So another Maryland Film Festival has come and gone and, as usual, I did not get a chance to see nearly enough films. For one thing, on Thursday and Friday of the Fest I had to be at school most of both days, and then on Saturday and Sunday I was both tired from a long semester (which made me start to fall asleep at the evening screenings), and unable to spend all day down there because, well, I am the proud owner of a lovely little Beagle mix, and you can’t just leave a dog alone all day. They have needs . . .
Here are my thoughts on what I really liked. I’ll leave out any negative reviews, because I’d rather focus on the mainly positive responses I had to this year’s selections (in other words, I did see more films than the ones listed below). I didn’t always take notes during the screenings, so these are just quick impressions. Thanks, Maryland Film Festival, for providing all of us with a great opportunity to see interesting films!
Opening Night Shorts Program
- Boneshaker (Frances Bodomo, 2013)
- This was a beautiful and dreamlike work starring Quvenzhané Wallis, the young actress who made such an impression in Beasts of the Southern Wild. She is equally stunning in this work, in which she plays a girl subjected to religious chastisement. It takes place in the Southern bayou.
- The Chair (Grainger David, 2012)
- An equally dreamy and beautiful Southern tale, told entirely through voiceover.
- Jujitsuing Reality (Chetin Chabuk, 2011)
- A very inspiring documentary about Scott Lew, a screenwriter with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A must-see film.
16 Acres (Richard Hankin, 2012)
This is an extremely well told documentary about the (attempted) construction of new buildings and memorials at the ground zero site in lower Manhattan. It is beautifully shot (lovely talking head interviews), coherent and gripping. All of the major players that you would hope for – George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Silverstein, Daniel Libeskind, and others – are featured.
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012)
Wow! What to say about this beguiling film? I still don’t know what the $%^&* it was about! I do know that the images are entrancing – particularly the opening scene in the field with the director’s daughter surrounded by cows and dogs as the sun sets – and that the film held my interest throughout. It won Best Director at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, though the film was by no means universally acclaimed. I agree with the naysayers that the film is exasperating in many ways, but it’s also fascinating, and I like being challenged. A few years ago, also at the Maryland Film Festival (2011), I did not enjoy being frustrated by another Cannes winner, the Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, but this film appealed to me, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its narrative opacity.
I found a nice parallel between the blurred-out, vignette-like prism quality to the edges of the frame and what I perceived to be the subject of the film: the prism of memory. The cinema is the great art of time, and I enjoy films that play with time as a fourth dimension as this one does. I did not appreciate the horrible treatment of some of the dogs, but can still recommend the film. Be forewarned, however, that it is a true mind f***.
Here is a (positive) Manohla Dargas review, from the New York Times, to help guide you through the movie.
Drama Shorts Program:
- Miracle Boy (Jake Mahaffy, 2012)
- This may have been my favorite narrative short of the festival. Beautifully acted and meticulously constructed, it is what every short film should be. It’s about young boys misbehaving and growing up.
- American Girl (Jason Shahinfar)
- The acting is uneven in this film, but the story, about spoiled partying teenagers in Manhattan, is quite good. It turns out the director was a yellow cab driver in New York for a while, and based this story on some of the kids he drove around.
- Black Metal (Kat Candler, 2013)
- This was notable primarily for the acting, as the story was a little on the slight side. It’s about a metal rocker dealing with guilt over a killing supposedly inspired by his music. I would have liked a few more minutes of plot.
- When We Lived in Miami (Amy Seimetz, 2012)
- I think I would like to make a point of seeing more of Amy Seimetz’s work as a director (and actress) now, after seeing this compelling short. It’s about a woman/mother coping with her husband’s departure. Its formlessness fits the state of her mind. Seimetz is terrific in the central role, as is the little girl. I liked the vibe.
Narrative Shorts Program:
- Ástarsaga (Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, 2012)
- This was a very well made short film, with very good acting. Nepotism isn’t always a bad thing, as Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam) in the central role is quite fine. Like her father, she has an interesting, if not beautiful, face. I liked the openness of the ending (a bit Graduate-like).
Mother of George (Andrew Dosunmu, 2013)
I will confess that I had not really liked Restless City, which played at the 2011 Maryland Film Festival, and which was the previous feature by this same director. But I really enjoyed Mother of George. I found the acting very strong, the story compelling, and the cinematography absolutely stunning.
I loved the long slow focus racks that don’t always resolve . . . or the shots that are just blurry for a long time . . . or the occasionally dramatic difference in planes of focus (such as just a slice of hand in focus in the foreground). I also liked the dreamy/drifty transitions between scenes.
The only misfire for me was the use of loud classical music (opera) in a few scenes, which felt excessive, telegraphing what the scenes were about, rather than just letting them play out.