Ladies and Gentlemen, that annual ritual is back! I’m here again to talk about the films “with brown people in them" that are scheduled to screen at the Maryland Film Festival (MDFF), which kicks off this week, May 3rd to May 7th. I write these articles to help raise awareness for upcoming, typically lesser-known films with diverse casts and crews. Even if you aren't able to see all the films, at least you are now aware of them as they continue to travel.
This year the 2017 festival marks the first year MDFF will be in its new home, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Film Center (SNF). The SNF Parkway is part of an $18.5 million renovation and expansion of the old Parkway Theatre, right in the center of Baltimore, which had been closed for decades.
But before I get to the new stuff, some background...
The annual 5-day event that usually happens in early May, screens some of the best in film and video work from all over the world. Each year, tens of thousands of audience members are treated to approximately 30 feature films and 80 short films across all classifications: narrative fiction, documentary, animation, experimental, and hybrid.
Over the years, I’ve seen feature films like, one of my favorites of 2015, "Girlhood”. It was also at the MDFF that I saw Barry Jenkins' first feature film "Medicine for Melancholy," as well as Tanya Hamilton's "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, including "Freedom Riders", "Freedom Summer" and “Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution”.
In addition, I’ve seen some great short films like "The Bravest, The Boldest," "Afronauts", "The Christmas Tree," and "Charlotte" to name a few.
Last year's event screened critically-acclaimed fare like “The Fits”, “Morris From America”, the documentary “Trapped” directed by Dawn Porter, and the Oscar-nominated “Life, Animated” directed and presented at the festival by Roger Ross Williams.
I also think it’s cool that MDFF always manages to bring films straight from their world premieres at top-tier film festivals like Sundance, South By Southwest and Toronto International.
Now let’s get on with the 2017 Maryland Film Festival films. Most of these film descriptions come from the MDFF website, where you'll also find trailers for each, wherever available.
I’ll start with the short films.
Maryland Film Festival’s Opening Night is devoted to shorts.
This year on Opening Night they have:
-- GAME, Jeannie Donohoe, 16m, USA
A new kid in town shows up at the high school boys basketball tryouts and instantly makes an impression. Will talent and drive be enough to make the team?
-- THEY CHARGE FOR THE SUN, Terence Nance, 17m, USA
In a dystopian future where people live nocturnally to avoid the harmful rays of the sun, a young black girl unravels the lie that has kept her and her sister in the dark.
These next list of short films are screening during on other days, as part short film programs at the festival.
-- THE MAN IS THE MUSIC, Maris Curran, 19m, USA
The film draws us into Atlanta‐based artist and musician Lonnie Holley's imaginative and captivating world. (Playing during the "Shorts: Documentary" program)
-- THE RABBIT HUNT, Patrick Bresnan, 12m, USA / Hungary
In the Florida Everglades rabbit hunting is considered a rite of passage for young men. The Rabbit Hunt follows seventeen year old Chris and his family as they hunt in the fields of the largest industrial sugar farms in the US. The film records a tradition by which migrant farm workers in the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee have been hunting and preparing rabbits since the early 1900s. (This film is also playing during the "Shorts: Documentary" program)
-- TRUE BLUE, Chris Osborn, 19m, USA, World Premiere
A pyramid schemer’s dark night of the soul in Atlantic City. (Playing during the "Shorts: Narrative" program)
-- SNOW DAY, Jesse Thurston, 14m, USA
The roads are a mess and the subway is down, so interracial couple Mark and Maddie are spending all day together, whether they’re “ready for that” or not. Meanwhile, Mark’s roommate makes chili to stave off a minor breakdown. A meditation on how well we know the people in our bed and across the hall. (Playing during the "Shorts: Character Study" program)
The MDFF feature films each come with host(s) directly connected to the film (actors, subjects, producers, cinematographers and or directors) to present the film and do a Q&A afterwards.
-- THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP, Erik Ljung, 98 minutes
After Dontre Hamilton, a black, unarmed man diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot 14 times and killed by police in Milwaukee, his family embarks on a quest for answers, justice, and reform as the investigation unfolds.
[HOSTED BY director Erik Ljung and members of the Hamilton family]
-- FINDING JOSEPH I: THE HR FROM BAD BRAINS DOCUMENTARY, James Lathos, 92 minutes
‘Finding Joseph I’ is a documentary film chronicling the eccentric life of punk rock reggae singer Paul ‘HR’ Hudson from Bad Brains. The charismatic frontman’s explosive live performances helped pioneer hardcore punk while delivering an enlightening message of positive mental attitude. HR’s heavy devotion to the Rastafarian faith guided him in a spiritual direction leaving the band several times to explore his love for reggae music. Over the years, HR’s increasingly unpredictable and abnormal behavior has many convinced that he is suffering from mental illness. ‘Finding Joseph I’ illustrates the true story behind the legendary lead singer’s life, career and struggles with never before seen archival footage, photography and exclusive interviews.
[HOSTED BY director James Lathos and Paul “HR” Hudson]
-- HERMIA & HELENA, Matias Pineiro, 86 minutes
The film shuttles between New York and Buenos Aires, and past and present, as we get to know Camila (Agustina Muñoz), who accepts a fellowship in New York to work on a new Spanish translation of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream'. But as she digs into her work, she falls prey to the endless attractions, distractions, and colorful characters offered by the Big Apple—and decides to embark on a personal quest to track down her biological father. (This film also stars actress/director Mati Diop)
[HOSTED BY actor Keith Poulson]
-- THE HUMAN SURGE, Eduardo Williams, 97 minutes
Buenos Aires. Exe, 25 years old, has just lost his job and is not looking for another one. His neighbors and friends seem as odd to him as they always do. Online, he meets Alf, a boy from Mozambique who is also bored with his job and who is about to follow Archie, another boy who has run away into the jungle. Through the dense vegetation of the forest, Archie tracks ants back to their nest. One of them wanders off course and comes across Canh, a Filipino, sitting on top of a giant heap of earth and who is about to go back to his strange, beautiful home town.
-- LEMON, Janicza Bravo, 90 minutes
With his acting career in a serious decline, Isaac Lachmann (Brett Gelman) invests all his experience—and jealous misery—into mentoring wannabee actors in Los Angeles, mercilessly berating some while obsequiously fawning over the highly successful Alex (Michael Cera). But as his 10-year relationship falls apart, Isaac’s life rushes straight for the shitter. Lemon, the most uproarious film at Sundance 2017, gloriously falls somewhere between the depressive dark humor of Todd Solondz and the frenzied iconoclasm of Eric Andre. (This film also stars Nia Long)
[HOSTED BY Director Janicza Bravo and Co-Writer/Star Brett Gelman]
-- MIMOSAS, Oliver Laxe, 96 minutes
Winner of the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Oliver Laxe’s stunning new film, Mimosas, is a breathtakingly shot Western that follows a mysterious caravan carrying a dying sheikh into the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. Somewhere in the desert, a caravan is escorting an elderly sheik to the village where he was born. His last wish is to be buried with his loved ones. But death does not wait. Without their leader, the company grows fearful. And at the foot of a mountain pass, they refuse to continue, entrusting the body to two men who agree to carry on and bring it to its final destination. But who are these men? And do they really know the way? In another world, a mysterious young man is chosen to find the caravan.
-- PERSON TO PERSON, Dustin Guy Defa, 84 minutes
A record collector hustles for a score while a lovelorn roommate regrets a dire mistake, a teenager bears witness to her friend’s new relationship, and a rookie reporter and her demanding boss chase clues to a homicide involving a jaded watchmaker. (This film also stars George Sample III)
[HOSTED BY Cinematographer Ashley Connor]
-- RAT FILM, Theo Anthony, 82 minutes
Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. “Rat Film” is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat — as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them — to explore the history of Baltimore. ‘There’s never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it’s always been a people problem.’
[HOSTED BY Director Theo Anthony and Dan Deacon]
-- THE STAIRS, Hugh Gibson, 95 minutes
The Stairs’ tells the story of Marty, Greg and Roxanne, each of whom survived decades of street-involvement. Using their experiences to ease the paths of others, each performs social work in their old neighborhood, while struggling to maintain their newly-found stability. Told over five years, ‘The Stairs’ is a non-judgmental character study of life on society’s margins. Defying stereotypes through intimate portraits, its remarkable subjects are by turns surprising, funny, shocking and moving.
[HOSTED BY Director Hugh Gibson]
-- WHOSE STREETS?, Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, 90 minutes
A documentary about the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and then left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for residents of St. Louis County. Grief, long-standing tension, and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy. In the days that follow, artists, musicians, teachers and parents turn into freedom fighters, standing on the front lines to demand justice. As the national guard descends on Ferguson, a small suburb of St. Louis, with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new wave of resistance.
[HOSTED BY Director of photography Lucas Alvarado-Farrar]
In what is becoming a regular direct pipeline from his debuts at Sundance, master documentarian, Stanley Nelson once again brings a documentary to the Maryland Film Festival. This year it’s…
-- TELL THEM WE ARE RISING: THE STORY OF BLACK COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, Stanley Nelson, 85 minutes
A haven for black intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries—and path of promise toward the American dream — black colleges and universities have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field. They have been unapologetically black for 150 years. For the first time ever, their story is told. Directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ examines the impact HBCUs have had on American history, culture, and national identity. ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ will air nationally on the acclaimed PBS series “Independent Lens” in early 2018. Nelson is also the director of “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (MDFF 2015).
[HOSTED BY Stanley Nelson]
And finally, as is often the case - from someone who has been attending the Maryland Film Festival for years - there is an abundance of films “with brown people” in them among the over 100 titles that are set to screen at the festival (approximately 30 feature films and 80 shorts) this year. Some of the indie films I've seen at previous MDFFs became my favorites of the year in which they screened at the festival, 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 usually immediately recognize some of them immediately, but he always helps identify many others that I'm not familiar with.
You can check out the full schedule of the 2017 Maryland Film Festival (May 3-7) here.
I've written about many great films I’ve seen over the years at the Maryland Film Festival @ the Nother Brother Entertainment blog here. If you have any questions about the festival or just want to talk film, you can hit me up anytime on Twitter @NotherBrother.