Yeah, we know. City Paper pretty much owns the film fest with their awesome (and hardworking) coverage. But every year we try to treat our small crew of readers to our picks which are, we hope, more in line with theirs!
So lets just get right to this shit:
WANDA (Presented by John Waters)
Directed By: Barbara Loden
Hosted/Presented By: John Waters
Legendary filmmaker John Waters has selected a favorite film to present within each Maryland Film Festival since their launch in 1999. This year he’s chosen Wanda:
Wanda was the only feature film (alongside a small body of shorts) directed by Barbara Loden. Loden began her career as an actress, perhaps best known for her stage and film roles for director Elia Kazan (Splendor in the Grass, Wild River), whom she later married. In 1970 she wrote, directed, and starred in this drama, raw and direct in its style, portraying a coal-town Pennsylvanian housewife who runs away with a criminal. Tragically, her life was taken by breast cancer in 1980, leaving us to guess what another feature film from Loden could’ve been.
Wanda premiered at the 1970 Venice Film Festival and played Cannes in 1971, and its reputation in film circles only continues to grow. Taken by many as emblematic of the renegade energy and open-minded exploration that characterizes the best of 1970s cinema, it stands today as an inspiration to a whole new generation of filmmakers.
It’s been a few years since Waters shared with us a film from the era when his own film career was in its incipient stages. As always, we can’t wait to hear what he has to say. (Eric Allen Hatch)
U.S.A. • 1970 • 102 minutes • 35mm
Ok. We’ll give Ed Sanchez (Blair Witch Project) one more chance. We weren’t big on his last entry Seventh Moon, we’re willing give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s an amazing talent, just had a bad run post-Blair Witch. So we’re going to reccy his new film, Lovely Molly.
Fraught with suspense and psychological tension, Lovely Molly uses western Maryland as its setting and frankly, it’s never looked so creepy. Returning to inhabit the family home in which she grew up, Molly (Gretchen Lodge) is an ex-addict trying to stay the course of recovery by moving back to the country and away from temptation. The recently wed Molly and her husband Tim (Johnny Lewis) embrace the opportunity for peace that country life provides, but that peace is short-lived. There is something lurking deep inside this old house that has other plans for Molly.
The film is anchored by an urgent and unsettling lead performance by newcomer Lodge, with equally excellent performances from her supporting actors Alexandra Holden (as Molly’s sister) and Johnny Lewis. As only experts of the genre can, Sanchez terrifies, titillates and thrills without resorting to the cheap shorthand of buckets of guts and gallons of blood. (J. Scott Braid)
U.S.A. • 95 minutes • digital
We’re super excited for this doc on a gay activist pioneer.
Vito Russo was a true hero of the GLBT struggle, best known as the author of The Celluloid Closet, a co-founder of GLAAD, and an outspoken member of ACT UP. Despite leaving behind an amazing legacy, his story has been for years under-sung, a wrong finally corrected by this stirring and inspirational documentary.
Russo first came to prominence in the 1970s as a film lover who cultivated an encyclopedic and unprecedented knowledge of the treatment of gay and lesbian characters in cinema history from the silent era forward. That material coalesced first into a travelling lecture and eventually into 1981’s definitive volume The Celluloid Closet. Russo struggled for years to get his work published, a fight validated when it ultimately became a massive bestseller and the basis for the award-winning documentary of the same name. Simultaneous to his film scholarship, Russo became a passionate and unapologetic advocate for gay rights, AIDS awareness, and the goal of a strong and distinct (rather than assimilated and passive) GLBT culture. Brilliantly crafted by Jeffrey Schwarz (MFF 2009’s Spine Tingler! and the forthcoming I Am Divine), Vito is a heartfelt, informative, and emotional triumph. It stands alongside We Were Here (MFF 2011), The Times of Harvey Milk, and yes, The Celluloid Closet at the upper echelon of essential documentaries about the gay experience in the United States. (Eric Allen Hatch)
U.S.A. • 93 minutes • digital
ANY OF THE SHORTS PROGRAMS IN THEATER 3!
This is prob our most anticipated film of the fest. We’ve been dying to see this version since hearing a review on the now defunct Guardian Movie Podcast. DEF a must see!
Andrea Arnold strips Brontë’s story down to its essence, and in the process relieves us from the showy, overly costumed and overly sappy adaptations that have been undertaken in the past. In addition, casting two actors of color (James Howson and Solomon Glave) in the role of Heathcliff (playing the character at various ages) teases out an element of racial tension only hinted at in the book, one that underlines the themes of class and social standing already explored throughout the story.
Excellent performances from both the younger and older versions of Heathcliff and Catherine (Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario) flesh out Brontë’s characters in a way previously unseen on the screen. The heartbreak Heathcliff feels is palpable, as is Catherine’s uncertainty at her decision. Setting is a key player too, with the harsh weather of the English moor providing the perfect backdrop for this tragic romance.
A tough, uncompromising look at the choices one makes between true love and comfort, and the consequences of those choices, Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (like its source material) possesses a fierce emotional impact that is hard to shake even when you’ve left the theater. (J. Scott Braid)
U.K. • 130 minutes • digital
We’re giving love to The Windup Space who’s hosting numerous films this year. Get off Charles St. and peep this film at the popular bar/venue
Wild in the Steets:
Many centuries ago in the town of Ashbourne (in central England), the Shrovetide game developed. The two sides of the town, which is divided by the Henmore Brook, play each other in this grueling, two-day, mass football game which has nary a rule. One team is comprised of those that live north of the Henmore (Up’ards) while the other team is comprised of those living south of the Henmore (Down’ards). Starting on Shrove Tuesday and continuing on Ash Wednesday, the game rages in the streets from afternoon deep into the evening, only stopping for a quick pint at the local pub when a goal is scored.
This glorious tradition is explored in-depth in this thrilling and endlessly fascinating look at the Shrovetide Football phenomenon. Ashbourne is a community that truly functions as such (a rare bird in this day and age) and Wild in the Streets illustrates the importance that this tradition plays in maintaining and even strengthening this community’s bond. (J. Scott Braid)
U.K. • 82 minutes • digital
Yeah. One constant we look forward to is the 3D film on Saturday. This year, we get a musical….ummm…we’ll wait on our judgement.
Those Redheads From Seattle:
Amidst the Alaska Gold Rush, Mrs. Edmonds (Moorehead) arrives with her daughters Kathie (Fleming), Pat (Teresa Brewer), and Connie and Nell (the Bell Sisters)—all redheads except for one, all arriving from Seattle. Their arrival is met with some bad news, resulting in the women taking jobs in a saloon, typing, running a newspaper, and doing seamstress work. Drama, romance, and musical numbers ensue, all coming at you in 3-D.
There is a common misconception among film historians that Kiss Me Kate is the only 3-D musical, but Those Redheads From Seattle not only belongs on that short list, it was released a month earlier, making it the FIRST 3-D musical. (Skizz Cyzyk)
U.S.A. • 1953 • 90 minutes • 35mm
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA:
Istanbul-born Nuri Bilge Ceylan has emerged as a master of world cinema with such titles as 2003’s Distant (which won the Grand Prix at Cannes), 2006’s Climates (a personal favorite of this programmer), and 2008’s Three Monkeys. His films take place over the course of dark nights and stormy days, during which men brandishing easily-bruised egos travel desolate roads in search of some personal truth that may or may not be found.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia takes Ceylan’s aesthetic to the next level, adding what at first appear to be film noir notes as a police convoy transports a confessed murderer to the scene of the crime. They’re making the trip to collect a misplaced corpse, and wry comedy begins to rear its head as the countryside proves maddeningly homogenous, especially at night, and the convoy continually fails to find the right field, the right tree, and the right stream by which the body should still be located. Meanwhile, the various characters along for the ride – several policemen, a chief, a medical examiner, a prosecutor, and the accused – deal with the evening’s monotony by gossiping and teasing each other, as well as trading trivial tips about food, drink, smoke, and other indulgences.
As the evening threatens to turn to morning, comparisons to Kafka and even Waiting for Godot feel apt. And yet these characters and these visuals could only come from one person. Ceylan has created a cinematic world all his own, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia may be its most rewarding realization yet. (Eric Allen Hatch)
Turkey • 157 minutes • 35mm
Non-fiction film can take many different forms, with the boundaries that define it continually expanding via the invigorating visions of a new crop of filmmakers. The Ross Brothers excel at re-staking the boundaries of the form. Rarely does one encounter as fresh and vital a non-fiction film as this epic odyssey of discovery through the New Orleans night.
Second-time feature directors Bill and Turner Ross (of the extraordinary 45365) show us NOLA as we’ve never seen it before. Three young brothers set out from their home on the outskirts of the city, on a quest to visit that city’s heart. Given their age and the fact that their neighborhood is geographically isolated from the city’s core by the Mississippi river, the downtown area has remained largely off-limits for exploration, until now. The three embark on a ferry ride across the river to explore this forbidden land, affording us the privilege of accompanying them as they discover the exotic and restless inner life of the city they call home.
Although documentary at its core, this film enters a realm usually inhabited by great literature and the finest of narrative filmmaking. It is an American adventure akin to those of great writers like Mark Twain, and one that also possesses a savvy modernism. With Tchoupitoulas, the Ross Brothers have crafted a poetic ode to a recovering city and its people. (J. Scott Braid)
U.S.A. • 80 minutes • digital
COME BACK, AFRICA
Hosted/Presented By: Amy Heller and Dennis Doros of Milestone Film & Video
This is a little gem that needs to be seen.
Zachariah (Zacharia Mgabi) is a black laborer with the simple goal of finding a job and bringing his family to the city. It’s 1959 in the black township of Sophiatown, and the racial-segregation policies of Apartheid permeate and stifle South African society. Zachariah’s uphill battle is compounded by convoluted permit requirements, leaving even sympathetic white employers reluctant to take a chance on him. He moves from the horror of the gold mines to construction work, spending his free time in the “shebeen,” semi-legal drinking spots where voices of dissent and the songs of Miriam Makeba are proudly heard.
The helplessness and frustration of Zachariah’s struggle is captured in a filmmaking style that’s been labeled “docu-fiction.” Director Lionel Rogosin (director of 1956’s On the Bowery and founder of Bleecker Street Cinema) cast non-professionals in key roles and creatively incorporated footage of miners at work, street musicians performing, and real citizens expressing social discontent. Rogosin and his South African collaborators duped the South African government into believing that their project was a commercial film about “happy Africans” singing and dancing. In so doing, they covertly created a beautiful and moving film about a culture at a pivotal point in the process of transforming itself.
Now vividly restored by Milestone Films, Come Back, Africa has earned accolades from such cultural figures as Harry Belafonte, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, and Charles Burnett. The breakthrough appearance of Miriam Makeba propelled her to international fame, and contributed to her being banned from South Africa for 30 years. (Eric Cotten)
U.S.A. / South Africa • 1959 • 85 Minutes • 35MM
We’ve been waiting to see this “scary movie” since it premiered at Sundance. It’s gotten great reviews and is a perfect horror film for a late Saturday night.
Made by a group of America’s most daring young directors,V/H/S frames its component films within an over-arching story of a group of petty criminals who are commissioned by a mysterious “client’ to retrieve an all-important VHS tape from an eerie house. After they break into the house, they find a cache of macabre home videos which they hope holds the tape they seek. As the larger group searches the house, several of the burglars take turns watching the videos. The tapes (each one comprising a segment of the film) mesmerize these ne’er do well viewers with gruesome footage of unspeakable acts, granting them unusual access to the darkest side of human nature. The initiation of each of the felons into this dark realm of spectatorship may hold dire consequences, beyond the potential legal wrangles for breaking and entering.
Each segment is thrilling on its own and proves even more so within the framework of the anthology. Each segment is thrilling on its own and proves even more so within the framework of the anthology. The over-arching story is directed by Adam Wingard (cinematographer of MFF 2011’s Art History), while one of the most wild and entertaining segments, The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is directed by MFF uber-alum Joe Swanberg (director of MFF 2011’s Art History and Silver Bullets), working for the first time from a script which he did not author. Rounding out this chilling collection are 10/31/98 directed by the collective known as Radio Silence, Amateur Night directed by David Bruckner, Tuesday The 17th directed by Glenn McQuaid, and last but certainly not least Second Honeymoon by Ti West (The House of the Devil).
V/H/S is not just a fresh take on the omnibus film, it’s a generous helping of modern horror at its best. (J. Scott Braid)
U.S.A. • 115 minutes • digital
Sun Don’t Shine:
LOTS of buzz about this 16mm film. Here’s hoping it lives up to it!
Festival favorites Kentucker Audley (MFF 2011’s Bad Fever) and Kate Lyn Sheil (also of The Comedy, Empire Builder, and V/H/S, all screening within MFF 2012) star as a young couple pushed to the brink by extreme circumstances. As they drive through the sweat and murk of Florida, it becomes clear that they’re on the run—perhaps from their own miasma of ever-escalating jealousies and paranoia as much as from a shared terrible secret.
Every aspect of this production is top-notch, from the perpetual-motion-machine performances by Audley and Sheil to the moody and evocative 16mm cinematography. As with the beautifully abrasive provocations that are The Brown Bunny and Frownland, Sun Don’t Shine seems to spring simultaneously from some ecstatic 1970s cinema wasteland and the present-day vanguard, even as it mounts a winning case for its own timelessness. Recently revived cinema treasures like Zulawski’s Possession and Loden’s Wanda (John Waters’ pick for MFF 2012) are other rare anchors of orientation for this free and unfettered work.
Fresh from its world premiere at SXSW 2012, Sun Don’t Shine is a film that needs to be seen and discussed. (Eric Allen Hatch)
U.S.A. • 82 minutes • digital
The Black Balloon:
Ahhhh…Sunday morning couldn’t be any nicer thanks to this collection of shorts.
In a remarkably short period of time, Josh and Benny Safdie have built a rich and distinct body of work. Perhaps best known for Daddy Longlegs (MFF 2010), their films are characterized by a deep reverence for independent film history, wonderfully offbeat humor and characters, and an uncanny ability to capture on film the overpopulated bustle and rugged individualism that is New York City life.
All of these traits are very much at the fore for their sublime new short The Black Balloon, the story of a balloon accidentally set loose by its owner, launching a majestic and comic journey across a metropolis.
The Safdies have curated a program of classic, balloon-themed shorts, appropriate for all ages, that compliment their latest work. Included in this program are:
The Black Balloon (Josh and Benny Safdie, 2012, 21 minutes)
The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1956, 34 minutes)
The Balloonatic (Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1923, 22 minutes)
The Pincushion Man, a.k.a. Balloon Land (Ub Iwerks, 1935, 7 minutes)
Program Running time: APPROX. 84 Minutes • 35mm
Yeah. If there’s one thing the MDFF does that is truly awesome, it’s choosing a closing night film. Miss The Hurt Locker? We did and had to wait almost a year to see it on the big screen. This year looks to another a home run.
Directed By: Todd Solondz
Hosted/Presented By: Todd Solondz
Starring: Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken, Justin Bartha, Donna Murphy, Mary Joy
With two back-to-back masterpieces, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and Happiness (1998), Todd Solondz established himself as the new standard-bearer for American dark comedies—or, as he calls them, “sad comedies.” Bold, provocative, and hilarious, his body of work finds humor and insight in our deepest neuroses, pains, and misdeeds. With Dark Horse, Solondz has delivered not only his greatest film since those twin ‘90s classics, but his most accessible work yet.
Abe (Jordan Gelber), is a petulant and selfish man-child who, firmly on the far side of 30, still lives at home, working for his father and collecting toys. Deeply lonely yet full of blustery delusions of grandeur, Abe aggressively pursues troubled beauty Miranda (Selma Blair). In a moment of weakness, she goes along with his advances, built around his grandiose vision of a life together in his room full of collectibles. This stroke of good fortune surprises no one more than Abe’s long-suffering parents (a note-perfect pairing of Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken)—until, that is, things begin to unravel.
With great pride, Maryland Film Festival presents Dark Horse as its 2012 Closing Night selection. It’s a hilarious new vision from an American film master that playfully interacts with his earlier films even as it boldly paves new ground. (Eric Allen Hatch)
Whelp, that’s about it for us! Enjoy the fest and get your tix here! Support the Maryland Film Fest .