Sunday, May 04, 2008

Maryland Film Festival 2008 - Part 1


Swatzika? Schmatzika!

10 years after Atomic TV covered the debut Maryland Film Festival (a time so long ago that Bruce Willis' ill-fated Planet Hollywood - remember when it was the anchor of Harborplace? - was a sponsor), I finally ended up working for the festival as a volunteer at the 10th Anniversary MFF - the one with the non-starter controversy over its poster looking like a Nazi swastika (it's a Roman numeral X for 10, people!). Tent Village manager Scott Braid - one of Baltimore's "Great Scotts" (along with Scott Huffines, Scott Wallace Brown, Scott Hedeen, Scott Kecken, etc.) - asked me to be a staff cameraman and to film a bunch of director intros and Q&As, as well as some Tent Village events.

Tent Village manager Scott Braid

Only hitch was, I had to provide my equipment, meaning I had to dig out my antiquated Digital 8 Sony camcorder (yes, I am the only person in the world still shooting in Digital 8; I also don't have a laptop, flash drive, cell phone camera, or Netflix account - I have a lot of catching up to do when I finally get my Economic Stimulus Check!) and walk in the shadows of all those state-of-the-art cinematographers at the festival lugging around their fancy HD Digital cameras. But I got over it. As a housepainter (or was it a porn star?) once told me, it's not the size of the paintbrush, it's the skill of the artist. Not that I'm an artist; I'm a hack for hire. Specifically, in exchange I got an all-access pass, so I could see anything in between assignments on the house. I didn't have time to catch a whole lot other than the movies I was assigned, but I enjoyed most of what I saw. And the other volunteers - people like shuttle van driver Irene High and Rebecca - were great and hard-working.

Thursday, May 1 - Opening Night Shorts

Just as at the first ever MFF in 1999, when he presented the rough cut of his Diner Guys documentary, Barry Levinson was the host for the MFF's opening-night shorts program. This year's program covered all formats, from QuickTime to 35mm film and even included a 3-D short! The films included:

(Bennett Battaile, USA, 1.5 minutes, QuickTime)
This was the perfect opener, funny and short and an immediate crowd-favorite as it made the audience don special 3-D glasses, to see the gnats at the Gnat Training Research Lab performing intricate choreography and line formations like those cheerleader competitions on ESPN. Never forget: if you provide 3-D glasses, the people will come!

(Michael Langan, USA, 7 minutes, 35mm)

Brilliant, wacky, imaginative and energetic. Of coure, I haven't a clue what it was about, but it made me say, "Cool!" Plus it featured singing tennis balls, which (as everyone knows) is always a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!

(Daniel Robin, USA, 12 minutes, DVcam)
Everyone loved it; I hated it. I guess I just don't "get" mockumentaries or fake documentaries. Even one purporting to be a tale of marital discord set against the 1980 Munich Olympics tragedy. I mean, the the Munich Olympics subject matter has been captured definitively in the award-winning doc One Day in September and the dysfunctional-family-deconstructed through found footage and home movie-manipulation angle has pretty much been covered by Alan Berliner (The Family Album) and Atom Egoyan (Family Viewing). Much as been made of the way this film uses real footage to construct a fiction, but isn't that what Craig Baldwin (Tribulation 99) does in all his movies? So I guess I didn't see the point.

(Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello, USA, 14 minutes, 35mm)
Everything about this film screamed, "This is for you, film lover!," yet I was bored. It documents a film fantic in Kolkata, India, who has devoted his life to screening fims for the poor kids in his neighborhood using a Lumiere rear-projecting projector. Call me jaded; I've already seen Cinema Paradiso.

(Ben Mor, USA, 8 minutes, BetaSP) (***)
Opportunity knocked, and Mor answered the call. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mor was one of the few filmmakers allowed into New Orleans to document the devastation. Shooting in stark black-and-white (hmmm, might be a metaphor in that), he puts Dick Cheney, George Dubya and Louisiana Guv'nor masks over the faces of three youths and has them walk around the Lower Ninth Ward. Nothing much happens, but the images are striking, those masks are eerie, and the soundtrack rockin' - especially Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Well played, y'all!

(Heidi Van Lier, USA, 5.5 minutes, BetaSP)
You can't go wrong with kids as your subject matter or players - just ask Pee-Wee, They Might Be Giants or the folks at Ghoul-a-Go-Go - and this story of a preschool Material Girl trying to gain social status among her peeps has a universal theme we all can relate to: being popular at any cost! A red rubber ball holds the key to this little girl's aspirations and the film teaches us that no matter how big you think your balls are, they can always be bigger (funny how the lessons we learn in preschool carry over into adulthood!). Hilarious and imaginative.

Later, at the after-party in MICA's Brown Auditorium, my friend Barb Wilgus (****) came up and bussed me, leaving a big red lipstick mark on my cheek. The Old Boy Network/Male Bonding Effect soon took hold, as countless male friends and strangers came up to me and whispered, "Psssst! You've got lipstick on your cheek." I told them it was cool, I wouldn't be called out by a jealous girlfriend (who was, in fact, home in bed - having to get up at 5 in the morning, as per usual).

Feeling A Bit Cheeky

At the apres-party I talked with Barb (pictured left), who works for Baltimore City's STD Clinical Services, and her beautiful/charming Ethiopian co-worker Metti (*****) - pictured below right - who I immediately christened "The Sepia Audrey Hepburn" for her stylish couture. While she sipped her Merlot and munched on hors d'ouvres, Babs regaled me with graphic descriptions of itchy-scratchy sexually-transmitted diseases like syphillis and chlamydia (and the shocking news that swinging seniors in nursing homes represent the biggest recent spike in STD stats!). Meanwhile, Metti convinced me that I really needed to get over my reluctance-to-fully-embrace Reggae music and get with the world beat program.

I also spotted writer/filmmaker David Beaudoin (pictured left) in the Brown Building lobby, who told me he was working on a documentary about Baltimore's Korean community. I told him that was great idea, one I'm also fascinated with, as it's a large but largely unknown (at least to non-Koreans) community.

And that was the opening night. More to come...

See also:
Maryland Film Festival 2008 - Part 2


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