Maryland Film Festival moving from the Charles Theatre

The Baltimore Sun

After 15 years at the Charles Theatre, the Maryland Film Festival will be moving into new digs in May.

The operators of the Charles, James “Buzz” Cusack and his daughter, Kathleen Cusack Lyon, chose not to rent their five-screen facility to the festival this year, film festival head Jed Dietz said.

The 16th festival, scheduled for May 7-11, will be held at spaces in the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Baltimore, the Walters Art Museum and the Windup Space on North Avenue. Other venues may still be announced, Dietz said, as well as parking options. The festival’s tent village will be moved from a parking lot across the street from the Charles to a spot off North Avenue, adjacent to the MICA graduate studio center.

Handing over the Charles for the duration of the annual festival has been a money-losing proposition, Lyon said, as the theater’s regular programming is disrupted for the duration of the festival, and sometimes for weeks afterward. “Aside from the money issue,” she said, “it became complicated scheduling-wise, as far as some (film) companies were concerned. They didn’t want us to take their movies off-screen for an entire weekend.”

This past October, the Cusacks re-opened the Senator theatre on York Road, following a $3.5 million expansion and renovation.

“The movie theater business is an extremely competitive one,” Lyon said. “We need to focus on what is in the best interest of the theaters.”

The first Maryland Film Festival, in 1999, coincided with the grand re-opening of the Charles, which had just been expanded from one screen to five.

The festival recently took possession of the long-vacant Parkway Theatre building on North Avenue, just a couple of blocks north of the Charles. City officials sold it to the festival for $1. The $16.8 million project, calling for a three-screen theater and live music venue at the refurbished Parkway, is still in its planning stages and is not expected to be completed before spring 2016, Dietz said.

The festival is expected to handle programming at the Parkway. Although both the Charles and the Parkway will be operating independent of the major theater chains, often playing films outside the mainstream, Dietz has consistently maintained there would be little overlap between the two with regard to the movies they would feature.

“The whole reason to do the Parkway is to bring programming that wouldn’t normally come to town,” he said.

The festival’s plans for the Parkway had little to do with the decision on the Charles, Lyon insisted. “We have these huge monthly payments to make for our new digital projectors. We have this massive increase in overhead,” she said. “It’s a tough business, and it’s getting tougher.”

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