This weekend's Maryland Film Festival, running Thursday through Sunday, features a documentary about abortion rights, a sci-fi romance set on Mars and a look behind what it takes to go live on "Saturday Night." There are indie auteurs, big-name stars and actors who should be big names. There's also a crop of young filmmakers showcasing their talent.
THE SELF-DISCOVERER: Lena Dunham (left, photo by Lena Dunham)
FILM: "Tiny Furniture"
SCREENING: 9 p.m. Friday, Charles Theatre 4; 2 p.m. Saturday, MICA's Brown Center
Lena Dunham wrote "Tiny Furniture," about the stuck-in-slow-motion life of a recent college grad, in just four days. But it had been brewing in her mind for six months. "I really can't mull something for so long," says Dunham. "I have to get it out." The goal was to make the film in time for the South by Southwest festival. She made the deadline, and ended up winning SXSW's biggest prize — best narrative feature. "Tiny Furniture" also was just picked up for distribution by IFC Films. Not bad for someone who did secretarial work and baby-sat after graduating from Oberlin College two years ago. "I feel very, very lucky," says Dunham, who turns 24 on May 13. "I knew I was just very proud of the film." In "Tiny Furniture," which she also directed, Dunham plays 22-year-old Aura, who comes home from college and moves back into her mother's loft. Her mother and sister star as her family in the film, and much of Aura was based on Dunham herself. "She's part of me and part of my imagination," says Dunham, who lives in Tribeca. "My friend called her the most annoying parts of me. I feel a lot of sympathy for her." Overall, the film reflects what Dunham calls that relatable post-college "year of what the f---!" Now, for Dunham, it's more like "the year of f--- yeah!"
THE EXPLORER: Isaac Diebboll
FILM: "The Woman"
SCREENING: Avant-garde shorts program, 1:30 p.m. Friday, Charles Theatre 4; 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Charles Theatre 3
The are usually no words in Isaac Dieb-boll's short films. He doesn't need them. In his latest, "The Woman," Diebboll, 21, spent five days last July filming his mother in Maine, filming the woods, filming his dog. "I had no idea if I was going to get any film out of this," said Diebboll. "I get this image ... then I literally see what images will follow that image." His meditative films often showcase his family — a recent work, "Memories of My Father's Death," features his father, who is suffering from brain cancer. Exposed to Hitchcock and Kubrick at a young age, Diebboll, once strongly driven by narratives, "realized that it wasn't the narrative I needed to focus on," he says. "It was the lingering moments in narrative that paints the portraits of the characters ... that I was interested in." Just wrapping up his junior year at MICA, the interdisciplinary sculpture major (who also shot a behind-the-scenes film about the making of Matt Porterfield's "Putty Hill") came to Baltimore as a "person who loves film." He splits his time between art installation, film-making and exploring the city, which provide inspiration for films. Diebboll, who lives in Mount Vernon, recently met someone who claims to have a strong connection to drug rings in town and showed interest in partnering with Diebboll for a documentary. "I'm particularly interested in simply using images as language," he says. "Images are the most powerful tools and weapons today on the planet."
THE INNOVATOR: Eric Dyer
FILM: "Media Archaeology 2110"
SCREENING: The avant-garde shorts program, 1:30 p.m. Friday, Charles Theatre 4; 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Charles Theatre 3
Eric Dyer looks back at the past and reinvents the future. His latest work, "Media Archaeology 2110," set in the year 2110, features a scuba diver finding film reels underwater and not knowing exactly how to put them together the right way to look at then. The film allows Dyer, an assistant professor of animation and interactive media at UMBC's visual arts department, to experiment with cinetropes — which combines pre-cinema zoetropes (spinning sculptures that contain sequences of images) with high-definition digital video. For years, he has been experimenting with — and innovating — this process. It took two months to make and cost $1,000. "In a way, what inspires me is the unexplainable drive to break new ground, to do something that's never been done before," he says. Dyer, 38, grew up in Baltimore and started making films when he was 13. He had moved back to Maryland from California, didn't know anyone and starting experimenting with his family's Super 8 "out of boredom," doing animation with robot models and Matchbox toys. In between making films, he teaches introductory courses on hands-on animation and experimental processes. Now showing his work at the festival for the fifth time, Dyer, who lives in Roland Park, says he hopes innovation in animation technology will lead to "human expression, untethered." "I'll always be interested in experimenting with new processes in animation and filmmaking, trying to discover expressive possibilities in the process," he says. "There so much more ground to cover in animation."
THE PARTNERS: Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal (right, photo by Sophia Takal)
FILM: "Gabi on the Roof in July"
SCREENING: 9:30 p.m. Friday, University of Baltimore Student Center; 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Charles Theatre 5
"Gabi on the Roof in July" conveys that uneasy, stuck-in-your 20s period without mining the piles of cliches that weigh down way too many coming-of-age flicks. Credit Levine, 30 and Takal, 23, who are engaged in real life, but are brother and sister in the film. Takal plays the titular Gabi, a free spirit with a penchant for drama who moves in with her brother, Sam (Levine), in New York. Levine, who directed and co-wrote the film, was inspired by the process of director Mike Leigh — working extensively with actors leading up to production, conducting series of improvisations that became the basis for a shooting script. You can feel the realness, the freshness. But it was difficult to make. "It's difficult to maintain a group of actors for a six-month period without paying them," he says. "But, somehow, it worked. And it never looks or seems like acting." Takal enjoyed creating the backstory for Gabi. "I started with this idea that everyone has a pose and posture," she says. "It's when you're young and insecure and act more like an adult than you're really capable of. It's this moment in her life when she goes from pretending to actually being an adult and having adult experiences." Oddly, the couple, who live in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, have a life-insurance commercial to thank for "Gabi." Takal was called to be in a scene for a national spot, was cut, but still banked check after check for her work. "I told Lawrence to get off his ass," she says. "Now we had the money to make the film."
IF YOU GO: Maryland Film Festival
LOCATIONS: The Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St.; University of Baltimore Student Center, 21 W. Mt. Royal Ave.; MICA — Falvey Hall, Brown Center, 1301 Mt. Royal Ave.
TICKET PRICES AND SCHEDULE: md-filmfest.com