The Annapolis Film Festival takes over town next week with its feet planted firmly in the cinema circuit.
From the opening night film Thursday, “Beirut,” to the Best of the Fest slate of films Sunday afternoon, film fans will be able to take in nine programs of shorts and scores of features, documentaries and narrative dramas, participate in panel discussions, industry mixers and post film Question and Answer sessions.
Now in its sixth year of steady growth, festival founders Patti White and Lee Anderson think they have finally hit full stride.
“It has been interesting after last year. We hit a standard,” Anderson said. “Initially we started out hoping this would happen, and it is coming to fruition.”
“It took five years for us to self-identify, to find in who we really are who we want to be,” White said. “There is a much clearer path: What the Annapolis Film Festival is and what it can mean to the community.”
One measure of it arrival is the number of name performers popping up in the featured films presented in the four day, 85-plus film showcase representing 28 countries.
In previous years, it was hard to find established industry names in the festival’s films. Then, last year, with an appearance by director Rob Reiner and the film “LBJ,” starring Woody Harrelson, people took notice, both in and around the Annapolis community and the industry.
Now, this year, the lineup pops with names like Jon Hamm, Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jason Segel , Oscar winners Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, John Hurt, Minnie Driver, Elliott Gould, Golden Globe wnner Ed Harris, plus Nick Offerman, Pierce Brosnan, Guy Pierce. Amy Madigan, Blythe Danner, Joanne Froggatt of the hit TV series Downton Abbey, and more.
“After five years, a festival comes of age, starts to really know who you are,” White said.
That identity is expressed in this year’s theme, “Voices Strong — Minds Open.”
With that understanding we are looking for films with the strongest voices,” White said. “A lot of it is pure entertainment but the filmmakers have something to say and share.”
“We want you to come to our films, hear voices from all over the world and keep an open mind,” White added.“You may not love everything you see. But if you push yourself beyond your comfort zone you are going to find things you are really interested in.”
The festival feature films include narratives and documentaries, some world premieres and films fresh from from Sundance, Tribeca and other festivals.
“Beirut” is Thursday’s Opening Night film at the main theater at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts at 7:30 p.m.
Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike star in the political thriller loosely related to the 1984 kidnapping of the CIA’s Lebanon station chief William Buckley. Hamm plays a former diplomat who fled Beirut after his home was bombed in 1972 and is asked by the CIA to return to the war-torn city to assist in hostage negotiation. It’s directed by Brad Anderson, best known for 2004’s “The Machinist.”
The festival’s African American Showcase film Friday is the documentary “Sammy Davis, Jr. : I’ve Got To Be Me,” directed by Samuel J. Pollard, who as a producer and writer has been part of a slew of core documentaries bearing witness to the African American Experience like “Eyes on the Prize” and “Four Little Girls.”
Pollard will be on hand for the Q&A following the film at Maryland Hall’s main theater at 7:30 p.m. and at a directors panel discussion Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the Bowen Theater at Maryland Hall, another spotlight film, “Hearts Beat Loud” starring Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, with Ted Danson, Toni Collette and Blythe Danner, plays at 7 p.m. It’s in the story of a father and daughter who bond via songwriting in the summer before she heads off to college. It was the closing film at Sundance this year and is making its East Coast debut in Annapolis.
Saturday afternoon, see “The Miracle Season” starring Helen Hunt as the coach of a women’s volleyball team that loses a teammate just before heading into the state championships. Based on a true story, the film costars Erin Moriarty. Director Sean McNamara will be on hand for the world premiere of his film at 1:30 p.m. in Maryland Hall’s main theater.
Saturday night’s spotlight film is bound to make Patti White proud. Her son, Trevor White directed and son Tim White produced the feature. “A Crooked Somebody” is the story of a phony psychic kidnapped by a guilt-ridden murderer who thinks the psychic might help him make peace with his victim’s spirit. Rich Sommer (Mad Men) and Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) star.
Froggatt will be on hand for the viewing at St. John’s College Key Auditorium at 7 p.m. She will also make an appearance at Maryland Hall in “A Conversation with Joanne Froggatt,” whom Downton Abbey fans know as lady’s maid Anna Bates.
Sunday’s spotlight film is “Come Sunday,” the fresh from Sundance story of an Evangelical preacher Bishop Carlton Pearson ostracized by his church after preaching a more compassionate view of the Gospel and a new idea of Hell.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Pearson whose steadfast belief affects all around him, including his family and his church. Jason Segal plays a fellow preacher and business partner, and Martin Sheen gives a powerful, chilling performance as Oral Roberts. Danny Glover also stars.
The real-life preacher Bishop Pearson will appear for the film in Maryland Hall’s main theater at 2 p.m.
Sunday morning, the festival Jewish Experience Showcase presents “Itzhak,” the documentary revealing the life, work and religious heritage of world renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. Start at 9 a.m. at St. John’s Key Auditorium for meeting, greeting and noshing with lox and bagels before the film begins at 10 a.m.
What’s Up Docs
There’s nothing that gets you thinking like a solid documentary and this year’s festival is loaded with them.
There’s “Three Identical Strangers,” the story of 19-year-old triplets separated at birth who find each other, become close, and open a restaurant together before the darkness emerges. See it Saturday at Maryland Hall’s main theater at 4 p.m. or Sunday at St. John’s Key Auditorium at 2:30 p.m.
“Love Means Zero” is the story of infamous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri a larger than life coach who ran his training like boot camps and picked favorites like Andre Agassi. It features Bollettieri and the players who either thrived or floundered under his tutelage. See it Saturday at 4:30 p.m at St. John’s Key Auditorium.
“Kim Swims” is the story of Kimberly Chambers a marathon swimmer who has met the great open water swimming challenges across the globe. The film centers on her effort to become the first woman to swim from the Farallon Islands off San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge. Chambers will be in Annapolis for the festival. It plays Friday at 4:45 p.m. at Maryland Hall’s Bowen Theater and Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. John’s Key Auditorium.
“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle” tells the tale of a Spanish woman and her family. Upon marrying she said what she wanted from life was lots of children, a monkey and a castle. Her wishes came true, along with all that comes with it. Playing Friday at 2:45 p.m. at Asbury UM Church and Saturday at St. John’s Key Auditorium at 2:30 pm.
And, there is a local connection in “New Wave: Dare to be Different,” the story of Long Island radio station WLIR 92.7 that took a chance changing its format to what became known as New Wave. Annapolis’s WRNR103.1 FM radio program director Bob Waugh was one of the station’s first deejays and appears in the film. Playing Saturday in Maryland Hall’s main theater at 8:15 p.m..
And there many more films to anger and inspire.
No Shortage of Shorts
The Annapolis Film Festival landed enough short films this year to split them up into nine separate shorts programs.
“Last year’s shorts programs themes were based on Shakespeare quotes, so this year we went the polar opposite - social media acronyms,” festival Program Director Derek Horne said.
That’s right LOL, WTF, OMG, TBH and so on.
“FAQ is a group of films about the questions we ask ourselves in this troubled society because of things like racial and gender inequality, injustice, bias and prejudice,” Horne said.
The TBH, to be honest, program speaks to characters that find themselves at desperate crossroads facing tough decisions.
There’s a program of local interest or locally produced shorts as well as a group of Oscar-nominated films after last year’s festival jury award winner, “Dekalb Elementary,” was nominated for this year’s Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. Alas, it did not win.
See the festival program for the shorts program schedule.
When you go
Festival principals recommend planning ahead for your filmic weekend. Pick up a program or go to annapolisfilmfestival.com and click on 2018 Program under the Films drop down on the home page. Then study it to schedule your likely favorites. Once you see films of interest go to the handy grid beginning on page 39 to see the Schedule at a Glance. The best way to see the festival is with a full Festival Pass. They are $140 and get you into almost everything all weekend. Single day passes are $50.
Passes can be purchased at annapolisfilmfestival.com. There are limited numbers of passes available. Once sold they are gone. Ticket and pass headquarters is at Asbury United Methodist Church, 87 West St. in Annapolis.
Films and panels are spread around the city. Annapolis Elementary School, 180 Green St. (please enter through Compromise Street parking lot around back). Asbury United Methodist Church, 87 West St.. Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, 121 South Villa Ave. Chesapeake Brewing Co., 114 West St. Loews Annapolis Hotel, 126 West St. Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St. St. John’s College Key Auditorium, 60 College Ave.
Patrons should arrive 20 minutes early for films to guarantee entrance or to buy single viewing tickets if available.
Parking is always an adventure. The festival will have two circulator buses running a route between all the film venues on a 20 minute loop.