Just when you thought it was safe to go to the Baltimore Museum of Art, they're back.
They are the planners of the 22nd annual Baltimore International Film Festival, that yearly orgy of the avant garde and the offbeat and, in some cases, the off guard, which they're set to unleash over four weekends in April.
"We're trying to bring the kind of original cinema to Baltimore that's not on the normal art house circuit and might not ever get here otherwise," says George Udel, the festival program director, who booked the films this year. And, as before, there's a Saturday afternoon children's festival contained within the larger event (see accompanying box).
Films will be presented Thursdays to Sundays during the four weekends in April. The breakdown looks like this:
April 4: A selection of shorts called "Director's Choice" opens the festival at 7:30 p.m. The films include "A Little Vicious," directed by Immy Humes, the longest at 30 minutes, an engaging documentary about a town faced with a pit bull problem; "Lunch Date," directed by Adam Davidson; and "Touch My Lips," directed by Jim Garrard. The last film is a world premiere, called "In Your Own Sweet Way," directed by Baltimorean Patrick Kahoe, who will introduce the film.
April 5: The festival offers as its 7:30 show "All the Vermeers in New York," by independent filmmaker Jon Jost. Set in the decadent upper strata of the Big Apple, it's about a stockbroker who falls in love with a French actress he meets at a Vermeer exhibition. But the movie itself is a Vermeer, shot with ultrafast film in such a way as to give it the texture of the 17th century Dutch artist's pallette.
At 9:15 p.m. Barbara Kopple's "American Dream" receives its Baltimore premiere. Kopple, a widely respected documentary filmmaker who won an Oscar for her "Harlan County, U.S.A.," has spent the past five years on this work, which covers a controversial labor strike at the Hormel Meat Packing plant in Austin, Minn. The film examines the issues brought on by labor-management conflicts as they affect rank-and-file membership over the long term. After the screening, Ms. Kopple and her associate Cathy Caplan will appear at a reception.
April 6: At 7:30, the festival presents the new Bertrand Tavernier film, "Life and Nothing But," also getting its Baltimore premiere. The great French filmmaker has of course made such films as "Coup de Torchon," "A Sunday in the Country," "Round Midnight" and "Beatrice." He has collaborated with Phillipe Noiret six times and "Life and Nothing But" marks the seventh; the film is about a casualties officer, after the Great War, trying to help two women find lovers who perished in battle. The movie will be followed at 10 by a champagne and dessert reception.
April 7: The festival continues its tradition of honoring a notable character actor with a "Biffy" statuette (the name derives from the sponsoring organization, the Baltimore Film Forum), as symbol of long years of excellent work. This year's recipient is Vincent Gardenia, who has appeared in movies high (he was the father in "Moonstruck") and low (he was the cop in "Death Wish") for many years. A selection of clips from Gardenia's career will be shown, as well as "Age-Old Friends," an HBO drama starring Gardenia and Hume Cronyn, set in a retirement home. The actor is expected to attend; a reception will follow the screening.
April 11: At 7:30 p.m., the American premiere of Alexander Surin's "The Arsonists," takes place. It's a look at juvenile delinquency, Soviet style, as a young woman named Sasha tries to beat the system at a "special industrial school," as the Soviets euphemistically call it.
The second showing that night, at 9:45, is a much anticipated film called "Driving Me Crazy," which is about itself. That is to say, director Nick Bromfield was hired to do a documentary on the making of a European stage show about black music; but it ends up being about Broomfield's attempt to get his film about the making of a documentary of a Broadway show finished, complete with fights with producers and writers, and his own anger at the show he nominally has been hired to chronicle. It's supposedly a classic of bickering.
April 12: The 7:30 showing is Barry Brown's "Lonely in America." Brown, an editor who has worked most notably with Spike Lee, directs a comic story of an Indian man who comes to the United States in search of the American dream but who cannot quite get with the American way.
The 9:15 show represents the directorial debut of the much respected English screenwriter Dennis Potter. Potter, who wrote Pennies From Heaven," "Dreamchild" and "Gorky Park," tells a story called "Blackeyes," in which fantasy and reality provocatively blur. In it an aging novelist (Michael Gough) "creates" a perfect woman, who nevertheless develops a mind of her own. Others in the film are Carol Royle, Nigel Planer and Gina Bellman.
April 13: The early feature is a fanciful animated Japanese import called "Robot Carnival," directed by Katsuhiro Ohtomo, who also drew and directed the legendary comic strip and animated feature "Akira," one of the most successful films the Film Forum ever showed. Somewhat similar in concept to Disney's "Fantasia," "Robot Carnival" was built around an invitation to eight Japanese animators to provide a segment set to music, with the only rule being that each had to feature a robot. One of the sequences is titled "The Chicken Man and the Crimson Head." Oh, those wacky Japanese!
The Japanese also submit the late show, at 9:15; this is a comedy called "Bakayaro!", translated as "I'm Plenty Mad!" It's another episodic film, supervised by Hikaru Suzuki, with a different director for each sequence. Here's the gimmick: In each segment -- all of which appear to be domestic comedies by genre, involving mostly young lovers or students or working people -- the last line has the hero turning to the camera and saying, "Bakayaro!" -- "I'm plenty mad!"
April 14: Still a third Japanese feature will be screened at 7 p.m. It's "Black Rain," but not the overblown cop movie set in Osaka and directed by Ridley Scott a few years back. This widely hailed film is by Shohei Imamura, who never acquired the worldwide reputation of masters like Kurosawa, perhaps because his work isn't as showy or self-conscious; he's more like Dostoevski than John Ford. He did the great "Vengeance Is Mine." This film examines the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima as played out on one surviving family over the ensuing 25 years. The national reviews on this one all say "masterpiece."
April 18: The focus shifts to Borneo and anthropology the following Thursday at 7:30 p.m., with a showing of "Tong Tana," billed as a "Swedish/Borneo" co-production. A documentary, the film follows as Swiss-born Bruno Mansor penetrates the heart of Borneo's jungle and takes up life with the nomadic stone age Penan tribe. Mansor isn't among them as an exotic white visitor, however; he literally becomes one, down to loincloth, though he can never quite get himself to give up his glasses.
Anthropology is the subject of the 9:15 screening that night also, with "Black Water," directed by Baltimorean Allen Moore. It's the story of a Brazilian fishing village called Sao Braz and is based on two years of anthropological field work; it shows how the villagers ultimately come to terms with a polluting paper mill. The director will appear after the film.
Also screened that night will be "Herdsmen of the Sun," a documentary by Werner Herzog on a nomadic tribe in the African Sahel, which watches as the men disguise themselves as women in an elaborate ritual dance.
April 19: The 7:30 p.m. film is "Celia," from Australia, directed by Ann Turner. Set in the Melbourne of 1957, it's about the coming of age of a 9-year-old girl, played by Rebecca Smart. It's a trying summer for Celia: Her next-door neighbors are hounded by the )) authorities because of their political beliefs; on top of that, her rabbit gets in trouble for the crime of being a rabbit.
The Friday late show is "Silent Scream," a Scottish movie directed by David Hayman. Starring Iain Glenn, it's the story of a murderer named Larry Winters sentenced to life in a Scottish prison and how, eventually, he becomes a "government-created" drug abuser; the film is a kaleidoscopic account of his last days.
April 20: The festival revives a classic this night, the restored 1939 version of Maurice Tourneur's "Volpone," from Ben Jonson's play. The late show is hardly a classic; it's shlock filmmaker Abel ("Ms. .45") Ferrara's overblown "King of New York," in which a gaunt Christopher Walken takes over a drug gang and turns the profits into social welfare projects. Now here's a recommendation: It was booed at the New York Film Festival.
April 21: At 7 p.m., the festival turns zany with "Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia," all 165 minutes of it. Directed by Ulrike Ottinger, it's about seven Western women on the Trans- Siberian railway who are kidnapped by a Mongolian tribe of women warriors. It was actually filmed in Mongolia.
April 25: Art with a capital A takes over. The opening film, at 7:30 p.m., is "Imago: Meret Oppenheim," a documentary of the surrealist artist who created one of art's most enduring images, without quite making herself famous. Oppenheim lined a teacup with fur in Paris in the '30s, which made the teacup famous but sentenced her to a 17-year-depression. The 9:15 screening is "Strand -- Under the Dark Cloth," a documentary of the seminal photographer Paul Strand, produced and directed by Canadian John Walker.
April 26: The 7:30 film is Scottish, called "Venus Peter." It's about a young boy growing up in a fishing village in the Orkney islands. "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," the 9:15 show, returns art house hero Francesco ("Three Brothers") Rossi to the theaters.
April 27: The early show is an English job from Christopher Morahan, called "Paper Mask." It's a melodrama about a hospital porter who seizes a chance to step into a doctor's identity and carries off the deception for quite some time. Paul McGann and Amanda Donohoe star.
The second screening, at 9:30, is "The Natural History of Parking Lots," an American film that's at- tracted a lot of attention on the festival circuit. It's the story of disaffected teens trying to hack out a life in Southern California as it's being turned into concrete. It was written and directed by Everett Lewis.
April 28: The festival closes with the Czech-French-British film "The Last Butterfly," directed by Karel Kachyna and starring Tom Courtenay and Freddie Jones. It's about a clown at the "show" concentration camp of Theresienstadt. Courtenay and producer Steven North will appear; a reception follows the screening.
At the Baltimore Museum
April 6: 11 a.m., "Courage Mountain," USA/France. 1 p.m., "Danny the Champion of the World," England.
April 13, 11 a.m.: "George's Island," Canada.
April 20: 11 a.m., "The Little House Under the Moon," China. 1 p.m., "The Monkey Folk," France/Indonesia.
April 27: 11 a.m., "Devil's Hill," Australia. 1 p.m., "Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller," Canada.
At the Senator Theatre
April 6, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.: "Incredible Journey," U.S.A.
April 13, 11 .m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.: "Peter Pan," U.S.A.
April 20, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.: "Toby Tyler," U.S.A.
April 27, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.: "Bambi," U.S.A.
May 4 and May 11, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.: "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," U.S.A.
* Tickets are $4 general admission, $3 for Film Forum, BMA and Fox 45 Kids Club members.
To buy tickets . . .
Tickets will cost $6 general admission, $5 to Baltimore Film Festival and Baltimore Museum of Art members, seniors and students.
Special prices go in effect, however, for the receptions: "American Dream" and its reception will cost non-members $7. The Saturday night gala for "Life and Nothing But" costs $20 for non-members or $18 for members. The tribute to character actor Vincent Gardenia and reception costs $10 general admission or $8 for members, as does the closing night gala -- "The Last Butterfly" and the reception.
It is also possible to buy discount packages. All films and special events cost $150 for the public and $120 for members. A package of the four special events goes for $40 and $30. Finally, vouchers for 10 films cost $50 and $40, but cannot be used to get into receptions; additionally, voucher holders must be in the voucher line 15 minutes before showtime.
For more information, call the Baltimore Film Forum at 889-1993.