Some of Baltimore’s best has been on display at this week’s 21st Maryland Film Festival, thanks to an activist challenging her beloved city to be better and Charm City’s favorite film auteur presenting his own happily twisted sensibilities for everyone to savor.

For the first time, the Film Festival, which continues through Sunday at the Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre and the Maryland Institute College of Art, included a program dedicated to short films made in Baltimore. Judging by the reaction to the crowd, it’s a tradition organizers might want to continue — especially if the quality of work matches Thursday’s inaugural presentation.


Narrative films from Darren Mallett (“BodyMore”) and Sade Clacken Joseph (“Finding Phoebe”) used their central characters to explore the dilemmas of young black women finding their footing on Baltimore’s streets.

Richard Chisolm’s “Gun Show” watched as artist David Hess took his display of non-functioning firearms made from found materials to various places (including UMBC and New York City) to see how people reacted — a lot of pointing and mock shooting, but also some thoughtful ruminations on America’s gun culture).

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In “Deserted,” documentary filmmaker Emily Stubb used some Baltimore food deserts, as well as some people determined to address the problem, to make the case that food is a basic human right withheld from too many people.

The clear crowd favorite, however, was Gabe Dinsmoor’s “Sage,” a visit with the indomitable Erricka Bridgeford, organizer of the Ceasefire movement. Over and over again in the 20-minute film, Bridgeford pleads with whoever will listen to take pride in their city, as if her force of will alone could keep Baltimoreans from killing one another in record numbers. When the film finished, the packed Parkway audience broke into loud and sustained applause.

“I made the film because I love Baltimore,” said Dinsmoor, who has occasionally freelanced for The Sun, in response to a question from the audience while Bridgeford stood behind him and beamed. “Baltimore is a great place, full of great people.”

On Friday night, the city’s favorite unrepentant bad boy, John Waters, once again exposed his fans to a movie that deliciously ignored mainstream sensibilities. And a packed Parkway loved it.

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Leave it to Waters to present a movie guaranteed to warm the hearts of parents and children everywhere. His annual Friday night hosting gig this year was in service to director Brian Taylor’s “Mom and Dad,” a merrily deranged black comedy in which a rogue TV signal sends parents everywhere into a murderous rage, with their own children as targets. Nicolas Cage, in full nutzoid mode that seems extreme even for him, and Selma Blair are the title characters, trying to do things with a sledgehammer, a garden hose and a Sawzall you really don’t want to think about.

Absolutely, proudly, unrelentingly over the top. The crowd loved it.

And when it was all over, Waters took to the stage, smiled and said simply, “Happy Mother’s Day.”