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Festivus Maximus

Hundred-Plus Films Anticipated for Maryland Movie Bash

Posted 4/4/2001

The spotlight will be on documentaries at the third annual Maryland Film Festival (MFF), slated for May 3 through 6 at the Charles Theatre and other Baltimore venues.

The not-yet-complete schedule unveiled April 3 by festival director Jed Dietz includes 29 full-length features, more than half of them nonfiction, and 27 shorts. The lineup includes films gathered by fest organizers from the Sundance and Slamdance festivals held earlier this year in Utah as well as selections from film events in San Francisco, the Netherlands, and numerous points in-between. Dietz says he and his staff are close to locking up several other titles and the film roster will likely top 100 by opening night. Following MFF tradition, many of the screenings will be hosted by the films' directors and guest celebrities, among them filmmaker John Waters (who'll introduce Baxter, a dark 1988 French film about a dog who becomes a serial killer) and National Public Radio's Scott Simon (hosting a screening of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). As in years past, Dietz says, some of the event's proceeds will benefit film preservation.

The lineup thus far includes 15 feature-length documentaries, a predominance Dietz says reflects both the quality of current docs and the lack of venues for them. "One sad thing for me is that, except for HBO, there hasn't been very much addition to the distribution world. The studios won't touch them," he says of nonfiction features. "But the audience sometimes finds them as satisfying as other films. Sometimes more."

One doc Dietz is touting in particular is Startup.com, a profile of an Internet company's rise and fall by Chris Hegedus (co-director of the acclaimed 1993 political documentary The War Room) and Jehane Noujaim. The fest will also feature a pair of works by acclaimed music-documentary maker Robert Mugge, including Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, which features footage of the late jazz bandleader performing at Baltimore's now-defunct Famous Ballroom (now home of the Charles Theatre). On another music note, erstwhile Smithereens frontman Pat DiNizio, subject of the fest feature Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington (about his failed U.S. Senate race), will perform at the Filmmakers' Party May 4 at the Charles Palace. (The party and show are free for anyone who buys a ticket to see any festival screening that day.)

Among the fiction selections are Slamdance award winners American Chai (about an Indian-American music student whose immigrant parents think he's a pre-med major) and Daydream Believer, Debra Eisenstadt's tale of a small-town girl who tries for show-biz glory in the big city. Bill Plympton contributes his latest animated feature, Mutant Aliens. (The schedule remains subject to change; for the most up-to-date info check the MFF Web site.)

MFF will soon designate a ticket service to sell screening passes, but in the meantime, Dietz advises potential attendees to call the festival office at (410) 752-8083 or check the Web site for information. Tickets are $10 per screening ($8 for students and seniors); $20 for a 3Pass, good for any three screenings; and $250 for an all-access pass, which gives holders entré to all showings, parties, and other fest events. Prices for the opening- and closing-night screenings are still to be announced. Also, be on the lookout April 25 for Film Fest Frenzy, City Paper's comprehensive guide to the festival.

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