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With interest in filmmaking rising, Bel Air festival's featured film gives uplifting viewing experience

With interest in filmmaking rising, Bel Air festival's featured film gives uplifting viewing experience
Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, was the guest speaker Friday during the second night of the eighth annual Town of Bel Air Film Festival. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

The annual Town of Bel Air Film Festival is not a venue for big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, but viewers are treated to educational and uplifting films, which was the case with Friday night's showing of the documentary "Landfill Harmonic."

"I can guarantee you, no matter what the topic is, you are going to go away saying, 'I'm so glad I came here, I learned something,' and you'll go and tell what you learned to somebody else," Bel Air Mayor Susan Burdette said during her introductory remarks to about 125 people gathered at the Bel Air Armory for the second night of the three-day festival.

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Interest in film and filmmaking has been on the rise in Harford County, where a handful of Hollywood productions and indie films have been shot or developed, such as the acclaimed "Roulette" in the latter category.

In brief remarks before Friday night's showing, Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, highlighted Bel Air and Harford County's visibility among film and television productions.

"The reason that they love it here in Maryland, and they love it here in Harford County is, one, the citizens of Harford County, certainly," Gerbes said. "Two, the amazing support that they get from all the jurisdictions, specifically Harford County."

And then, there's "House of Cards."

Gerbes said the hit Netflix political drama, which is shot throughout Harford County, has had a huge economic impact since it began production in 2012.

A section of South Main Street, just a few blocks from the Armory, was closed for several hours two weeks earlier for the shooting of street scenes for an upcoming fifth-season episode. The latest season of "House of Cards" is scheduled to air in early 2017.

When the fourth season production wrapped up in early 2016, Gerbes said "House of Cards," most of whose indoor scenes are shot on sound stages in Joppa, already had been supported by more than 2,300 Maryland vendors, including 395 Harford businesses.

"They really have a direct impact," he said of film and TV productions.

"Landfill Harmonic," the Bel Air festival's featured documentary, tells the story of the Recycled Orchestra, a group of young musicians who live near a massive landfill outside the Paraguayan capital. Their instruments are made from items discarded in the landfill. The teens played those instruments during their journey to worldwide fame.

"It's a great film," Gerbes, a Forest Hill resident and regular guest at the film festival, said. "It's going to tear your heart out, but in the end, it's really going to uplift you."

And, the featured film indeed had emotional impact on some of the viewers at the armory.

Bel Air resident Marvin J. Dunmeyer came with his mother, Ines, also of Bel Air. They were attending their first Bel Air Film Festival.

"I really enjoyed it," he said. "It's something I wish I could have gone to before, I loved it."

Dunmeyer enjoyed seeing the young people portrayed in the film "go from having no dreams at all to having the opportunity to live their dreams and inspire younger children."

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Ines Dunmeyer said the community shown on screen reminded her of her childhood in Puerto Rico.

"We bathed in the river, we cooked outside, we had pigs and chickens," she recalled.

The film also reminded her of "just seeing our parents work as hard as they did to give us what they could."

She works as a Spanish-language translator for the Beacon Health Center in Havre de Grace, helping more than 300 Spanish-speaking families in the area.

The majority of the dialogue in "Landfill Harmonic" is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Dunmeyer said she hopes to bring some of those families to next year's festival to "enjoy something that they normally would not have access to."

The festival wraps Saturday with two more documentaries, "Advanced Style" at 4 p.m. and "Miss Sharon Jones" at 7:30 p.m. The Armory doors open 30 minutes before each showing.

Tickets are $5 per person per movie, or $10 for an all-access pass. Children 10 years old and younger are admitted for free. People in groups of at least 20 pay just $4 per movie.

Visit http://www.townofbelairfilmfestival.com for more information.

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