4th annual Town of Bel Air Film Festival Kicks off at Bel Air Armory Oct. 19

The Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission has announced that the fourth annual Town of Bel Air Film Festival will be held this weekend - Oct. 19-21 - at the Bel Air Reckord Armory at 37-41 North Main St.

This year's festival features four documentaries, all critically acclaimed, which have drawn praise at other more well-established film festivals. Tickets for the Bel Air Film Festival are $5 per movie, or $10 for a full weekend pass. The price of admission covers not only the movie, but also a soda and a box of popcorn. Tables and chairs are set up for movie lovers.

"We take the armory and make it into a very cozy environment," Rebecca Jessop, the festival director, said.

Jessop said the event should be the same quality as what people have come to know and love about the town's first three film festivals.

"Folks in this area are going to see the same high-caliber films that people travel to see at other renowned festivals," she explained.

Jack Gerbes, Director of the Maryland Film Office, and Susan Burdette, Bel Air Town Commissioner, will open the festival. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

One thing the festival is adding is student-made films in front of the feature, "Knuckleball."

"Knuckleball," Jessop said, focuses on two major league baseball pitchers and the unique world of knuckleball pitchers. "A dying breed," she said.

Jessop thanks "all the people who make this possible," putting on the festival every year, including all the Bel Air town commissioners and the Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission.

Advance tickets are available through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the Town of Bel Air Department of Economic Development in the Bel Air Reckord Armory at 37-41 N. Main St.

This year's film lineup features inspiring and thought provoking films from around the country. New this year, each film screening will begin with a short film created by students in the area. Opening night, Friday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. features a 2012 Tribeca Film Festival selection, "Knuckleball."

This classic sports story recounts the 2011 journey of the last professional knuckleball pitchers: Tim Wakefield, a 17-year Red Sox veteran, and Mets veteran R.A. Dickey. Together with just four other living knuckleballers, they shine a light on their remarkable brotherhood and the shared pursuit of honor and craftsmanship "An uplifting documentary about perseverance and determination reminds us that the national pastime still offers old-school heroes," is how Rex Roberts characterized "Knuckleball" in the Film Journal International.

The film on Saturday, Oct. 20, is "First Position," which opens at 4 p.m. The screening features an appearance by special guest Rebecca Houseknecht, a cast member of the film. "First Position" chronicles the real-life stories of six aspiring dancers from around the world, ages 11 to 17, who in 2009 competed in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix, the world's largest student ballet scholarship competition.

The film was named the audience choice's first runner-up for Best Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco Doc Fest, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Dallas International Film Festival, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival and the audience award for Best Documentary at DOC NYC. Director Bess Kargman won the award of Best New Director at the Portland International Film Festival as well.

"It's an intense journey, and [director] Kargman captures it all, down to the dancers' bloodied and bruised feet," was Amy Hitt's comment in The Washington Post.

Later on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., the feature will be "Queen of Versailles." Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Queen of Versailles follows billionaires Jackie and David Siegel's rags-to-riches-to-rags story to uncover the innate virtues and flaws of the American dream. It opens with the triumphant construction of the largest house in America, a sprawling 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by Versailles. Since a booming time-share business built on the real-estate bubble is financing it, the economic crisis brings progress to a halt and seals the fate of its owners. Viewers witness the impact of this turn of fortune over the next two years in a riveting film fraught with delusion, denial and self-effacing humor.

"The film's great achievement is that it invites both compassion and Schadenfreude. What could have been merely a silly send-up manages to be a meditation on marriage and a metaphor for the fragility of fortunes, big and small," is what The Economist had to say about the film.

The feature on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 3 p.m. is "Brooklyn Castle." Audience Award Winner at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, "Brooklyn Castle" is about I.S. 318, an inner-city public school that is home to the most winning junior high school chess team in the country. A series of deep public school budget cuts threaten to undermine its hard-won success. Matt Allman, Certified Tournament Director and Chess Coach, will be the guest host.

"'Brooklyn Castle' is an irresistibly uplifting doc about students at an inner-city junior high school who rank among the very best competitive chess players in the United States," Joe Leydon wrote in Variety.

Tickets are $5 per person and include one complementary soda and popcorn. Children 10 years of age and younger are free. Comfortable table seating is available and attendees can bring their own snacks and blankets, too! Free snowballs will be available Sunday, courtesy of Sharon's Hawaiian Shaved Ice of Bel Air.

The festival's main sponsors include the Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission, Bel Air Economic and Community Development Commission and the Maryland Film Office. Co-sponsors include Center for the Arts, Bel Air Downtown Alliance and the Harford County Cultural Arts Board. Honorary sponsors include the Maryland Film Festival.

For more information, visit http://www.TownOfBelAirFilmFestival.com or call 410-838-0584 and ask for Jeanne, or send an e-mail to JWhiskeyman@belairmd.org. You can also contact the Festival Director, Rebecca Jessop, at RJessop@HarfordCFA.org.

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