A short documentary on an American who joined ISIS and short narratives on a child and a major appliance, a harrowing walk home in the dark, the burden of being the only black kid in a class reading Mark Twain, the weirdness that can be the Internet and new frontiers in taxidermy opened the 21st Maryland Film Festival Wednesday night.
A sellout audience of around 400 at the Niarchos Foundation Parkway heard interim Executive Director Sandra L. Gibson open the annual cinematic gathering, which will host screenings of more than 100 short and feature-lengths films through Sunday, praise the festival for offering “films you won’t see anywhere else, right here in Baltimore.”
The short films that played Wednesday night certainly filled that bill, because of their brevity — shorts are rarely shown in theaters; the MdFF traditionally showcases them on its opening night — as well as their often non-mainstream approaches to telling a story.
The biggest crowd-pleaser of the night, certainly the film that garnered the most reaction, was “Father Figurine,” a tale of taxidermy taken to a sometimes uncomfortable extreme.
“The vocal reactions, I could feel those,” director Matt Kazman said after the screening, noting this was the first time he’d seen the film with an audience. “Sure, crowd-pleaser is one word,” he added, admitting that some moments in the short are meant to make audiences squirm a bit.
Baltimore-based Marnie Ellen Hertzler, whose “If I Need to be Loved” offered interpretive readings of Internet spam, said she enjoyed showing her work to the hometown crowd. “I feel like I was really relieved to show it here. It’s like a safe space for me. I knew I had like my family here. There were scarier screenings before.”
Many veterans of the Baltimore movie scene were not only present Wednesday night, but had plans to see a lot more movies before the festival ends Sunday. Movies are playing on the three screens at the Parkway (5 W. North Ave.), as well three venues at the Maryland Institute College of Art: the Brown Center (1301 W. Mount Royal Ave.), the Lazarus Studio Center (131 W. North Ave.) and the MICA Gateway (1601 W. Mount Royal Ave.).
Baltimore’s favorite auteur, John Waters, mentioned several films he was looking forward to seeing, including “Frances Ferguson” (screening at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brown Center, 4:45 p.m. Friday at the Parkway), “Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine” (9:45 p.m. Friday at the Brown Center, 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the MICA Gateway) and “Ray & Liz” (4:45 p.m. Thursday at the Gateway, 11:15 a.m. Friday at the Brown Center).
Scott Braid, the festival’s director of programming, had high praise for “Who Let the Dogs Out?” a documentary about the ubiquitous 2000 song. There’s a lot more to the film, he promised, than one could possibly expect going in. (9:45 p.m. Friday at the Parkway, 4:45 p.m. Sunday at the Brown Center.)
Christopher Llewellyn Reed, chair of Stevenson University’s film department and a frequent guest on Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks’ “Roughly Speaking” podcast, recommended “Pahokee,” which he called “a beautifully observational documentary about the last year in high school of four kids...a remarkable example of observational cinema.” (1:45 p.m. Saturday at the MICA Gateway and 4:45 p.m. Sunday at the Parkway.
Information on the festival, as well as a full schedule of films, can be found at mdfilmfest.com.