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Maryland Film Festival, and the Parkway, earn high praise

The 19th Maryland Film Festival wrapped to overall rave reviews Sunday night. And few of those reviews were more glowing than that offered by director Brett

The 19th Maryland Film Festival wrapped to overall rave reviews Sunday night. And few of those reviews were more glowing than that offered by director Brett Haley, whose latest effort, "The Hero," was the MdFF's closing-night finale.

"I'd heard about it from my earliest days, people saying, 'You've got to go to the Maryland Film Festival, it's so much fun, it is such great audiences, and they have got great taste'" said Haley, as he headed across North Avenue to the festival's wrap party after his post-film audience Q&A.  "That Q&A went way deeper than my normal Q&As. I've had a blast here, and tonight just sort of solidified the experience."

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It helped, of course, that "The Hero" was such a marvelous film, the sort of just-shy-of-the-mainstream drama that makes festivalgoers feel privileged. Veteran actor Sam Elliott stars as an aging star of Hollywood westerns coming to grips with A) a cancer diagnosis and B) the affection of a woman half his age (Laura Prepon, sexy, strong and smart). Elliott, after a long career of memorable supporting roles, gets a rare chance to carry a film, and shines in the sort of part every aging actor craves. It's easy to see what Prepon's character sees in this guy, and hard to understand why Elliott's career isn't filled with roles and opportunities like this.

Earlier Sunday, the 102-year-old Stavros Niarchos Parkway enjoyed a return to its roots, thanks to the three-piece Alloy Orchestra's annual silent-film offering. Playing their recently composed score to the 1925 German silent "Variety," the Alloy must have made the Parkway's ghosts feel right at home. After all, from its opening in 1915 until 1928, the Parkway played only silent films, sometimes accompanied by the theater's resident orchestra.

"I am on record as saying this may be one of the greatest silent movies ever made," said the Alloy's Ken Winokur, who along with orchestra mates Roger Miller and Terry Donahue had a grand time playing their often-frenzied score for director E.W. Dupont's tale of a fatal love triangle among Berlin acrobats.

As for the Parkway, Winokur, who's played his share of restored movie palaces the world over, joined the chorus of praise for the MdFF's new home. "This is absolutely beautiful," he said.

The Parkway's century-old legacy, and their stewardship of it from this point on, was much on the mind of festival officials Sunday night. Asked separately to name their favorite moment from the five-day movie showcase, both Director of Programming Eric Hatch and Associate Director Scott Braid picked not a film, or an encounter with a particular filmmaker. Both talked about Saturday night's screening of director Agnes Varda's 1985 "Vagabond" – not because it's a great movie (which it is), or because it was presented by the Baltimore-based band Beach House.

No, they relished showing "Vagabond" because it was shown old-school, by running film through a projector – a rarity these days, with digital projection the industry norm, but the only way movies could be watched in theaters from the Parkway's opening in 1915 until, renamed the 5 West, it went dark in 1978.

"One of the highlights for me was walking into the top of the rear balcony of the Parkway and seeing 35 mm film on that screen again, for the first time in 40 years," said Braid.

Truly, the Parkway had come home.

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