Festival revels in Baltimore-linked horror and sci-fi films

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland Film Festival director Jed Dietz and his programming team, filmmaker Skizz Cyzyk and recently appointed writer-critic Eric Hatch, today will announce a festival roster of indies that should resonate both in Baltimore and in the national culture.

Even as Grindhouse makes headlines (if not money) for self-consciously reviving exploitation films, this year's festival, set for May 3-6, salutes the late Don Dohler, a Baltimore-area exploitation filmmaker who without a whit of self-consciousness created such late-'70s sci-fi/horror Z movies as Alien Factor and Fiend. Dohler is the subject of Maryland Institute College of Art graduate John Paul Kinhart's documentary portrait, Blood, Boobs & Beast.

What is it about Baltimore that brings out the funk? Dietz says he can't say for sure, but, like every Baltimorean he knows it's out there. "John Waters has spoken about heading out to drive-ins to see Herschell Gordon Lewis films like Blood Feast. I know it's in John's DNA; whether it's in Baltimore's DNA is a good question."

This year, for the first time, the open-air parking lot across from the Charles Theatre (the festival's base) will become a tent village and event site. Dietz vows to hold two free screenings there, including one Dohler extravaganza, "shown late at night -- as it was meant to be seen!"

Other entries with strong Baltimore roots are Charlie Obert's Barn, director Kurt Kolaja's documentary about a Baltimore filmmaker's meticulous efforts to take apart his grandfather's barn in Pennsylvania so he can put it back together as a family home in Maryland, and Johns Hopkins graduate Jeffrey (Spellbound) Blitz's already-acclaimed first feature, Rocket Science, a filmed-in-Baltimore comedy-drama about a stuttering high school student.

"Maybe it's because of American Idol," Dietz says, "but there's quite a bit of [musical] stuff floating around." American Idol meets Borat in Great World of Sound, as two actors turn themselves into scam artists and dangle the prospects of Nashville, Tenn., recording contracts in front of vocalist hopefuls in return for "earnest money."

Among returning festival traditions are the opening night shorts, including Nathaniel Kahn's Oscar-nominated Leon Fleisher documentary Two Hands and the ribald 2-D animation-piece Hazel's Hips, set to an Oscar Brown Jr. song.

Dietz says the festival's previously reported grant from the William G. Baker Fund enables them "to do some industry advertising for these shorts and get the filmmakers' names and the names of their films out there." Waters comes back to introduce Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait's Sleeping Dogs Lie, and the ferociously inventive Alloy Orchestra performs another vibrant new score for another marvelous silent movie, this time Pal Fejos' proto-neo-realist study of city life, Lonesome (1928).

The Sun's Chris Kaltenbach also will host the annual 3-D gala, introducing Man in the Dark, which contains a climax set on a roller coaster. Does a roller coaster show off 3-D as well as it did Cinerama? You'll just have to see. Adjust your 3-D glasses -- and take your sunglasses to face the Maytime glare when you emerge from (as Hollywood used to say), "three fabulous days, four glorious nights!"


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