Watch This . . .
Our Comprehensive Guide to the Films of the Maryland Film Festival 2004
Shot by and featuring interviews conducted by 14 female Afghan journalists, this powerful film focuses on women in post-Taliban Afghanistan. In many areas, women still suffer Taliban-like moral codes, expected to stay at home and cover their faces when around anyone but the closest family members. In others, women are beginning to test the new freedoms granted--in word, if not always in practice--by their new government. The filmmakers themselves embody this spirit, and a moment when one of the more charismatic interviewers confronts a man preaching the virtues of veiling stands as a highlight. Still, when a documentary is sponsored by a nonprofit organization--in this case, the Asia Foundation--and funded in part by the U.S. State Department some subjectivity warning bells go off. (Eric Allen Hatch)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
May 7, 7 p.m.
"If you see a good film correctly, the grammar of the film is a political act," Jean Leopold Dominique declares early on in Jonathan Demme's biopic The Agronomist. Dominique's words ring particularly true when applied to this film: If you've come looking for some blatant lefty agitprop, you won't find it here, but in telling the story of the dynamic radio journalist Dominique, Demme also reveals the political turbulence that has plagued Haiti for the better part of the 20th century. Demme spent 10 years filming Dominique and his wife, Michèle Montas, who were in exile in New York when he started filming them in 1991. He paints a haunting and very personal portrait of Dominique's life through interviews, newsreels, film clips, and portions of radio broadcasts by and about him. Once you become immersed in the anecdotes, philosophies, and life story of the man who for 40 years ran Radio Haiti Inter, the independent radio station that brought news and hope for a democratic government to Haiti's poorest citizens, you find yourself watching the past, present, and future of this troubled Caribbean nation unfold. (Erin Sullivan)
Albert Alcalay: Self Portraits
Directed by Allen Moore, Rob Tranchin, and Rob Eustis
May 8, 12:30 p.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
This loving, if conventional, tribute ponders how abstract impressionist and Harvard professor Albert Alcalay maintained his youthful passion through World War II concentration camps, seasons of hardship, increasing infirmity, and institutional neglect. The makers of this documentary were among the generations of Harvard students inspired by Alcalay, who is revealed in interviews to be an man of extraordinary humor, feeling, and courage. The artist frankly narrates his escape from German Nazis and Italian Fascists, and his arrival in New York, where skyscrapers and jazz startled him into a new artistic style. Alcalay understands his art as a means of self-expression and self-understanding, and the filmmakers focus rightly on the artist's willingness to articulate a lifetime of artistic change. (Richard Gorelick)
Animated Shorts Program
May 7, 9:30 p.m.
Despite a few duds, this year's Animated Shorts Program comes through with enough winners--and enough diversity of medium and message--to leave audiences smilingly sated. Several comedic pieces in the series fare well without quite leaving one gasping for air. These include Lee Lanier and Jeffrey Dates' "Day Off the Dead," a series of vignettes featuring reanimated figures not too dissimilar in appearance from those populating Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas; Patrick Smith's lackadaisically violent "Delivery," which features two buddies duking it out over a brown box before unveiling a predictable punch line; and Benjamin Goldman's "The Pickle Jar," in which a perturbed stink bug dispatches dating advice to a naked man.
A grim message piece, Jan Philip Cramer's "Teddy's End" has a specter of death observing a post-apocalyptic battlefield; it would surely scare the love of playing G.I. Joe out of any unlucky wee ones who happened upon it. Mike Smith's lushly visual (and ultimately sentimental) narrative "Ananda" links a lively Bollywood score to a man's quest for a flower in bloom among post-industrial debris. Jill Johnston-Price's "Bludren" successfully plumbs the relationship between plant and human organic matter. Somewhat less rewarding are Sarah Brown's sometimes too-murky clay piece "Live Bait," in which a tropical island puts a hapless seafarer through various perils, and Bill Domonkos' "The Fine Art of Poisoning," which, despite some of the more interesting visuals in the program, links its images to the lyrics of the Jill Tracy song it adapts somewhat too literally to produce the unnerving impact it seeks.
The films in the program that slow things down most tend to suffer from an excess of cute or puerile sentiment. Eric Towner's "Paper Cut," depicting an anatomically (hyper) correct "sword fight," operates on a fifth-grade level of humor; Daniel M. Kanemoto's snowman adventure "On the Road for Christmas"'s too-saccharine imagery is likely to bring out the grinch in a springtime crowd. Meanwhile, Benjamin Goldman and Nirvan Mullick's sublimely otherworldly "The Three of Us" stands out as one of the more imaginative pieces.
Two other works distinguish themselves as among the program's more engaging: Alan Price's "Overpass" and Nirvan Mullick's "The Box Man." The former posits an cold sci-fi dystopia in which a young boy stands on the side of a road waiting for a ride amid a sea of empty over- and underpasses that spiral off into infinity. The latter, inspired by Kobo Abe's intriguingly cryptic novel, mines urban dread for a tale of a city dweller completely freaked out by a humanoid figure lurking in a cardboard box. (EAH)
Directed by Guy Maddin
May 8, 1:30 p.m. ; hosted by Jonathan Rosenbaum
A 1990 film centering on events in the title Russian city during World War I, directed in typically surreal fashion by Canadian cult director Guy Maddin. This screening is hosted by Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Avant-Garde Shorts Program
May 7, 7 p.m. ; May 9, 11:30 a.m.
This year's Avant-Garde Shorts Program contains few films one would describe as groundbreaking, but most are thoughtfully assembled experiments that ultimately work. Keum-Taek Jung's "Free Line" begins looking suspiciously like next year's screen saver, but quickly jumps off into some genuinely striking color-line terrain and continues to reinvent itself in stimulating ways. BenniiD's "Painted Spaces" begins with moving images centered like a canvas within a frame before it too ventures off in unpredictable directions; its distorted depictions of urbanites bustling around crowded street corners have particular staying power.
Todd McCammon's lively and fun blink-and-its-gone "Heaven" sets a collage of the history of moving images to some Afrobeat-inflected electronic music. Longer but less memorable is Mary Billyou's "The Invalids," a mannered black-and-white piece depicting a hospital in which the patients and doctors alike seem frozen in time. Frederick J. Maskeroni's "Redgrass" suffers from a different sort of time-freeze; its funky representations of a wobbly 3-D dancing man bring to mind an early-'90s Mind's Eye computer-animation compilation.
Two contemplative pieces by Jo Israelson--"Today Is Thursday" and "Warp and Weft"--use narration as a means of establishing tone more than story. The first relates an accidental conflagration on its audio track while running through a variety of visual juxtapositions that produce reasonably creepy results; the second features dueling narration, mixing the story of a boy caught on a bridge as a train approaches (matched with somewhat literal images) with readings that pose questions about the nature of memory.
Baltimorean Eric Dyer has three solid pieces in the program, each of which very exactly links the pulsations of his imagery to the pitch and volume of his musical scores. "Chopin's Bicycle" produces a dizzying perpetual-motion machine constructed from spinning spokes and gears; "B-Ball Etude" extracts balletic results from players on a basketball court; and "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," recently screened at a performance of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is completely unfettered in its visual content and, coupled with the others, feels like a delirious explosion into terra incognita.
Two other interesting pieces round out the program. Carol Hess' "Site Visits," in which a beautiful woman explodes into dance, plays around with frame size as it transports the woman, still dancing, to a variety of landscapes. John Bright Mann's "Running to Keep From Falling" finds new ways to say something old about the spiritual void in consumer culture; his images of elevators, escalators, and commuter trains endlessly making their rounds are well-matched with answering-machine messages ranging from the hilarious (an elevator safety tip) to the banal (dating service advertisements).
A final film, Nicolas Provost's "Papillion D'Amour," was not included on a reviewer's screening tape provided by the Maryland Film Festival. (EAH)
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
May 9, 7 p.m.
Filmmaking as found-art object, re-enactment as mythmaking, father-son Oedipal struggle as career move, cheesy 1970s schlock re-created by 21st-century artisans--Mario Van Peebles Baadasssss! is all of the above and more and, strangely, less. Mr. New Jack City writes, directs, and stars in this dramatization of his father Melvin Van Peebles' making of 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Sticking to the same constraints--Van Peebles reportedly shot in one month on a $1 million budget with a shoestring crew/cast--Baadasssss! is a work of both ego and homage that blends actors portraying real-life people in the film with mock interviews, heavily spiced with early-'70s revolutionary fervor and curvaceously zipless chicks. Whether you come away thinking it a metaphysical mess (at one point Mario Van Peebles as his father has an awkward talk with a young actor playing him) or an ugly masterpiece (how the egomaniacal Melvin pulls this off is Herculean), one thing can't be denied: In 1971 Melvin Van Peebles released a financially successful movie that birthed blaxploitation and guerrilla independent mainstream cinema, forever changing the way movies depicted African-Americans on screen. Not bad for a self-described street hustler from Chicago's South Side. (Bret McCabe)
The Best Thief in the World
Directed by Jacob Kornbluth
May 9, 1:30 p.m.
When 11-year-old Izzy (Michael Silverman) sneaks into his neighbors' apartments, he might try on some clothes, take a shower, make a sandwich, or watch some porn. Although he revels in his badness (as does the movie), he wants to be good, or at least he wants his mother (Mary-Louise Parker) to remember that he's good. That Mom's recently stroke-addled husband is her principal concern doesn't distract her entirely from her reckless, lie-prone son. She's still capable of dispensing such maternal nuggets as "I'll shove that tortured shit right up your ass" with such patient tenderness that the prospects for Izzy's future brighten across the screen. (RG)
Big City Dick: Richard Peterson's First Movie
Directed by Ken Harder, Scott Milam, and Todd Pottinger
May 8, 6 p.m.
A documentary about eccentric street musician Richard Peterson.
Born Into Brothels
Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman
May 9, 4 p.m.
With a camera in her hands, 11-year-old Puja is a fearless street photographer, capturing her lively, colorful fellow Calcuttans who typically object to a lens' uninvited stare. Her streets are those of Sonagachi, Calcutta's squalid red-light district, and she is the daughter of a prostitute. And according to Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's Born Into Brothels, Puja is more than likely destined for "the line" herself in a few years. The gut-punching Brothels thankfully doesn't bleed pitying smugness. Instead, it follows British still photographer Briski into Sonagachi for her own work,where she quickly realizes that the children's stories--and the scenes that would unfold before their eyes--were something she would never get on her own and starts teaching them photography. And the truly touching thing is that these kids' pictures are damn near great. (BM)
Directed by Orlando Bagwell
May 8, 5:30 p.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
A documentary about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Comedy Shorts Program
May 8, 8 p.m. ; May 9, 5 p.m.
This year's comedy shorts try to make you laugh by taking absurd situations incredibly seriously with hit or miss results. The two best shorts in this series are Tanner Almon's "Method for Self-Defense Against Scorpions" and Scott Rice's "Perils in Nude Modeling." Almon's film, based on a short story by Argentinean writer Fernando Sorrentino about a town overrun by scorpions in which you never actually see a scorpion, is pure deadpan brilliance. "Perils in Nude Modeling," about a psychotic art class, is filmed with the sumptuousness of a Vermeer painting, and John Merriman is so engaging as a student struggling through the class that you desperately want him to succeed in this absurd world.
Matthew Ehlers' three-minute "Who's Your Daddy" is an amusing gag film. Rohit Colin Rao's "Someone and Someone Inc." looks at the world of corporate culture by making the characters say what they mean. When an attractive female employee walks into the break room and one of her co-workers says, "Subtle sexual harassment, young woman," she responds with, "Nothing I can do but smile, co-worker."
Dan Turek's amusing "The Five Stages of Unemployment" looks at what happens when one is ousted from the working world--one of the five stages is "The Nudist." In Peter Craig's "The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja," teen film-within-a-film director Chase (Matt Jones) describes his 20-minute ninja epic as "a tale of revenge and redemption," even as he tries to corral his unenthusiastic actors through the final scene. Charming if not overtly funny, "Dark Ninja" spoofs the difficulties of independent filmmaking and is sure to get some guffaws from a festival audience.
In erstwhile Baltimorean Gideon Brower's appealing "Fish Burglars," three slackers steal a prize-winning koi in an attempt to make their fortunes and stave off the relentless boredom that fills their existence. It shouldn't be giving away too much to say that things don't work out quite as planned. In Mary Szmagaj's "Words, Words, Words" the screenplay itself is projected on the screen as a narrator reads it. The idea is to induce audience participation. Mostly you'll be asked to shout "This is stupid!" repeatedly; the problem is that you might agree. Nick Prevas' "L'Invitation" takes the viewer to a dinner party featuring a bearded lady, a man in a shoddy bald cap and an eye patch, and a mystic and her half-black/half-white lover. This black-and-white silent film is only funny if you think half-black/half-white people deserve to die. (Anna Ditkoff)
Containment: Life After Three Mile Island
Directed by Chris Boebel and Nick Poppy
May 8, 10 p.m. ; May 9, 11:30 a.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
A great measure of effort went into this documentary about Middletown, Pa. --home of America's nuclear near-miss--but it's difficult to gauge what return filmmakers Chris Boebel and Nick Poppy get on their investment. The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in March 1979 was perhaps Earth's first wake-up call to the endemic dangers of nuclear energy, but its effects were complex, and at times Boebel and Poppy seem flummoxed by all the evidence they've collected. Dipping into a wealth of archival footage, they make smart work of documenting the accident itself, in which radioactive materials were released into the environment because of a maintenance mistake. Boebel and Poppy then try to focus on what's happened to Middletown in the intervening 25 years, but the ambiguity of 1979 seems to dog them, preventing them from lighting on a single point. After focusing on the divisions among townspeople in the 1980s, they appear to argue that Middletowners today have all but forgotten the accident, although footage of annual demonstrations argues otherwise. We're left in the end with the message that, as one local puts it, the plant "will always be there," which seems like a scrawny way to commemorate an event that, at the time, had the markings of Armageddon. (Blake de Pastino)
Da Da Kamera Shorts Program
May 8, 2:30 p.m.
The two shorts produced by Toronto-based theater and film production company Da Da Kamera have been shown predominantly at lesbian and gay film festivals. Though they deal with gay relationships, the association is only superficial. As different as the two shorts are, their themes are universal.
Jeremy Podeswa's "Touch," based on a short story by sex worker and novelist Patrick Roscoe, is a tragic and harrowing tale of a teenaged boy who has been imprisoned, beaten and sexually molested by a man--his father or a stranger, it's not clear--since he was kidnapped as an 8-year-old. The boy knows no other kind of love than the hard, brutal hand that feeds him, rapes him, beats him, then caresses him. Even after the boy escapes and is hospitalized, placed in a foster home, and attends high school, he still pines for his captor's sadistic love. "Touch" is masterfully crafted with chiaroscuro camerawork, (sometimes too writerly) voice-over, and tightly-focused scenes. Intensely moving and often painful to watch, its 30 minutes linger for days.
"Until I Hear From You" arrives somewhat like relief. Our hero, Rob (director Daniel MacIvor), has just been dumped by his boyfriend. He decides to make a videotape to apologize and explain how he has "really, really, really, truly, really, really" changed. For next 40 minutes he tapes himself screwing around with his neighbor, getting high and drunk, stalking the supposed recipient of the tape, getting his ass kicked by two cross-dressers, and generally degrading himself. Like "Touch," "Until" deals with violence, self-loathing, and a tragic inability to change, but it's handled lightly, even in its most darkly comic moments. (Tim Hill)
Directed by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson
May 9, 2 p.m.
A documentary about Illinois Gov. George Ryan in the weeks prior to his granting clemency to all of the state's death-row prisoners.
Directed by Bryan Poyser
May 7, 4 p.m.
It seems like every other indie flick is about porn these days, but Bryan Poyser's Dear Pillow transcends the usual porn-for-shock-value or porn-as-symbol-of-masculine-blah-blah-blah. Instead, Poyser uses porn as way to look at the differences between what we say we want and what we actually want. Wes (Rusty Kelley) is a 17-year-old virgin who dreams of writing porn. When he finds out that Dusty (Gary Chason), an older man living in his apartment building, writes letter for Dear Pillow, a Penthouse Forum-type magazine, Wes goes to him for guidance and ends up getting ensnarled in a world he is too young and inexperienced to handle. Kelley portrays Wes with a deeply engaging mixture of naiveté and childish bravado, while Viviane Vives turns Lorna the saucy Latina, a role that easily could have been an empty stereotype, into the film's most radical character. (AD)
Death and Texas
Directed by Kevin DiNovis
May 7, 6:30 p.m.
In Kevin DiNovis' death-penalty mockumentary Death and Texas, Bobby "Barefoot" Briggs (The Practice's Steve Harris) is the dimwitted star wide receiver for the fictional Austin Steers who receives a capital sentence after he accidentally kills a convenience-store clerk. Faced with a Texas political climate that won't bat an eye about executing black men but loves them when they play the football real good, Briggs' attorney, Marshall Ledger (Charles Durning), finagles his client's release to play in the championship Megabowl, hoping that a victory might encourage the governor to grant Briggs clemency. A screwy affair that thankfully doesn't flinch, Texas crackles with a few zingers but ultimately lacks the snarling bite of a Citizen Ruth, even though the capable Harris and Durning do their best to balance the serious and the ridiculous with the right amount of pathos. (BM)
Documentary Shorts Program 1
May 8, 12:30 p.m.
You reach into a grab bag and you take your chances. The first of this year's MFF documentary shorts programs is a farrago of political wanking, arty meditations, and well-toned think pieces, each testing the limits of how much you can digest in under 15 minutes. A couple of entries offer some quiet delectations, like Marc Lasky's rapid-fire doc about the Baltimore Colts Marching Band (regrettably titled "And the Band Played On") and Paul Rachman's toothsome "Zoe XO," a sultry eulogy to screenwriter and actress Zoë Lund. But if you're feeling snackish, the most shapeless offerings--including "Famous Irish Americans" (eight minutes of sledgehammer graphics about notable African-Americans of Irish descent), "Fulton Fish Market" (14 nearly silent minutes among Manhattan fishmongers), "Old Glory" (liberal hand-wringing about uses of the U.S. flag after Sept. 11), and "Party and Protest" (a surprisingly soporific film about Bush 43's inauguration night)--are good opportunities to step out for some popcorn. But be sure to stay planted for the program's richest fodder, especially Franko Galoso's "Foxhole," a wonderfully subtle chronicle of two soldiers who left Vietnam better than when they came, and Peter Neff's "Me and My Old Voice," a montage of still photos of Billie Holiday laid over a long-lost rehearsal track from 1955, in which we hear a Holiday we have seldom heard before: ebullient, self-possessed, and, at times, downright happy. (BdeP)
Documentary Shorts Program 2
May 8, noon
If one were to try to find any common theme behind the three short films in this program, it would have to be "The Odd Obsessions of Peculiar Men." Nick Prevas' melodramatic doc "Love and a '61," centers on his father's purchase of a 1961 Chevy Belair. Mom, not too happy, goes and gets herself a very short haircut, rinses some soda cans, gets weepy for the camera, and decides she can't talk about her disappointment anymore. Meanwhile, Sis is getting married. And that's about all there is to it.
"Growin' a Beard," directed by erstwhile Baltimorean Mike Woolf, explores a quirky tradition in the small town of Shamrock, Texas. Every year around St. Patrick's Day, the men of the town stop shaving and a contest is held for the best attempt to grow a traditional Irish Donegal beard (think Abe Lincoln). Woolf follows contest contestants, which include a handful of Shamrock residents and one newcomer, as they vie for the title.
The program culminates with "Mole in the Ground," a short profile of a New York man who followed his dream and now makes a living busking on the streets as a one-man band. Director (and City Paper contributing writer) Charles Cohen weaves interview, technical explanation of the musician's rather odd-looking instrument, and musical interludes to pleasing effect as he follows his subject from subway station to street corner to local pub. (ES)
Documentary Shorts Program 3
May 8, 7:30 p.m.
Much like Documentary Shorts Program 2, No. 3 deals with the unusual pastimes of ordinary people. First in the program is "Freestyle," an exploration of the "sport" of Musical Canine Freestyle, aka dancing with dogs. The film, directed by Elena Elmoznino, does a nice job capturing the personalities that dominate the ambitious freestylists, from the teen who dreams of being the first freestyle contestant in the Olympics to the controlling Patie Ventre, founder of the World Canine Freestyle Organization. This film's biggest weakness may be that, as you watch it, it's not clear whether filmmaker Elmoznino is laughing with or at them.
Meanwhile, Katie McQuerrey and David Gray's "Never Say Die" delves rockumentary-style into the life of New Jersey-based Black Sabbath cover band Sabbra Cadabra. Interviews with band members reveal musical loves and disappointments, overactive egos, obsessions, and tendencies toward substance abuse--and a tendency to take themselves too seriously. Highlight: the band goes to Puerto Rico and is heckled by audience members furious that the band didn't play Sabbath über-hit "Paranoid." Lowlight: footage of singer Joe Donnelly stumbling drunk around a hotel room in his undies. (ES)
Directed by Ulrich Siedl
8 p.m. ; hosted by John Waters
A full-on orgy in a shopping-mall sex club; a middle-aged woman trimming her pubes for a hot date with a guy who turns out to look like Metallica's James Hetfield carrying an extra 50 pounds; a dowdy housekeeper doing a granny-panties striptease for her lecherous old employer; a volatile young musclehead beating up any guy who looks at his anorexic go-go dancer girlfriend; an addled hitchhiker (a ringer for a young Edith Massey) who jabbers at and insults those who give her rides--no wonder John Waters loves this movie. Austrian writer/director Ulrich Siedl captures all the above while taking a deadpan peek in on the residents of a declasse Vienna suburb during a heat wave and comes up with something resembling a cross between Todd Solondz' Happiness and Harmony Korine's Gummo. Dog Days isn't much for story--only one of the intertwining narrative threads, involving a married couple not coping well at all with the death of their child, boasts anything like a traditional "arc" or resolution--but Siedl delivers several memorable moments of black comedy and poignancy amid all the degradation. And sometimes, as when a drunken Austro-redneck party-crasher stands on a woman's couch in his cowboy boots and gingerly humps her floor lamp, he scores a hat trick. (Lee Gardner)
Directed by Jane Weinstock
May 7, 5:30 p.m. ; May 9, 11 a.m.
An indie romantic comedy.
Directed by Kirby Dick
May 9, 11 a.m.
The documentarian behind Derrida and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist turns his camera on patients dying in hospice care.
Directed by William Castle
May 8, 11 a.m.
A 3-D movie about . . . the French and Indian War. Directed by shlockmeister William Castle (The Tingler, the original House on Haunted Hill, and 13 Ghosts).
Directed by Bill Plympton
May 7, 6 p.m.
Animator Bill Plympton's grotesque and continuously mutating hand-drawn figures are instantly recognizable to most discriminating animation fans. In Hair High, his seventh full-length feature, Plympton tells the gothic tale of Cherri and Rod, teenagers in love who die tragically on the night of Echo Lake's senior prom. Plympton joyfully exploits the 1950s setting for its sexy car bodies and towering, elaborate hairdos, even as his story of jealousy and heartbreak among the cool kids and dweebs threatens to stall in place. The best sequence is unrelated to plot: Kids in the classroom make funny faces--in Plympton's world this could mean pulling your lower lip over your brow. (RG)
Heir to an Execution
Directed by Ivy Meeropol
May 9, 4:30 p.m.
A memoir turned gripping family portrait, Heir to an Execution casts a probing eye on the 1953 execution of alleged Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as seen from somebody who grew up in their shadow--Ivy Meeropol, daughter of the oldest Rosenberg son, Michael. Heir follows Meeropol on her difficult quest to locate friends of her grandparents, relatives who distanced themselves from the family after the Rosenbergs' trial and execution, and her grandparents' gravesites. What starts out as a soft-focus account of Meeropol getting to know her grandparents as people gains momentum as the documentary moves away from the filmmaker and into the lives of people like 103-year-old Harry Steingart, who believes the Rosenbergs refusal to name names to spare their lives saved his. This historical sleuthing animates an era confined to still photographs, shepherds Heir into its more difficult facets--that it's entirely possible that Julius Rosenberg did share information with the Soviet Union, though not the information for which he and his wife were executed--and movingly depicts how family history accrues years of momentum when it collides with the present. (BM)
Directed by Alexandre Aja
May 7, 11 p.m.
A French thriller.
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
May 8, 11:30 a.m.
See "Miss Manila."
Is It True What They Say About Ann?
Directed by Patrick Wright
May 8, 9 p.m.
A documentary about conservative pundit Ann Coulter.
Let the Church Say Amen
Directed by David Peterson
May 7, 11:30 a.m. ; May 9, 2:30 p.m.
A documentary portrait of a storefront African-American church in Washington, D.C., that takes a "faith-based" approach to street level.
Love, Sex and Eating the Bones
Directed by Sudz Sutherland
May 7, 1:30 p.m. ; May 8, 9 p.m.
A heartwarming romance about pornography, impotence, and fine-art photography, director Sudz Sutherland's Love, Sex and Eating the Bones opens with Michael (Hill Harper) waxing rhapsodic with a porn-shop owner about his favorite performer's finest work. While they talk, the scene from Cum Fu is replayed before our eyes, featuring the busty star (Marieka Weathered), a muscled hunk, and the inevitable random midget. It's brilliantly silly, yet absurdity never overpowers the characters' humanity, and Michael's struggle to find love with the real woman of his dreams, the celibate Jasmine (Marlyne Afflack), brings the story some depth. The pitch-perfect script by Sutherland and his wife, Jennifer Holness, helps too. The phone-sex scene alone is worth the price of admission. (Edward Ericson Jr.)
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
May 8, 9:30 p.m.
See "St. Anger Management."
Directed by Brett Ingram
May 8, 2 p.m.
Astonishing, otherworldly, and hyperviolent, the clay-animation artistry of Bruce Bickford--best known, if at all, for his work for Frank Zappa--is likely to persuade viewers new to his work that he's a grossly neglected and marginalized talent. A few minutes spent in his presence via this new documentary explains how this came to be: The gaunt, reclusive Bickford (who, in footage from earlier days, bears a frightening resemblance to Charles Manson) has walked a lifelong journey on the path between visionary genius and 20th-century crackpot. Director Brett Ingram also spends time with Bickford's father, George, a former Boeing engineer now entering the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, and the ensuing dual biography suggests that father and son have more in common than they realize. Worth seeing for rare and extensive glimpses of Bickford's mind-blowing work alone. (RG)
Muppet Treasure Island
Directed by Brian Henson
May 9, 4:30 p.m. ; hosted by Richard Cohen
The Muppets buckle a swash or two in this rip-roaring felt-and-foam-rubber-fueled family film from 1996. This screening is hosted by Blindsided author and TV producer Richard Cohen.
My Favorite Year
Directed by Richard Benjamin
May 9, 2 p.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center; hosted by Dan Rodricks
Peter O'Toole's portrayal of a sozzled British screen star highlights this 1982 sentimental fave about the golden age of live television in the 1950s. This screening is hosted by Sun columnist and erstwhile local TV personality Dan Rodricks.
Narrative Shorts Program 1
May 8, 11 a.m. ; May 9, 4 p.m. Dysfunctional childhoods take center stage in this shorts program with varying degrees of success. Nancy Deren's "Home" is the story of a misfit girl named Dorrie (Sierra Farber) who perpetually waits for the return of her screwed-up mother. Farber gives a striking performance, as does K Callan, as Dorrie's beleaguered grandmother. Unfortunately, Traci Lords is painfully over the top as Dorrie's mother, and the dialogue feels like an after-school special.
British director Yousef Ali Khan's "Talking with Angels" fares better. Alan (Stephen Buckley) is just 10, but his mother's mental illness makes it impossible for her to care for him, his younger sibling, or even herself, and his sense of shame and fierce protectiveness of his family sears through the piece. Khan's direction is wonderful, bookending the dreariness of Alan's world with sumptuous painterly images. Meanwhile, Adam Penn's "Jonah" is a coming-of-age tale that manages to feel fresh while still running through the usual nobody-understands-me paces as outsider Jonah (Shane Hunter) bonds with a classmate's mom (Linda Hamilton). Baltimore's Oranges Band provides an apt soundtrack for this tale of teenage pathos.
That isn't the only Baltimore connection in this series. Baltimore natives Ryan and Jason Pattan's "Praxis" follows a businessman with a briefcase as he is chased through the streets of Charm City by another suit-clad man. The clever short gives local residents an excellent opportunity to play "I've been there" marred by the idea one could run directly from Fells Point to Federal Hill. The other standout is director/star Hank Azaria's "Nobody's Perfect," a romantic comedy about a man trying to find "the one" with the help of some magic glasses that allow him to see how a relationship would turn out with any woman he gazes on. The story itself is a bit silly, but winning cameos by just about every pretty blonde in Hollywood and Azaria's ability to make his character pathetic, obnoxious, and deeply likable all at the same time make "Nobody's Perfect" worth watching. David Licata's "Tango Octogenario," about an elderly couple tangoing, ends the program. (AD)
Narrative Shorts Program 2
May 8, 5 p.m.
If this shorts program has a theme, it's finding beauty in the most disturbing places. Take Matthew Mebane's "Tackle Box," for example. Based on a poem by Patti White, the film is the picturesque tale of what happens when a couple of thieves steal a woman's ashes and, mistaking them for cocaine, sell them to a drug dealer. Mebane fills the picture with a warm glow that almost distracts the audience from the grossness of people snorting old lady up their nose. In Sorrel Ahlfeld's "Love and Stuff," a reclusive taxidermist meets a beautiful sculptor who wants him to create a mounting of her mother. An unlikely romance blossoms. None of the film's surprises is terribly surprising, but Kelly Aucoin and Patricia Ageheim's chemistry is so strong that you root for their doomed and deeply creepy romance.
South African director Gregg Watt's "The Dashing Diner" follows two men just released from prison: Frank (Gerald Rudolf), a gruff man with an eye patch, and Dean (Dean Slater), a younger releasee Frank takes under his wing. They find the world outside the prison confusing and end up discussing where to go from here over dinner at a very posh restaurant; giving away anything else would spoil the perfectly delicious ending.
The Swedish short "Lyckantropen," by Steve Ericsson, examines the way a man deals with his own jealousy. Ericsson fills the film with an incredible sense of foreboding that, combined with a creepy Ulver soundtrack and a little girl in a nightgown--the new cinematic shorthand for "spooky shit ahead"--makes it a deeply chilling tale. The odd man out in this program is Kelly William's "Richard," the story of a boy (Richard Morris) who dreams of being a stand-up comedian. The problem is that, like most grade-schoolers, Richard isn't funny and he can't even make his classmates laugh. This tale seems out of place in this series and would be a better match in Program 1, where misfit kids reign supreme. Still, Morris has mastered the serious comedian glare, and the sight of him in a mustache and beard telling nonsensical jokes in a comedy club might be worth the price of admission. (AD)
Narrative Shorts Program 3
May 8, 5:30 p.m. ; May 9, noon
These seven shorts gaze on the nature of relationships--dealing with death, growing up, friendship, and family--themes usually begging dialogue to parse these sometimes difficult subjects in the short film's truncated form. Surprisingly, the least talkie ones are the best.
In "Agora," directed by Chris Newberry, a little girl lost at the state fair must conquer her own fear to save another, younger lost child. A mere seven minutes, 30 seconds, this quick-cutting, rapidly moving flick, communicated almost entirely by the children's eye movements, perfectly recalls the frightening moment when you lose your parents in a crowd.
Ne'er-do-well twentysomething Gordon Mooner (Macon Blaire), the focus of Jeremy Saulnier's "Crabwalk," is lost as well. Take the last $20 bill we'll ever give you, his parents tell him, get out of the house, and look for a job. He shaves, dons an ill-fitting suit, and for a hilarious 15 minutes tools around town getting himself into all kinds of trouble from the back of a forcibly borrowed moped. Some masterfully timed slapstick here.
The pace slows with director Ryan Piotrowicz's "The Good Life," an ambitious but ultimately overreaching meditation on waking up from a coma to discover your family has moved on, living as if you were already dead. Its reach is hampered by its 16 minutes. Without the character development time affords, the clipped, maudlin dialogue feels forced.
Likewise, it's difficult to establish empathy for the two young female leads in "Hitch," directed by Baltimoreans Hanna Fruchtman and Jenna Friedenburg. Bored and horny, the two pals take turns picking up improbably cute and hunky hitchhikers from the parking lot of the diner they haunt with ultimately disastrous results. Again, there's little time to get into the characters' heads, so the girlfriends' self-absorbed demeanor and snide humor tend to annoy rather than provoke.
"Intermission," by Laura Cayouette, turns the short form's difficulty of handling depth into an asset. A line of coiffed women wait to use the bathroom stalls at a theater, and the only things we learn from the seven main characters are from superficial snippets of conversations. Cayouette punctuates these insightful and ridiculous chats across toilets and in front of mirrors by repeating the eternal cliché of chitchat: "I love your [consumer product]. Where did you get it?"
Chipper and silly swings into dark and elegiac with the moving nine-minute feature "The Park," by British director Paul Booth. A young boy succumbing to respiratory failure decides to join the children playing on swing sets outside his window.
Youth is lost another way in Scott Keckan and Joy Lusco Kecken's "Woman Hollering Creek." Nerdy and quirky-pretty Grace has dropped out of college, and spends her time dreaming along a picturesque creek (the short was filmed near Annapolis) and pining for the manager at the dollar store where she works. Of course he's more interested in the more conventionally pretty girls. Grace, in a sweetly sketched bit of comedy, finally grows up. (TH)
Narrative Shorts Program 4
May 8, 3 p.m.
You have to go see "The Male Groupie." Written, produced, and starring Morocco Omari and directed by Christopher Cherot, "The Male Groupie" examines the relationship between Blasé-Skippy (Russell Hornsby), a successful and enlightened rapper, and his childhood buddy Ton (Omari). Ton lives vicariously through Blasé's success, constantly embarrassing himself and the rapper with his attempts to live large and be down. Cherot beautifully juxtaposes Ton's sophomoric ideas about rap culture with Blasé's world of intelligent successful black men. Whether the subtext interests you or not, Ton's excruciating fumbling is one of the funniest things on screen at this year's festival.
Otherwise, Jon Witmer's "OSJ" is a game of cinematic tag with vaguely mythological undertones illustrated by contrasting the color of life on land with the bleached out world of the sea. In "Remission," director Dan Stack tries to see into his character's soul through her pores with an endless progression of extreme closeups. Things take a disturbing turn in Margaret Harris' "Exit 8A," in which Nick, a white man, finds out that his Latina girlfriend is pregnant and proceeds to pick a fight with a Latino man and then kidnaps his own father. Harris consistently builds the tension, giving the short a hectic, confused feel that gives the audience a real sense of how Nick feels; Desmond Devenish gives the violent self-destructive Nick a real vulnerability, suggesting that he is just a frightened kid with no idea what he is doing.
"The Empty Building," written, directed, and starring Giovanni Sanseviero, is a perfect marriage of image and storytelling. People line up in the snow in the woods for a chance to enter the titular structure, in which they can find redemption. But one man finds it is not as easy as he thought it would be. Juxtaposing and combining past and present in a dreamlike world, Sanseviero has created a film that makes you figure things out for yourself without ever leaving you in the dark. Which makes it almost as good as "The Male Groupie." (AD)
Directed by Dan Mirvish
May 7, 9 p.m.
Dan Mirvish has not only expanded his 2002 same-titled short film (which appeared at the Maryland Film Festival in 2002) into a full-length feature, he's made it into a musical. The action moves between several Los Angeles-area houses that are being shown to prospective buyers, and it's not giving anything away to say that everyone--the agents, the sellers, the house-hunters--has a secret. Super cast: Kellie Martin scores as a yuppie fond of quickie sex in strange houses; Sally Kellerman, as a boozy, unsuccessful agent, delivers a torchy realtor's lament; and Ann Magnuson shows up very late and nearly walks off with the whole movie. Whenever Open House threatens to totter with a case of the sillies, it steadies itself on a solidly felt foundation--the longing to find a house and make it into a home. (RG)
Directed by Gary Henoch and Chris Schmidt
May 8, 12:30 p.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
Smitten, happy families gather in a public square (it could be Luxembourg or Ostend) to watch the extraordinary Wooden Horse Puppet Theater of Russian artist Igor Fokin, who impressively imbues his grotesque menagerie of handcrafted marionettes with individual character and feeling. It turns out to be Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., whose inhabitants' public consumption of ennobling art haunts the periphery of this well-intentioned film. The 36-year-old Fokin died suddenly in 1996 following a performance (a fact the movie perhaps needlessly husbands for too long), and his fellow street performers gather at the square in tribute. What intentions the filmmakers had, before Fokin's death, for their interviews with the artist and the well-photographed footage of his performances remains unsaid. (RG)
Directed by Stacy Peralta
May 8, 8:45 p.m. , at Bengie's Drive In
The director behind the fabulous skateboard documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys does likewise for surfing in his new film.
The Saddest Music in the World
Directed by Guy Maddin
May 8, 4:30 p.m.
With cult works such as Tales From the Gimli Hospital, Canadian auteur Guy Maddin managed a fine mix of 1920s-era visual chops and modern dark humor to produce something like Eraserhead meets Man With a Movie Camera. With his latest feature, The Saddest Music in the World, Maddin steps up to the plate with a few name actors, but his vision remains the same. Cynical Broadway huckster Chester Kent (Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney) returns to Winnipeg circa 1933 and teams up with new love Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros) to represent the United States in an international contest thrown by his ex-lover, amputee and booze magnate Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini). Oddly enough, this film recalls nothing so much as Sam Raimi's western The Quick and the Dead. While that film was an unending series of gun duels and this one an unending series of sad music face-offs, both films depict a series of one-on-one contests between its major players in which (albeit drastically different) aesthetics matter more than the outcome. (EAH)
Directed by Brian Dannelly
May 8, 7 p.m.
High-school senior Mary (Jena Malone) is pregnant--a common enough occurrence. But a few things make Mary's situation peculiar. For starters, the father of her child is gay, and Mary made a pact with Jesus to be made an honorary virgin again, since she only sacrificed her maidenhead in a quest to convert her lover to heterosexuality. Mary's best friend and Christian-rock bandmate, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), shuns teenage mothers--even as her randy wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) would love to give the world a few more. Did we mention that Mary attends a religious school? Director and UMBC grad Brian Dannelly's well-cast Saved! feels cut from the same cloth as some of the better late-'90s American dark comedies; in that pantheon of that genre, it scores many more points than the pretty poor But I'm a Cheerleader, if not quite as many as The Opposite of Sex or the genre-defining works of Todd Solondz and Alexander Payne. But there are few things funnier on screen these days than the first appearance of the outdated hip-hop slang-slinging Pastor Skip (a scene-stealing Martin Donovan), who rushes the stage at a school assembly to the tune of House of Pain's "Jump Around." (EAH)
Seducing Doctor Lewis
Directed by Jean-François Pouliot
May 7, 9:30 p.m.
Life is hard in St. Marie-La-Mauderne, a declining island fishing hamlet northeast of Quebec. Work is practically nonexistent; the village men collect welfare checks and proceed directly to the bar. Even the mayor flees in search of a better life. But a company has proposed building a factory on the sleepy island, provided it can prove it has a full-time doctor, something St. Marie-La-Mauderne hasn't had for 15 years. Enter Germaine Lesage (Raymond Bouchard), one of the town's amicably bitter unemployed husbands, who persuades the town to help him woo a doctor--in this case, Montreal plastic surgeon Christopher Lewis (David Boutin). Though a predictable and heartwarming small-community foreign flick in the Waking Ned Devine mode, the utterly inoffensive Seducing Doctor Lewis' charms arrive in the ruses the townspeople perpetrate to make their home perfectly attractive to Dr. Lewis: changing women's dress, proclaiming an old home beyond repair a historical landmark to explain its dilapidation, and even staging a mirthfully ridiculous cricket match--Dr. Lewis' favorite sport--atop a craggy plateau. (BM)
Sharp-Leadenhall: a Promise To Keep
Directed by Paul Santomeno
May 8, 10 p.m. ; May 9, 11:30 a.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
See "Sharp Focus."
Directed by Sacha Parisot
May 7, 4:30 p.m. ; May 8, 6:30 p.m.
Computer engineer Anthony (Mailon Rivera) is steady giving beautiful Nubian princess Alex (Debra Wilson) the sweet loving, because he's married to a frigid Victoria (Kristen Shaw) who just ain't feeling it that way much anymore. Anthony tries to communicate his sexual frustration to her, but she won't hear any of it--a headstrong streak that especially irks Anthony's lifelong friend Michael (Steve White), a proud man trying to get through a financial rough patch. Victoria and Michael are constantly in each other's faces, forcing Michael's wife, Sarah (A.J. Johnson), to play peacemaker. All their arguments reduce to one thing to Michael, though--that the white Victoria doesn't know how to handle properly her successful black man. So when both couples get together on an otherwise lovely weekend day for some good food, fine wine, convivial chit-chat, and friendly frolicking in the hot tub and Sarah ends up doing the Natalie Wood float, race, money, jealousy, and marital infidelity bubble to the surface of this close-quartered thriller, which sounds more thrilling than it really is. (BM)
Directed by Jessica Sharzer
May 8, 3 p.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
Speak tells a heavy story with subtlety and grace, and never treats its subject--high school--like a joke. Based on the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, the film stays close to only child/freshman Melinda Sordino (Kristen Stewart). Via voice-overs of Melinda's internal dialogue, we hear more and more from her as she slowly uses fewer and fewer words to speak after being raped by social star Andy Evans (Eric Lively) during an end-of-summer party--and being blamed by her peers for the subsequent bust. Her self-absorbed mom (Elizabeth Perkins) is in therapy, while her unemployed dad (D.B. Sweeney) is good-natured but ineffectual. Art teacher Mr. Freeman (Steve Zahn) is the one adult that draws her out of her shell, giving her an expressive outlet as she attempts to deal. That sounds more depressing than it is; Speak reminds that fear and pain can, at best, be a catalyst for growth and, at worst, inspire art. (Wendy Ward)
Directed by Ted Wilde
May 9, 11 a.m.
A 1928 silent film starring comedy great Harold Lloyd; the Alloy Orchestra performs a live soundtrack.
The Story of the Weeping Camel
Directed by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni
May 8, 4 p.m.
At a far-flung outpost in the Gobi Desert, a family of nomadic camel herders lives the way it has for generations. When a camel has a difficult childbirth and refuses to nurse the colt, the elders send teenaged Dude and his younger brother Ugna to the town on camelback to fetch . . . a violinist. The Mongolian violin--a two-stringed cross between a banjo and a cello--holds the spiritual power to make the mother camel weep and soften its heart to its offspring, you see. As events unfold, the film slowly becomes an ode to a rapidly disappearing way of life. Beautiful and leisurely, The Story of the Weeping Camel is mostly a documentary, starring a real family of Mongolian nomads, but many of the scenes were staged by Italian director Luigi Falorni and his Mongolian counterpart Byambasuren Davaa, à la Robert Flaherty's classics Man of Aran and Nanook of the North. This is no indictment, however; the directors' poetic and lyrical touch equally captures the musical quality of sandstorms, the shimmering hues of the desert, the melancholy songs shared around the hearth, and the religious ceremony that attempts to lure back the spiritual energy lost by modernization. (TH)
Surviving Suicide: Those Left Behind
Directed by Connie Rinehart and Tom Donohue
May 7, noon
Unwillful victims find sanctuary in this short documentary about the loved ones of those who take their own lives. The focus here is on the unique kind of grief that family members endure after a suicide, traced through three survivors' stories: Mark Wilson, the son of a man who put a gun in his mouth some 30 years ago, and Paul and Judy Tunkle, a minister and his wife (now living in Baltimore) whose daughter shot herself in the head after graduating college. Sentiment runs understandably high, but at times it seems filmmakers Connie Rinehart and Tom Donohue turn the emotion entirely loose, and at the expense of information. They're at their best when demonstrating the devastating stigma that families often bear after suicides. (Paul Tunkle was asked by church officials to give up his parish after his daughter's death, on grounds that he was an unfit spiritual father.) But pity comes at the cost of insight, and many difficult questions go unposed. Surviving Suicide gives a glimpse into a tender issue, but it's an issue that deserves a cold, hard stare. (BdeP)
Traveling Sideshow: Shocked and Amazed
Directed by Jeff Krulik
May 7, 11 p.m.
It's fair to say that, after years of Jim Rose Circus Sideshow tours and Perry Farrell's 's Lollapalooza tours putting Zamora the Torture King (aka Tim Cridland) in front of millions in the early 1990s, the exoticism of the human pincushions, the fire eaters, the sword swallowers, and the bearded ladies is wearing thing. But not for Jeff Krulik. The Maryland auteur behind the legendary Heavy Metal Parking Lot has shot a straightforward, nostalgic documentary (loosely based around Baltimore-based sideshow enthusiast James Taylor's journal Shocked and Amazed) for the Travel Channel. Traveling Sideshow hits the highlights, tracing the sideshow's lineage from P.T. Barnum's 1841 New York museum to a present-day Wilkes-Barre, Pa., tattoo festival and sword-swallowing convention. Zamora is here, as well as a guy who staples money to his head. Then there are the "curiosities," such as shrunken heads, two-headed calfs, and the Lizard Man, a former philosophy student with lots of ink, subcutaneous implants, a forked tongue, and some human pincushion skills. (EE)
Travellers and Magicians
Directed by Khyentse Norbu
May 7, noon; May 9, 1:30 p.m.
Travellers and Magicians is not only the first feature film out of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, but also a thoroughgoing pleasure. Cast entirely with nonprofessionals, the movie charts the progress of various Bhutanese--a monk, an apple seller, a rice-paper maker and his daughter--on the road to Thimpu, the capital city, where most of them are headed for a festival. One of them, though, an educated, big-dreaming official named Dondup, newly installed in a backwater village, has a further destination in mind--America. Disdainful of static village life, Dondup vainly tosses about his long, black hair and accessorizes his government-mandated gho with bright-white, puffy, off-brand athletic shoes--he's a sublime movie fool. His fellow travellers patiently and teasingly try to convince Dondup to stay in his new village, and the monk tells him a story, which becomes the movie's secondary narrative. In the monk's tale, a Himalayan take on James M. Cain, a young magician sends his older, big-dreaming brother on a harrowing journey into a remote, mysterious forest, where he's taken in by a grumpy old loner and his bewitching young wife. (RG)
"A Tribute to Chuck Statler"
May 8, 11 p.m.
For MTV fans of a certain age, few images from its first year were quite as memorable as that of a man in a shiny silver suit and a plastic baby mask sticking a fork into a toaster and convulsing as Mark Mothersbaugh's staccato stammered "babybabybabybaby" in the geektastic video for Devo's cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The man who captured that image was Chuck Statler, a fellow Kent State University art student who made all of the band's indelible early short music films; Statler's Devo work eventually landed him similar gigs for Elvis Costello, James Chance, and Madness. Jeff Krulik, Maryland's own independent movie bad boy, presents this tribute to Statler, which includes films of the above and later work with El Vez and Tiny Tim. The highlights here, though, are those early Devo clips--"Satisfaction," "Jocko Homo," "Secret Agent Man," and "Come Back Jonee"--both for their low-tech realization and their total commitment to the band's singular world. (BM)
Directed by Mary Trunk
May 7, 1:30 p.m. ; May 9, 4:30 p.m. , at Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center
From nine tormented lives, Mary Trunk culls this expert and haunting portrait of a family recovering from decades-old wounds--a family that happens to be her own. In 1973, soon after having moved his wife and seven children from New York to California, father Jack Trunk announced he was leaving. Distraught and suddenly alone in a strange town, mother Paula Trunk remained in a self-imposed alcoholic palsy for more than two years. Her children were left to fend for themselves. Delicate pans over family photos are spliced with footage of each of the Trunks today in interviews that are remarkable for their candor and touching for their grace. Now-grown children recall how they suffered through the ordeal. (One took his comatose mother's wedding ring and sold it at school for 50 cents to buy lunch.) The parents feel free to speak for themselves, largely because the director has the great good sense to ask them how they felt at the time, rather than demanding that they explain themselves. Mary Trunk is the only family member who doesn't appear on camera, but her light hand and unsentimental eye make this, above all, a portrayal of a filmmaker near her mastery of both technique and the truth. (BdeP)
Directed by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo
May 7, 8:30 p.m.
Contests make tempting topics for documentarians, and the dorkier the competition, the better. So filmmakers Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo hit pay dirt with Word Wars, a digest of four men battling each other for the title of National Scrabble Champion. One by one we meet the key players: defending champion Joe Edley, a bespectacled Zen student who memorizes anagrams while driving; Matt Graham, a young, supplement-popping nihilist; Baltimore's Marlon Hill, a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking Afrocentrist who's torn between his love of Scrabble and his hatred for English, which he lambastes as a tool of white oppression; and "G.I." Joel Sherman, a crepe-skinned hypochondriac whose nickname stands for "gastrointestinal." Rich characters, indeed, but as the final round draws closer we find ourselves laughing at, rather than caring for, them. A little more time spent humanizing these guys would have given Word Wars the fullness its subjects deserve. (BdeP)
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201