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What’s Next? Baltimore’s New/Next!

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 17th, 2023

This year’s Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) never happened, much to the disappointment of Charm City’s cinephiles. The plan is for that event to come back in 2024 for its 25th anniversary (fingers crossed!). In the meantime, we need more movies! Not to fear, then, for there’s a new show in town to fill the void. That would be the New/Next Film Fest, the brainchild of Sam Sessa (who works for sponsoring entity WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR News Station) and Eric Allen Hatch, former lead programmer of MdFF. Its inaugural run kicks off this Friday, August 18, at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre for a three-day showcase of more than 20 features and over 50 short films.

There are plenty of movies playing at New/Next that I have yet to see, but I just happen to have caught 6 of the offerings beforehand (4 at other festivals and 2 via screeners), all of which just happen to be documentaries. Here are brief capsules of those films, plus mentions of the additional titles I hope to see on the ground. Each title is hyperlinked to the movie’s New/Next page. Enjoy!

Mayor Brandon Scott in THE BODY POLITIC

The Body Politic (Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough) [adapted from my DC/DOX 2023 wrap-up at Film Festival Today]

There’s a new mayor in Charm City: Brandon Scott, elected in 2020 on a promise to rethink policing. In his documentary The Body Politic, director Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough follows the young leader during this, his first term, as he confronts intractable problems and tries to design out-of-the box solutions. It’s not easy, but at least he’s trying. Aided by great, intimate cinematography courtesy of himself and John Benam (who also shot part of Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields), Goodenough delivers a raw look at how politics should work, warts and all.

Roderick James in CARPET COWBOYS

Carpet Cowboys (Emily Mackenzie/Noah Collier) – World Premiere

Did you know that Dalton, Georgia, is the “carpet capital of the world”? That’s right, nearly 50% of our planet’s carpets are produced there, at least for much of the past 100 years. And though that fact fascinates in and of itself, first-time documentary-feature directors Emily Mackenzie and Noah Collier have more on their mind than a mere history lesson in Carpet Cowboys. Using the carpet world as background, they focus primarily on a Scottish export to America, one Roderick James, whose success as a carpet designer is now under threat in the new universe of corporate consolidation. We follow him and others on a wild journey through an industry on the brink of massive change. Look down when you walk! A lot of effort has gone in to creating that floor-covering we all take for granted . . .

l-r: Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras in HUMMINGBIRDS

Hummingbirds (Silvia Del Carmen Castaños/Estefanía “Beba” Contreras)

Young Mexican immigrants Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras are best friends, as well as stars and directors of their debut documentary, Hummingbirds. Living in Laredo, Texas, they have front-row seats to life on the US-Mexico border, one in which they play central roles given their own tenuous immigration status. 18 and 21, respectively, their existence lies at more than one crossroads. The movie that emerges out of a series of experiences both joyously aimless (as summer nights should be) and full of purpose (through their pro-abortion, pro-immigrant, pro-LGBTQ+ activism) is a gorgeous paean to youthful exuberance. They are the future and are her to stay.

A still from KING COAL ©Cottage M, Fishbowl Films/Drexler Films/Requisite Media

King Coal (Elaine McMillion Sheldon) [adapted from my recent theatrical review at Film Festival Today]

From Appalachian filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Recovery Boys) comes King Coal, a complex ode to her regional roots—here represented by Southwest Pennsylvania, Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, and the entirety of West Virginia—in which the history of coal exploitation mingles with ethnography and reflections on the present. Weaving in and out of memory and time, the director crafts a spectacular montage of images and sounds that explore both local pride and trauma. A mere 78 minutes, the movie feels simultaneously brisk and comprehensive.


Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes (Sam Pollard/Ben Shapiro) [adapted from my SXSW 2023 review at Hammer to Nail]

Jazz drummer Max Roach (1924-2007) lived quite the life of musical innovation, experimenting with form and aesthetics in a manner truly unique. As seen in Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes, the new documentary from Sam Pollard (Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me) and Ben Shapiro (Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters), he is an occasionally prickly, at other times professorial, presence, always quick with a sharp retort of sticks or tongue. Roach is in virtually every frame of the movie, courtesy of a marvelous collection of archival material gathered by two men who have been working on the project, in one form or another, since the 1980s. This delightful cinematic composition serves up a rousing melody set to a lively tempo. The beat very much goes on.

Morley Schloss in NAKED GARDENS

Naked Gardens (Patrick Bresnan/Ivete Lucas) [adapted from my Tribeca 2022 review at Hammer to Nail]

Nudity is not for everyone, but don’t let that stop the residents, short-term guests, and workers at Sunsport Gardens in Florida from rejoicing in a life free of clothes. Many of them prefer the term “naturist” (though I am still a little fuzzy on the difference and a Google search doesn’t help all that much). Whatever the nomenclature, they envision a resort where folks can walk around naked without fear of judgment. Even if that holds no appeal to you (and it certainly doesn’t for me), the new documentary Naked Gardens, from directors Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas (Pahokee), provides a fascinating look at a niche community with nothing to hide. Enjoy the show.

And here are some of the films I look forward to possibly watching at the actual festival, schedule permitting: The Gravity (Cédric Ido), a French sci-fi film set in the immigrant Parisian suburbs; Harka (Lotfy Nathan), a fiction feature set in Tunisia from the director of the Baltimore-based documentary 12 O’Clock Boys; Peak Season (Henry Loevner/Steven Kanter), an indie rom-com that takes place amidst the wilderness of Wyoming: Somewhere Quiet (Olivia West Lloyd), a psychological thriller unfolding in the aftermath of traumatic events; and The Taste of Mango (Chloe Abrahams), a personal-essay film that allows three generations of women in one family to explore the trauma of their Sri Lankan past.

Interested in any of the above, or want to see what else is on offer? Visit the festival site to see more in-depth descriptions and the schedule.


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.

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