The merry chaos of the 48 Hour Film Project explodes in Baltimore early tonight. Twenty-six teams of filmmakers will congregate at Hampden's Cafe Hon at 7 p.m., and pick a genre out of one hat - anything from "mystery" to "mockumentary" - and a prop, character and piece of dialogue out of another. Then they'll have until 7:30 p.m. Sunday to create a four- to seven-minute movie on digital video.
The Charles will program the finished shorts Wednesday, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (tickets are $8).
Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston, the executive producers, put on the first edition of this cross between Mad Libs and marathon in Washington in 2001. Since then it's spread to 30 cities internationally. Wherever it goes, it becomes an annual event.
Langston, a traffic safety researcher with Calverton's Pacific Institute think tank, says she and Ruppert founded the project "as a way to give people a reason to make films - most people can give up one weekend."
Participants pay a $125 fee. (They must register in advance, online.) In return, says Langston, "They get the satisfaction of making an entire film, a guaranteed screening in a major theater, a party and an opportunity to compete for more prizes." Panasonic and Avid (the digital editing giant) sponsor the 48 Hour Film Project.
The winning movies from all 30 cities will unspool at the Cinequest film festival in March in San Jose, Calif. The five top entries will compete in a filmmaker's showdown, with high-definition video cameras. The winning moviemakers keep their camera.
Baltimore's Creative Alliance MovieMakers sponsors its own weekend filmmaking bash, CAmmSlam, every September. Kristen Anchor, CAmm director, says CAmmSlam, an equally festive and slaphappy occasion, is more about "getting people in the filmmaking community here to collaborate on short work, and continue collaborating beyond that weekend."
But the 48 Hour Film Project has succeeded in attracting tyros (and veterans, too) and pushing them to the limits of their cleverness and gumption. "In D.C., one group burned down a house when they did a film," Langston recalls.
"They were going to burn it down anyway - it was out on a farm - so they waited for the 48 Hour Film Project so they could have a character with super powers scorch it in their movie."
Sometimes, the biggest burst of ingenuity comes in teams' attempts to meet the deadline: "In Greensboro, N.C.," Langston recalls, "the members of one group were rendering their film on their desktop computer, which takes at least 10 minutes, and they realized they were running out of time. So they plugged the computer into a car and drove it to the drop-off point - luckily, the computer never stopped running."
Patricia Finneran, director of the Silverdocs festival at AFI Silver (8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring), says two strong themes emerged from this year's entries - "freedom of expression and concern for the state of democracy." And happily, she says, they didn't always come in the kind of documentaries that make you feel "they're good for you."
On Saturday, for example, free speech equals freewheeling comedy, with a 5:30 p.m. screening of Comedians of Comedy, about alternative comics bringing unique sensibilities to the club circuit and college towns, and a 10 p.m. screening of The Aristocrats (a hit at the recent Maryland Film Festival), in which a multitude of comics including Judy Gold, Gilbert Gottfried and Fred Willard retell the dirtiest joke in creation.
In between is an 8 p.m. panel, "God Save the Dirty Joke," featuring Gold, Gottfried, Willard, plus Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn from Comedians of Comedy.
The festival makes its own bold statement on freedom of speech and the state of democracy with its choice of moderator: sometime stand-up comic and Time magazine journalist Matt Cooper, threatened with jail time by a special prosecutor for not revealing a source.
Also on Saturday, at 7 p.m., Silverdocs presents the Closing Night film, James Dean: Forever Young. Afterward, Arch Campbell leads a discussion with director Michael Sheridan; Dean's only surviving relative, Marcus Winslow; and Dennis Stock, the photographer who helped immortalize Dean in playful and evocative stills.
But this festival doesn't end on closing night. For a complete schedule, including Sunday's repeat showings of Sweet Honey in the Rock (about the socially conscious a capella group) and Midnight Movies, go to www.sil verdocs.com.
At the Charles
The Casablanca formula of romance and wartime politics received its classiest, sexiest variation in Howard Hawks' free 1944 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.
Humphrey Bogart plays an expatriate American charter-boat captain in Martinique during the Second World War; Lauren Bacall is the stranded Yank beauty who knocks him for a loop when she asks, "You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow." It marks one of the few times that an off-screen romance fully translates into on-screen heat.
The Charles presents the movie as part of its weekly revival series, tomorrow at noon, Monday at 7 p.m. and Thursday at 9 p.m.; for more information go to www.thecharles.com.
Craig Brewer's Hustle and Flow, winner of the audience award and the cinematography award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, comes to Cinema Sundays at the Charles. Terrence Howard gives a bristling, star-making performance as a Memphis pimp who tries to make a midlife segue into rapping.
Doors open for coffee and bagels: 9:45 a.m. Showtime: 10:30 a.m. Tickets: $15. Information: www.cinemasundays.com.