Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maryland Film Festival Report

I'm just back from Baltimore and the eleventh annual Maryland Film Festival. I had a blast.

Thanks to Northwest Airline's limited flight schedule, I missed the opening night activities and made it into BWI at 8 AM for the first full day.

Modern Love is Automatic (Zach Clark, 2009)
Melodie Sisk gives a bravura performance as Lorraine Schultz, a nurse who just doesn't quite fit in with the world. She hides behind large sunglasses and a killer pastel wardrobe. After her cheating boyfriend ducks out of her life, Lorraine tries her hand at being a dominatrix; finding a stable of clients for sessions at a local hotel.

Modern Love delights as much for what it is as for what it isn't. Writer/director Zach Clark takes the narrative into some dangerous areas while managing to avoid pitfalls into which other stories have fallen. Just when you think that the film could fall apart or become a trite, generic exercise; Clark and his excellent cast steer things away from the brink. More Info

While BDSM isn't at the fore of Modern Love is Automatic, it's presence is such that it was recommended to me by someone who knew of my current research on fetishism in film. Likewise, I was joined by Lisa Vandever and Alan Levy of the Cinekink film festival.

That evening included the annual John Waters screening. This year's pick, Les chansons d'amour (AKA Love Songs) was a beautiful French polyamorous musical. There were some titters of laughter during the love song between Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet and Louis Garrel, though this had to be one of the most "mainstream" picks Waters has given us in a while (for better or for worse). I'm definitely glad I managed to finally see this film and see it presented on screen with a full audience.

Things were capped off wonderfully with my final screening of Friday, Craig Baldwin's Mock Up on Mu.

Mock Up on Mu (Craig Baldwin, 2008)
Something of a prequel to 1999's Spectres of the Spectrum, Baldwin explores the sinuous relationships of Marjorie Cameron, L. Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons, Alesteir Crowley, and the Lockheed Martin company. Setting the story in a fictional future while diving deeply into the past, Baldwin juxtaposes fact and fiction while layering his film with visuals that support his story.

Most remarkable about Mock Up was the way that Baldwin dissected scenes, troweling on segments from other films comprised of the same elements. That is, a scene between two actors in a car blossoms into a dozen similar scenes, cutting between the same shot reverse shot structure, transforming the actors into other players while maintaining a coherent storyline. In this way, Baldwin is salvaging found footage while calling attention to the plastic nature of storytelling. More Info

The screening of Mock Up was terrific but the Q&A afterwards was mind-blowing. Baldwin was in "mad genius" mode for a full forty-five minutes, explaining Mu, his relationship to the story, the reclamation of found footage, and myriad other topics. His presentation was hypnotic, making me think that Baldwin is the best film professor I never had.

Saturday began with the Maryland Film Festival's 3-D screening.

Inferno (Roy Ward Baker, 1953)
This strange hybrid of man-against-nature and crime films stars Robert Ryan as Donald Carson, a businessman who's spent his privileged life bullying others, maintaining his position at the top of an empire while crawling to the bottom of a bottle. His hot wife, Geraldine (Rhonda Fleming), has taken a shine to mining expert Joe Duncan (William Lundigan). After Carson breaks his leg in the desert, Joe and Geraldine run off to get help with the intention of covering their tracks and letting the hot sun take care of their mutual problem. Leave it to hard-headed Carson to fight to survive.

Apart from the striking setting and some interesting playing with various planes of vision, Baker doesn't play much with the 3-D in the film. There are only a few "trick" shots to dazzle the audience during the climax. Regardless, Inferno is enjoyable for Ryan's performance and the landscape.

Stingray Sam (Cory McAbee, 2009)
Cory McAbee met and exceeded the high hopes I had for this new outing. Set in the same universe as his American Astronaut, McAbee plays the titular character, a lounge singer on Mars enlisted by his former partner in crime, Quasar Kid (Billy Nayer Show bandmate Crugie) to save a little girl (Willa Vy McAbee) from the clutches of the first male birth, Fredward (Joshua Taylor). Comprised of six smaller chapters, Stingray Sam is a modern serial with each section being a self-contained unit with a cliffhanger ending... and a snappy song!

Stingray Sam is yet another brilliant effort from McAbee. The only bad thing is that the soundtrack and DVD aren't yet available. I can't wait to see this movie and hear these songs again! In the meantime, the opening track, "Mars", can be heard on the Goodbye California EP. More Info

Lightning Salad Moving Picture (Kenneth Price, 2008)
I was prepared to give Lightning Salad Moving Picture fifteen minutes and move on if it didn't hold my attention. I stayed through the entire film and loved it. Its anarchic story structure leaves the viewer guessing what strange situations the main characters, the Superkiiids (Cory Howard & Jonathan Guggenheim), will get into next.

The crux of the moving picture has the Superkiiids tasked by "Zemeckis" to make Back to the Future Part 4, lest the project fall into the hands of "Hanks". To say that the Superkiiids don't really make too many inroads with this projects is an understatement. But, they certainly have some wild adventures with Meankiiid, Futurekiiid, Princess, and some other fun folks along the way. Filled with surreal situations and some quotable non sequitur dialog, Lightning Salad Moving Picture was an unexpected delight. More Info

Teplitz: The Tyranny of Paradox (Sean Guinan, 2008)
This challenging, dreamlike work deals with the nature of dreams and the fluidity of reality. The story follows Paxton Teplitz (David Bendena) as he joins the Whalers, a group of metaphysical explorers who make forays into the Ravenswood "Ocean" -- a pocket of memories into which our dreams escape. Teplitz and his fellow Whalers wear painted faces and dated garb, reminiscent of a Terayama film. In the Ravenswood, Teplitz alls into a trap set by the demon Jeffrey -- casting him into an inane job at a video distribution center.

Slightly uneven in its pacing (the 9-to-5 segment is fun but goes on too long) and with some clunky dialog, the look and sheer audacity of the film make it an interesting experience in experimental narrative. More Info

Sunday didn't go as planned with breakfast taking longer than it should have. Regardless, I made it to "Tent City" in time for the panel on Film Criticism in the Digital Age. I didn't say much -- probably for the best.

Immokalee U.S.A. (Georg Koszulinski, 2008)
This powerful documentary explores the lives of migrant workers in Immokalee, Florida, showing some of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) methods employed to perpetuate a modern day system of indentured servitude. While set in Immokalee, the smaller story stands in for a larger whole -- a national issue that doesn't get the attention it deserves. More Info

Nollywood Babylon (Ben Addelman & Samir Mallal, 2009)
Lost in the shuffle of Poliwod and Not Quite Hollywood, Nollywood Babylon tells the tale of Nigerian cinema. From the colonial days to the present, Addelman and Mallal explore the national cinema's themes and distribution via insightful interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen's 167th film, Bent Arrow. The filmmakers do well to frame Nollywood Babylon with the charismatic Imasuen and to capture the poverty of the country, contrasting it to the elaborate, palatial churches that have taken over as money-making ventures. With the urban blight and money-grubbing churches, it was like looking at Detroit -- though the government of Lagos may be a little less corrupt. More Info

The day after the fest, Programming Manager Skizz Cyzyk along with Jen Talbert interviewed me for The People Versus George Lucas. The footage looks great -- even with me in it. I tried to capture the sheer mania that often grips me when discussing the foibles of George Lucas and the failure of "The Prequels" (and Return of the Jedi). Hopefully a second or two of it gets into the final film.

I also swung by Atomic Books to talk to Benn Ray about the status of the Cashiers du Cinemart book. Seems like all the lights are green for the October release. This means that I should be back in Charm City right around then for a book signing and possible MicroCineFest event! See you then, Baltimore!

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