The 16th Maryland Film Festival kicked off Wednesday night with a roster of short films and a crowd of optimistic film fans.
"I heard from all my filmmaker friends that this is the friendliest festival to filmmakers, and it's obvious that is a true statement," said Annie Silverstein, whose short film, "Skunk," will be playing as part of a program of dramatic shorts on Thursday and Friday.
The festival, which continues through Sunday, kicked off with its now-traditional Opening Night Shorts program at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center. The five short films ranged in length from five to 17 minutes, and included "More Than Two Hours" from Iranian director Ali Asgari, whose presence on stage following the program gave the festival's opening night an international flare.
This year's festival marks the first that won't be housed at the Charles Theatre, whose owners decided it made more financial sense to maintain their regular film schedule than to rent out their five screens to the festival. This year's cinematic showcase is being held at seven venues in the Station North Arts District, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Baltimore and the Walters Art Museum.
To ease the transition to a more geographically disparate festival, organizers have put together a shuttle service that will be running about every 10 minutes between the seven venues. While festival director Jed Dietz and his staff remain optimistic that the change will proceed smoothly, the true test will come Thursday afternoon, when films start screening in places that may be unfamiliar to many festival-goers.
Wednesday night, at least, few seemed daunted by the prospect.
"The Maryland Film Festival is its own presence," said Julien Jacques of Annapolis, who plans to see several films before the festival concludes Sunday night. "It doesn't have to rely on The Charles."
His friend Kate McMillen, agreed. "Baltimore is a pretty friendly place," she noted. "If you have somewhere to go, people will tell you how to get there."