Julia Zhou didn't show up at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus a film buff, but she got religion fast. As president of the Johns Hopkins Film Society, the 22-year-old senior from Metuchen, N.J., heads one of the area's most active college film clubs, and this week, she gets to oversee the group's annual celebration of the best in offbeat (or, at least, off-the-beaten-path) cinema.
Every year since 1997, the Johns Hopkins Film Festival has brought an eclectic assortment of features, documentaries and shorts to the Baltimore campus. As the middle jewel in the city's annual film feast - it comes after the Jewish Film Festival, which started this year on April 1, but before the Maryland Film Festival, which runs May 1-4 - the four-day cinematic celebration gives area movie lovers the chance to see what the college crowd finds interesting.
This year's festival opens Thursday night with a screening of director Michael Cuesta's 2001 L.I.E., whose main character is both a pedophile and a sympathetic father figure to a wayward teen, and closes Sunday with Marlo Poras' 2007 documentary Run Granny Run, the story of 94-year-old political newcomer Doris Haddock's run for the U.S. Senate.
Last week, Zhou took a few minutes from her busy class schedule to talk about sifting through dozens of submissions to find the lucky few that get screened, to ruminate on just who might have a good time at the festival, and to explain why one of her favorite movies involves how a carefully planned dinner turns into a cannibal feast.
FROM NEUROSCIENCE MAJOR TO FILM SOCIETY HEAD --As a freshman, I met a couple of kids who were running the festival. I just joined because I thought it would be fun to help screen films and stuff like that. They were sen- iors, and they saw a lot of films. They exposed me to a lot of different titles, different directors, stuff like that. It was fun.
PERSONAL FAVE --One of my favorite movies was a Peter Greenaway movie, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It's so over-the-top and dramatic and extremely staged-looking. I found it really fascinating.
MEMORABLE DOESN'T ALWAYS EQUAL GOOD --There were a few films that we watched that were kind of interesting. Some didn't make sense; they were kinda crazy. Sometimes, that's a good thing, but ... There was one that was shot on a camcorder, and it was about vampires seducing locals. It could be an interesting premise, but it wasn't well-executed, and the dialogue was ... well, we ended up not choosing it. But it made an impression.
EFFORT IS EVERYTHING --Some shorts that people submit, you can tell they didn't put too much thought into it. Sometimes, amateur films can be great, but sometimes, it's just like somebody turned a camcorder on and recorded something that they wrote in one hour. That we can not show. It's very easy to tell.
A MATTER OF TASTE --I guess you have to probably like movies that are a little less mainstream. But if anyone comes, they should be able to enjoy the films. If you like movies, you'll probably enjoy the festival.
The festival runs Thursday-April 20, with all screenings in Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St. Information: hopkinsfilmfest.com.