Wednesday's opening night of the 19th Maryland Film Festival marked a true coming-out party for the newly rehabbed 102-year-old Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway, and its debut proved quite the hit.
"To have something this vital in the center of Baltimore is pretty exciting," said filmmaker Doug Sadler (2005's "Swimmers"), an Eastern Shore native and filmmaker in residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Filmmaker Kris Swanberg, who co-hosted Wednesday's opening night shorts program with fellow filmmaker Josephine Decker, was even more effusive in her praise of the $18.2 million renovation project.
"It looks so cool," she said, admiring the years of wear and tear the building's restorers were so careful to preserve. "I feel like nobody does this, nobody leaves the artifacts [on display] like this. I think it's beautiful, totally gorgeous."
An emotional Eric Allen Hatch, the Maryland Film Festival's director of programming, used the occasion to put in a plug for the nearby Charles Theatre. He asked audience members to not only continue coming to the Parkway after the festival ends on Sunday (the theater will show independent films year-round), but to take advantage of the films being shown at the Charles, home to the festival for its first 15 years.
"That's the way film culture in Baltimore is going to grow," Hatch said.
As has become an MdFF tradition, opening night featured a selection of short films. The five films ranged from the historical absurdity of "Balloonfest," using vintage news footage to recall Cleveland's 1986 effort to live down its reputation as "the mistake on the lake" by releasing 1.5 million helium-filled balloons into the sky (which, predictably, did nothing to alter the city's status), to the gender-stereotype-twisting "Game," a basketball tale like few others.
Wednesday night was just the second time Terence Nance had seen his short film, "They Charge for the Sun," in an actual movie theater. He said it was an experience for the ages.
"This theater is particularly beautiful and regal," Nance said, and a welcome counter to his film — a beautifully shot dystopian tale of two sisters living in a future where rationing has been taken to extremes. The contrast, he said, "makes this the best environment to watch it."
"It's also kinda sad," Nance added, "because I know not many audiences are gonna be able to see it like this."