2016 Maryland Film Festival "Brown People" Highlights

2016 Maryland Film Festival "Brown People" Highlights


Yes ladies and gentlemen, I’m back again to talk about the films “with brown people in them” at the upcoming Maryland Film Festival.

This year’s event takes place from May 4th to May 8th.

Before I go on, I have to mention this comment left in response to my S&A piece on the festival last year. From CAP1956: “Dankwa, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for putting this list together! I live in Baltimore and I usually attend the Maryland Film Festival after searching the schedule for films ‘with brown people.’ This list helps immensely and is MUCH appreciated. Thanks again!”

That comment warmed my heart! THIS is the reason I do it. I, like many, see films across the spectrum, but I know people like me would like to see films with characters that reflect their lives, or who look like them. I am happy that people get something out of all the info I work to put together 🙂

“The Maryland Film Festival (MDFF) is an annual five-day event that takes place in early May, presenting top-notch film and video work from all over the world. Each year the festival screens approximately 50 feature films and 75 short films of all varieties — narrative, documentary, animation, experimental, and hybrid — to tens of thousands of audience members.” —Maryland Film Festival website.

Over the years I’ve seen several wonderful feature films “with brown people” in them at the festival, like one of my favorites of 2015, “Girlhood”. I’ve also seen “Medicine for Melancholy,” “Night Catches Us” (starring Kerry Washington & Anthony Mackie), “LUV” (filmed in Maryland and starring Common, Charles Dutton & Danny Glover), the great documentaries “Evolution of a Criminal,” “The Hip Hop Fellow” (featuring Grammy Award winning producer 9th Wonder) and documentaries by master documentarian Stanley Nelson – the excellent “Freedom Riders”, “Freedom Summer” and last year “Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution”.

I’ve also seen great short films like “The Bravest, The Boldest,” “Afronauts” “The Christmas Tree,” and “Charlotte” to name a few.  

In addition, I think it’s cool that MDFF always manages to bring several films straight from their debuts at top festivals like the Sundance, South By Southwest and Toronto International film festivals.

Now let’s get on with the 2016 Maryland Film Festival films, starting with the shorts. Most of these descriptions come from the MDFF website:




Maryland Film Festival’s Opening Night is devoted to shorts (other shorts not shown on opening night are compliled into several programs).

This year on Opening Night they have SOY CUBANA Directed by Jeremy Ungar and Ivaylo Getov. The Vocal Vidas are a female a cappella quartet from Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of Afro-Cuban music. This documentary explores their unique sound and tells the story of crafting a musical career in a society in which artistic merit is not measured solely by economic success.

Last year the Maryland Film Festival was the first major event in Baltimore since the uprising, occurring just three days after the curfew was lifted. This year they have two shorts with footage from the Baltimore Uprising: ONE DOCUMENT FOR HOPE directed by Margaret Rorison, and PEACE IN THE ABSENCE OF WAR directed by Theo Anthony. Both films screen as part of the”Avant-Garde Shorts” program.

As part of the “Narrative Shorts” program there is THE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT directed by Stephen Kinigopoulos featuring a lead of color.

In the “CH-CH-CH-CH-Changes Shorts” there are four films with leads of color. “EDEN” Directed by Andreá Venitucci, FOG Directed by Chelsea Woods, PRONOUNS Directed by Michael Paulucci and DIRT Directed by Darius Clark Monroe.

Darius Clark Monroe also has another short playing at the festival in the “Doc Shorts” program called TWO CITIES. Also playing in “Doc Shorts” is THE UNRELENTING CHARLIE DAVIES about the African-American soccer player.



The MDFF feature films each come with host(s) directly connected to the film (actors, subjects, producers and directors) to present the film and do a Q&A afterwards.


The MDFF also has a Guest-Host program for personalities known primarily for work outside the world of film—writers, visual artists, and frequently musicians—to select and host a favorite film. This year activist DERAY MCKESSON is presenting a 35mm cut of the 1994 feature film FRESH.

Boaz Yakin’s critically acclaimed film FRESH tells the coming-of-age story of 12-year-old Michael, nicknamed Fresh. Amidst a gritty Brooklyn landscape of housing projects, hard drugs, and alcoholism, Fresh wields his hard-earned knowledge of life, chess, and the streets to seek a better life for himself and his sister. 

Every year MDFF seems to program great anthology films (feature films with separate segments directed by different directors) and this year they have one full of MDFF alums.

COLLECTIVE:UNCONSCIOUS (Presented by Executive Producer Dan Schoenbrun and multiple directors) – A unique collaboration between some of the most exciting young voices in independent film, honors that tradition while drawing from a particularly radical concept. Five daring filmmakers assembled by Executive Producer Dan Schoenbrun contributed a written sketch of a dream they’ve had, which was then adapted by another filmmaker from the group, randomly and anonymously assigned, into a short.

The Directors: FRANCES BODOMO (of MDFF 2013 Opening Night short BONESHAKER and 2014’s AFRONAUTS), DANIEL CARBONE (2013’s HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES), JOSEPHINE DECKER (MDFF features BUTTER ON THE LATCH and THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY), LILY BALDWIN (2014’s SLEEPOVER LA), and LAUREN WOLKSTEIN (MDFF Opening Night shorts THE STRANGE ONES and SOCIAL BUTTERFLY) take us on an utterly unfettered exploration of the human imagination. With lucid bursts of visual poetry, we intuitively explore the dream-logic of surreal narratives like a Grim Reaper-hosted television show and a gym class held inside a volcano.

CAMERAPERSON (Presented by Producer Marilyn Ness) is from fearless cinematographer KIRSTEN JOHNSON of pivotal documentaries such as TWO TOWNS OF JASPER and THE OATH as she reframes footage from previous projects into a radical personal essay culled from the vast trove of footage she has shot over decades around the world.

DO NOT RESIST is a documentary by Craig Atkinson (he’s also Presenting the film).  

The striking images of protests that emerged from recent protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and many other cities around the country brought into focus a startling phenomenon: the flow of large quantities of military equipment and weaponry to local police forces. This jaw-dropping documentary probes a disturbing nationwide trend—one with high financial stakes and powerful interests at its core.  

This film is presented with the short film SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT directed by AJ Schnack.

Written up in Shadow & Act just last week is THE FITS directed by Anna Rose Holmer (She’s also presenting the film).

An 11-year-old boxer finds a new passion when she joins a dance drill squad—but as her new teammates start experiencing bizarre fainting episodes, her life takes a mysterious turn.  (This film screens at MDFF a month before it opens in New York and Los Angeles!)

LAMB directed by Yared Zeleke

This elegant, moving, and cinematically rich film tells the story of Ephraim, a young Ethiopian boy who finds meaning in the company of a lamb after the loss of his mother—but must protect his new animal companion from being sacrificed at the hands of his uncle.



THE LEGEND OF SWEE’ PEA directed by Benjamin May (he’s also presenting the film).  

As Lloyd Daniels rose from a streetball phenom to one of the top college basketball prospects the game has ever seen, NBA stardom seemed a sure thing—but struggles with addiction and the law threatened to destroy everything he’d worked so hard to achieve.

LIFE, ANIMATED directed by Roger Ross Williams (he’s also presenting the film).  

Years after stopping all verbal communication, a young autistic child finds his voice again through his deep love of Disney movies in this sweet and insightful documentary from the director of ‘God Loves Uganda’ and ‘Music by Prudence’. Roger Ross Williams was the first African American to win an Academy Award for directing or producing a film (short or feature).

MORRIS FROM AMERICA directed by Chad Hartigan.

Straight out of Sundance 2016, comes a film with much-lauded performances from Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas in a heartfelt and funny story of a father and teenage son adjusting to their new life in Germany.

NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU directed By: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Presented by director Rachel Grady)

Back in the day Norman Lear had more hit and DIVERSE television series than a little bit. He was the Executive Producer of landmark series that discussed race and racism in a sometimes frank and often daring manner–especially for 1970s television. His series All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons and Sanford & Son among others continually broke new ground.

This documentary, the opening night selection at this year’s Sundance, chronicles Lear’s amazing ability to navigate the obstacles of corporate caution in our most highly regulated art form. He created shows that week after week, year after year, drew huge audiences and challenged conventional wisdom.

SHU-DE! directed by Michael R. Faulkner (he’s also presenting the film).  

When Baltimore-based beatboxer and vocal percussionist Shodekeh meets the Alash Ensemble, masters of the art of Tuvan throat singing, his life and art take on an exciting new dimension. This joyous, exploratory documentary follows him on his travels to Kyzyl, Tuva to study their music and culture, and participate in a prestigious music festival—with many exciting musical collaborations along the way.

SLASH directed by Clay Liford (he’s also Presenting the film).  

Two high-school students—shy and awkward Neil (Michael Johnston) and brash, confident Julia (Hannah Marks) form an unlikely bond when they find they both publish work in an adult forum for erotic fan fiction. Neil channels his creative energies into writing slash fiction chronicling the polysexual misadvantages of superheroes, in this case the muscular hero Vanguard (Tishuan Scott)— whose alternative lifestyle is vividly portrayed in highly enjoyable fantasy sequences. As their relationship becomes more complex once they both come to the attention of the site’s moderator, Denis (Michael Ian Black).

A STRAY directed by Musa Syeed (Presented By Musa Syeed and actor Barkhad Abdirahman)

When Adan accidentally strikes a dog while on the job as a deliveryman; he feels a responsibility to the animal, even as his beliefs lead him to see it as impure. What follows is an insightful and direct slice of contemporary neo-realism set in Minneapolis’ vibrant Somali population.

TRAPPED directed by Dawn Porter (Presented by Producer Marilyn Ness)

In many states, particularly in the South, laws have been passed under the pretense of regulating reproductive-health services that have in effect made it nearly or fully impossible for abortion providers to keep their doors open. The providers in this documentary explain their motivations for the work they do, and for maintaining their practices under new constraints.

This year’s MDFF Closing Night Film is HUNTER GATHERER

HUNTER GATHERER directed by Josh Locy. The film will be presented by Josh Locy, Andre Royo, George Sample III, and producer April Lamb.

‘Hunter Gatherer’ takes us into the life of Ashley Douglas (Andre Royo), bursting with optimism and swagger as he returns to live with his mother after a prison sentence. When his desire to rekindle an old flame doesn’t go as planned, he throws his boundless energy into a bizarre new business enterprise with a younger new friend, Jeremy (George Sample III). Delivering a gripping and inventive mix of drama, warm humor, and magical realism, Locy’s film also boasts incredible performances from its leads. Royo (Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins on The Wire), took home a well-deserved Special Jury Award for Best Actor at SXSW, and Sample is nothing short of a revelation.

Again and indicative of every year I have been attending the Maryland Film Festival, there are an abundance of films “with brown people” in them among the over 100 films that are playing at the festival (Approximately 45 feature films and 90 shorts this year). Every year some of the indie films I see at the MFF become my favorites of that year and I always see films from across the spectrum.

As always I have to thank Eric Allen Hatch, Director of Programming for the Maryland Film Festival, for distinguishing many of the films featuring people of color screening this year. I recognize some films, but he always helps out with way more than I know about.

You can check out the full schedule of the 2016 Maryland Film Festival that runs from May 4-8, 2016 here.

I posted about the many great films I’ve seen over the years at the Maryland Film Festival @ the ‘Nother Brother Entertainment blog here and you can talk film with me anytime on Twitter @NotherBrother