2017 Maryland Film Festival documentaries include look at Baltimore's rat problem and more

Programmers have released the names of 11 documentaries set to play the 19th Maryland Film Festival, set for May 3-7 at the newly opened Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre and other locations in the Station North area.

The documentaries include two from Baltimore filmmakers, Theo Anthony's "Rat Film," a look at Baltimore's history through the lens of the city's rat problem; and Ramona S. Diaz's "Motherland," which looks at the world's busiest maternity ward. 

The 11 films, along with synopses provided by the film festival, are:

"Austerlitz" (Director: Sergei Loznitsa)

"There are places in Europe that have remained as painful memories of the past — factories where humans were turned into ash. These places are now memorial sites that are open to the public and receive thousands of tourists every year. The film’s title refers to the eponymous novel written by W.G. Sebald, dedicated to the memory of Holocaust. This film is an observation of the visitors to a memorial site that has been founded on the territory of a former concentration camp. Why do they go there? What are they looking for?"

"The Blood is at the Doorstep" (Director: Erik Ljung)

"After Dontre Hamilton, a black, unarmed man diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot 14 times and killed by police in Milwaukee, his family embarks on a quest for answers, justice, and reform as the investigation unfolds."

"The Departure" (Director: Lana Wilson)

"A former punk-turned-Buddhist-priest in Japan who has made a career out of counseling suicidal people finds himself at a crossroads, leading him to confront the same question his patients ask him: what makes life worth living?"

"Finding Joseph I: The HR from Bad Brains Documentary" (Director:  James Lathos)

"'Finding Joseph I' is a documentary film chronicling the eccentric life of punk rock reggae singer Paul 'HR' Hudson from Bad Brains. The charismatic frontman's explosive live performances helped pioneer hardcore punk while delivering an enlightening message of positive mental attitude. HR's heavy devotion to the Rastafarian faith guided him in a spiritual direction leaving the band several times to explore his love for reggae music. Over the years, HR’s increasingly unpredictable and abnormal behavior has many convinced that he is suffering from mental illness. 'Finding Joseph I' illustrates the true story behind the legendary lead singer’s life, career and struggles with never before seen archival footage, photography and exclusive interviews."

"I Am Another You" (Director: Nanfu Wang)

"Eating garbage, dodging police, and hitching rides with strangers, award-winning Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang shares the streets with a young drifter named Dylan who left a comfortable home and loving family for a life of intentional homelessness. Fascinated by his choice and rejection of society’s rules, Nanfu follows Dylan with her camera on a journey that takes her across America and explores the meaning of freedom — and its limits."

"Maineland" (Director: Miao Wang)

"Chinese teenagers from the wealthy elite, with big American dreams, settle into a boarding school in small-town Maine. As their fuzzy visions of the American dream slowly gain more clarity, their relationship to home takes on a poignant new aspect."

"Motherland" (Director: Ramona S. Diaz)

"A documentary look at the world’s busiest maternity ward, located in the Philippines, from the Baltimore-based director of 'Imelda' and 'Don’t Stop Believin’.' The director’s work always explores issues related to the Philippines and/or Filipinos. Premiered at Sundance 2017. Diaz, a Baltimore-based filmmaker, is an alumna of the Maryland Film Festival for several feature-length documentaries such as 'Imelda' (MdFF 2004) and 'The Learning' (MdFF 2011)."

'Rat Film' (Director: Theo Anthony)

"Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. "Rat Film" is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat — as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them — to explore the history of Baltimore. 'There's never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it's always been a people problem.' Theo Anthony, a Baltimore-based filmmaker, is an alumni of the Maryland Film Festival for the short films 'Chop My Money' (MdFF 2015) and 'Peace in the Absence of War' (MdFF 2016)."

"The Stairs" (U.S. premiere — Director: Hugh Gibson)

"'The Stairs' tells the story of Marty, Greg and Roxanne, each of whom survived decades of street-involvement. Using their experiences to ease the paths of others, each performs social work in their old neighborhood, while struggling to maintain their newly-found stability. Told over five years, 'The Stairs' is a non-judgmental character study of life on society’s margins. Defying stereotypes through intimate portraits, its remarkable subjects are by turns surprising, funny, shocking and moving."

"Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities" (Director: Stanley Nelson)

"A haven for back intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries—and path of promise toward the American dream — black colleges and universities have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field. They have been unapologetically black for 150 years. For the first time ever, their story is told. Directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, 'Tell Them We Are Rising' examines the impact HBCUs have had on American history, culture, and national identity. 'Tell Them We Are Rising' will air nationally on the acclaimed PBS series "Independent Lens" in early 2018. Nelson is also the director of "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" (MdFF 2015).

"Whose Streets?" (Directors: Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis)

"A documentary about the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and then left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for residents of St. Louis County. Grief, long-standing tension, and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy. In the days that follow, artists, musicians, teachers and parents turn into freedom fighters, standing on the front lines to demand justice. As the national guard descends on Ferguson, a small suburb of St. Louis, with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new wave of resistance."

Information on the Maryland Film Festival can be found at mdfilmfest.com.

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