WYPR to host New/Next Film Festival in August, offering stopgap while Maryland Film Festival recoups

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Against all expectations, Maryland will host a film festival in 2023.

Baltimore public radio station WYPR-FM (88.1) will mount the New/Next Film Festival on Aug. 18-20 at The Charles Theatre in Station North.


This addition to Baltimore’s entertainment lineup, announced Friday, is expected to feature about 20 full-length features and four or five programs of short films over three days, with a special emphasis on diverse and emerging filmmakers.

Though the event will include some international films, according to festival curator Eric Allen Hatch, more than half are expected to be movies either created by Maryland filmmakers, movies that were shot in Maryland or movies that deal with themes significant to state residents.


New/Next was conceived as a stopgap measure until the beleaguered Maryland Film Festival can reemerge on a more solid financial footing, according to Sam Sessa, the director of events & community engagement for WYPR and WTMD-FM.

Though the annual showcase for local cinephiles had become a beloved annual tradition since its 1999 debut, organizers of the Maryland Film Festival announced in December they were postponing the five-day event until 2024 to stem the financial drain that resulted after the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“As we came out of the pandemic, I remember thinking that Baltimore has gone for three years with no Artscape, no Baltimore Book Festival and no Light City,” Sessa said. “When we got news that the Maryland Film Festival had been canceled, it felt like such a punch in the gut. I thought, ‘There has to be a way to fill this gap until the Film Festival comes back.’”

Over the next four months, Sessa scraped together a budget in “the very low six figures” that included a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, the The Abell Foundation and The Baltimore Community Foundation. He lined up Hatch, the former programming director of the Maryland Film Festival, to run the interim festival.

“We’re stepping up to say that Baltimore can still have a film festival this year, even on short notice,” Hatch said. “And even though it’s just three days instead of five, it can still be grand and important to Baltimore.”

Local cult filmmaker John Waters told The Baltimore Sun he will be out of town all summer because of prior commitments and won’t be able to participate in New/Next, but added: “I’m always thrilled about any new movie activity in Baltimore. ... I certainly wish them well.”

In an email to The Sun, Sandra Gibson, the Maryland Film Festival’s executive director, reaffirmed the group’s commitment to bringing back Baltimore’s signature film festival next year at its Parkway Theatre home on North Avenue.

“Work to re-envision the Parkway is underway,“ Gibson wrote, “and planning has begun for a 2024 festival.”


She expressed her support for New/Next, adding: “It’s great that WYPR is offering a weekend celebration of film, Baltimore film culture and providing a service for the community and lovers of film at this time. We appreciate all the work that has gone into organizing and producing the festival.”

In its heyday, the Maryland Film Festival attracted more than 12,000 visitors over five days. Sessa said he will be satisfied if this year’s event draws even a few thousand film buffs.

While the full film lineup won’t be announced until this summer, Hatch said he expects to show a few buzzy opening night films. He said that nationally known filmmakers “whose names will resonate with Baltimore audiences” already have agreed to make guest appearances.

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Ticket prices haven’t been set, but Hatch and Sessa said they are aiming to keep the cost at or below the amount a movie fan would spend to see a movie on a weekend night.

“We want to keep the price point very, very accessible,” Sessa said. “We are going to be giving away a significant number of tickets to residents of the Charles North community. We don’t want people to stay away from the festival because of the cost.”

A full film lineup and a portal for purchasing advance tickets will be available by midsummer at the website


The addition of New/Next in late August followed by the return of Artscape a month later amounts to an unusually strong ending to Baltimore’s 2023 summer entertainment lineup. And it represents an effort by local businesses and neighborhood groups to create new events, such as last month’s Waverly Book Festival, that fill the gulf caused by the absence of cherished local traditions.

Sessa, a former reporter and editor for The Sun, said that the Maryland Film Festival was a factor in his decision to settle in Charm City after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2005. Last year, he even made his debut behind the camera and directed a short film about Baltimore’s music scene titled “Do Whatever You Want, All the Time: The Baltimore Music Scene 2005-2020.” The film, which had a handful of local screenings, was co-produced by local cinematographer Julia Golonka.

But Sessa emphasized that neither he nor Hatch envisages New/Next as a replacement for the Maryland Film Festival.

“We are not looking at ourselves as being in competition with them,” Sessa said. “We see what we are doing as supplementing the Baltimore film scene in an off year. We are rooting for them to come back stronger than ever.”