A horror flick set in a busy department store, an extended visit with the great Miles Davis, a look at the magazine that embodied ’70s rock and a murderous mom and dad, as recommended by John Waters.
These and other cinematic pleasures await visitors to next week’s Maryland Film Festival, an annual cinematic bacchanal back for its 21st edition. From May 8-12, the area surrounding the Niarchos Foundation Parkway and the Maryland Institute College of Art will be teeming with cinephiles of all stripes, visually feasting on more than 40 feature-length and scores of short films, many pushing the boundaries of what the cinema can do, all by filmmakers of vision looking for new stories to tell and often embracing new ways of telling them.
Perhaps the best way to experience the MdFF is just to show up at festival headquarters, 10 E. North Ave. in Impact Hub Baltimore, and check the schedule to see what’s playing at the five venues where films are being shown. Look on such a spur-of-the-moment approach as the thrill of discovery, the rush of experiencing the unexpected.
But for those more into advance planning, we offer here 11 films and one shorts package that illustrate the range of what the festival will be offering. We can’t guarantee you’ll love ’em, but you’re bound to be (at least) intrigued, and most certainly not bored.
Before You Know It
(4:15 p.m. Sunday, Parkway 1)
Two sisters — one a stage manager, the other an “off-kilter” actress — live above a tiny theater and try to achieve some sort of precarious balance in their lives. But when they find out that the mother they’d presumed dead is actually alive and starring in a soap opera, things get pretty messed up.
Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine
(9:45 p.m. Friday, MICA Brown Center, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, MICA Gateway)
A rock ‘n roll success story if ever there was one, Detroit-based Creem magazine debuted in March 1969 and quickly became the irreverent, outlandish, perceptive and often screamingly funny voice of ’70s rock (often with memorable slapdowns that couldn’t be repeated in a family newspaper).
Decade of Fire
(Noon Saturday, Parkway 1, 4:45 p.m. Sunday, MICA Gateway)
Directors Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vazquez revisit New York’s South Bronx of the 1970s, when fires seemed to threaten almost every building and neighborhood (almost 40 percent of it was burned or abandoned by the end of the decade), zeroing in on residents determined not only to restore and rebuild, but to reveal the truth about the poverty, neglect and racism that (sometimes literally) fed the fires.
(1:45 p.m. Friday, MICA Brown Center, 11:45 a.m. Sunday, Parkway 3)
The MdFF is always a showcase for some wonderful under-the-radar international films, and this looks like one of the most promising: a 16-year-old girl’s coming-of-age story, set in civil war-torn Ethiopia in 1989.
(7:30 p.m. Thursday, MICA Brown Center, 4:45 p.m. Friday, Parkway 1)
Newcomer Kaley Wheless stars as a substitute teacher who sleeps with one of her students, and writer-director Bob Byington, in a non-judgmental sort of way, kinda dares his audience to sympathize with her character.
(11:30 p.m. Friday, Parkway 3, 9:45 p.m. Saturday, MICA Brown Center)
Late-night festival screenings are often reserved for horror offerings, and this one looks like the cream of the 2019 crop. Oscar nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Secrets & Lies”) is among the stars in this story of a cursed dress and a busy department store.
(4:15 p.m. Thursday, Parkway 2, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, MICA Gateway)
Using only his phones, Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili chronicles his family’s flight after the Taliban put a price on his head — a flight that spans years.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
(7 p.m. Thursday, Parkway 1, 11:15 a.m. Sunday, MICA Brown Center)
So many reasons to see this, but here are three: 1) Few human beings have embodied the word “cool” more than Miles Davis, who not only took jazz in directions no one had ever thought of before, but stubbornly insisted on following his own path, with no deviation; 2) It includes never-before-seen archival footage, plus studio outtakes and rare photos of the master at work; 3) It’s the latest documentary from Stanley Nelson, an Emmy winner, MacArthur fellow and National Humanities Medal honoree.
Mom and Dad
(7 p.m. Friday, Parkway 1)
John Waters picked this movie to introduce and talk about, which should be reason enough to see it (and every year, Waters’ presence alone is enough to convince hundreds of Baltimore cineastes to see a movie they may never have considered otherwise). But with Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair starring as parents who, in response to a “worldwide mass hysteria,” go into a homicidal rage directed at their own kids, this sounds like a frolicsome good time to the nth degree.
(6:30 p.m. Friday, Parkway 3, 2:15 p.m. Sunday, Parkway 2)
A reminder of the glory days of the American record store, when there were places music lovers could go to hang out with others of their ilk (and every other musical ilk as well), catch up on the newest releases, maybe even hear the artists perform live.
(4 p.m. Thursday, Parkway 1, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, MICA Brown Center)
The MdFF has long taken justifiable pride in its shorts programs (again this year, Wednesday’s opening night will be devoted to these mini-films), but this is the first time it’s offered one devoted to the work of local filmmakers. The five shorts include documentaries on food deserts, an artist constructing mock guns out of found items and the Baltimore Ceasefire movement, plus narratives on an activist protesting police violence and a 17-year-old struggling to find her way on the streets of West Baltimore.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
(9:45 p.m. Friday, Parkway 1, 4:45 p.m. Sunday, MICA Brown Center)
Director Brent Hodge’s documentary looks at one man’s eight-year quest to find out everything there is to know about the song of the title. The result? “A story steeped in show business, legal battles, female empowerment, artistic integrity and one very catchy hook."