with any questions, particularly of the “If I like movie X and movie Y, what ‘s the movie Z for me?” variety, hit me up on Twitter: @ericallenhatch.
THANK YOU for reading, and I’ll hope to see you at the festival!