Hello World Communications
Hello World Communications - Tools & Services for the Imagination - HWC.TV

Film Festival Today

Founded by Jeremy Taylor

Maryland Film Festival Celebrates 25

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 1st, 2024

After a hiatus in 2023, the Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) returns in 2024 to celebrate its 25th anniversary, running May 2-5. On offer is a great variety of content, from shorts and feature-length films (new and older) to VR, AR, games, and more. It should make for an exciting mix of options for any and all attendees. Most of the screenings will take place at Baltimore’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre in the city’s Station North Arts District, with additional ones at MICA’s Lazarus Auditorium, among other spaces.

According to the official press release (published by Nicole Atkinson of Push to Start), MdFF “will offer tech-forward programming with CineTech, a curated exploration of cinema and emerging technologies made possible by sponsors Evergreen Digital, Johns Hopkins ISET and BaltiVirtual.” This program is curated by Q Ragsdale, the festival’s Marketing Director, who states, ““We hope audiences will embrace this opportunity to dive into the future of storytelling, where technology blurs the line between viewer and story, creating unforgettable experiences … We’ll be stepping beyond the screen and into the story.”

MdFF Director and Director of Programming KJ Mohr, also quoted in the press release, explains this year’s mission in the following manner: “To celebrate 25 years of the Maryland Film Festival we’re looking back to look forward, celebrating our beloved and storied festival with special retrospective screenings, filmmaker alumni, and by showing appreciation for all of the hard work and audience love that has gone into making MdFF the Mid-Atlantic’s preeminent film festival.” To check out the full list of events and screenings, and to purchase tickets, check out the festival schedule online. And don’t forget the evening nightlife on offer, as well.

Although there are plenty of films I am excited to see for the first time, there are also five that I can recommend from direct viewing experience: three from previous festivals over the past year, and two from the “looking back” section that Mohr mentions. Brief descriptions of each follow below. The movies’ titles are hyperlinked to their festival page.

Still from ANIMALIA. Courtesy of MdFF.

Animalia (Sofia Alaoui) [excerpted from my Sundance review for this site]

Director Sofia Alaoui’s debut feature, Animalia, is often a deliriously enigmatic work of art, weaving in and out of direct confrontations with meaning in ways both tantalizing and frustrating. Buoyed by a gripping central performance from actress Oumaïma Barid, the movie places her character, Itto, in dire circumstances when she is at her most vulnerable, pregnant and alone. Layering unsettling allusions to sci-fi classics, like the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or something far more modern such as the 2016 Arrival, on top of her elliptical plot, Alaoui mixes sharp social commentary with a nightmarish alien invasion (or is it?). One thing is certain: it’s impossible to look away.

Still from DIVINE TRASH. Courtesy of MdFF.

Divine Trash (Steve Yeager)

This 1998 documentary about John Waters (who, as always, will present a film of his choice at MdFF), from local filmmaker Steve Yeager, follows the making of cult classic Pink Flamingos in 1972. Since Yeager was himself on set, expect glorious behind-the-scenes shenanigans. After winning the Filmmakers Trophy for Best Documentary at the 1998 Sundance Film festival the film then played at the inaugural MdFF in 1999. Welcome back!

Luther Vandross appears in LUTHER: NEVER TOO MUCH, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matthew Rolston.

Luther: Never Too Much (Dawn Porter) [excerpted from my Sundance review for this site]

Multi-hyphenate pop star Luther Vandross (1951-2005) may have departed this Earth too soon, but he left behind a musical legacy that should last far beyond our own lifetimes. A prolific songwriter, he cut his teeth on Sesame Street and, later, TV jingles before then blossoming as a renowned solo artist in the 1980s. In her latest documentary, Luther: Never Too Much, director Dawn Porter (Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer) gives Vandross a cinematic tribute his fans are sure to love.

Still from SECRET MALL APARTMENT. Courtesy of MdFF.

Secret Mall Apartment (Jeremy Workman) [excerpted from my Hammer to Nail review out of SXSW]

Urban renewal programs—most often code for gentrification—always arrive with much fanfare, touted as the solution to all kinds of societal problems. More frequently, they allow greedy developers, abetted by certain politicians, the opportunity to make a lot of money while destroying old neighborhoods and displacing longtime residents in favor of a newer, more moneyed, class. In his latest documentary, Secret Mall Apartment, director Jeremy Workman (The World Before Your Feet) turns his attention to one kind of response to the ravages of new construction, following what happened when a group of 8 artists decided to stage an artistic protest of a very unique kind. From 2003 to 2007, led by Michael Townsend—a professor at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), underground installation artist, and one of the founders of the Tape Art movement—they created and furnished a hidden apartment space inside of the Providence Place Mall. We are treated to many details of the risky endeavor, all the while gaining an appreciation for the technical and artistic ingenuity of our protagonists.

For those interested, I also interviewed Workman about the movie while at SXSW.

Trapped (Dawn Porter) [adapted from my 2016 Hammer to Nail review upon the film’s SXSW debut]

Filmmaker Dawn Porter enters the abortion fray with a thoughtful new documentary that examines the negative results of the slow nip/tuck at abortion access, in Southern states, in particular. Since many of the same clinics that offer abortion also offer other important medical services to women—mostly low-income women—the actions of state legislatures to regulate these clinics out of business in places like Alabama and Texas threaten these women’s health in ways not intended (we hope not intended, anyway). Porter by no means offers an objective point of view; she is angry, as are her subjects (and for the record, I share their anger). But what Porter does well is to allow her interviewees to explain, in their own words, why what they do is so important, and why they believe that unintended pregnancies cause more harm than good. These are brave folks, who risk life, limb, and solvency to keep the clinics afloat. They may be “trapped” in an increasingly impossible situation, but they will not go quietly. By allowing them to speak so passionately (and eloquently), Porter creates a film that is not just for true believers; her larger points about the health risks incurred when the clinics close may even convince a few folks form the other side to change their minds.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *