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2014 Maryland Film Festival Kicks Off Today (May 7-11) – Black Films To Put On Your To-See List

2014 Maryland Film Festival Kicks Off Today (May 7-11) - Black Films To Put On Your To-See List

In January 2012 when filmmaker Dee Rees (Pariah) participated in a Sundance Film Festival discussion with Spike Lee and David Carr, she was asked by Carr how she decides which films to watch at the festival.  She replied “I pick anything with brown people in it“. I chuckled to myself because that’s the same thing I did every year while reading about the films playing at the Maryland Film Festival.

Maryland Film Festival 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 such feature films “with brown people in it” as Medicine for Melancholy, Night Catches Us (starring Kerry Washington & Anthony Mackie), LUV (filmed in Maryland starring Common, Charles Dutton & Danny Glover), the excellent documentary Freedom Riders as well great short films like The Christmas Tree and First Match to name a few.  

Last year I even wrote here at S&A Maryland Film Fest Review: ‘Mother of George’ Is The Best Film I’ve Seen Thus Far This Year. It was the Closing Night Film of the 2013 Maryland Film Festival in May, and after the year was over, it was still my favorite!

Every film at the festival is Hosted/Presented by someone associated with the film, usually the Director and or Producer(s). Sometimes the stars/subjects of the films are there to participate as well. They introduce the film and participate in the Q&A afterwards. It was after these Q&A’s that I got to talk to many of the filmmakers themselves. Of course, as a filmmaker I watch any kind of film, but I make a concerted effort see the films “with brown people in it”. 

Divided by SHORTS and FEATURES, here are the films “with brown people in it” that made this year’s 16th Annual Maryland Film Festival (Film descriptions from the Maryland Film Festival website).

SHORTS:

As usual at a film festival they have a lot of great short films playing. In fact, the Maryland Film Festival Opening Night is devoted to shorts! The shorts are gathered together into several programs.

Below are several of the short programs.

THE BRAVEST, THE BOLDEST (part of Opening Night)

Directed by Moon Olson

Two Army Casualty Notification Officers arrive at the Harlem projects to deliver Sayeeda Porter some news about her son serving in the war in the Middle East. But whatever it is they have to say, Sayeeda ain’t trying to hear it. The Bravest, The Boldest also screened in the Shorts Competition at Sundance 2014.

SHORTS: DOCUMENTARY

THE CHAPERONE  

Directed by Fraser Munden, Neil Rathbone  13 minutes  Canada

The previously untold, true story of a lone teacher chaperoning a school dance in 1970s Montreal, when a menacing motorcycle gang invades.

THAT B.E.A.T.  

Directed by Abteen Bagheri  9 minutes

That B.E.A.T. delves deep into the sensational sounds of New Orleans’ bounce music, paying particular attention to the phenomenon of the sissy bounce sub-culture

WHAT KIND OF MAN  

Directed by Kamau Bilal  13 minutes

Little league, high school and college. Nate Brinkley has been playing football his entire life. Now, as an adult with a family, he plays in a semi-pro league for the love of the game. But in the first game of the 2011 season, an injury forces him to consider his life’s priorities.

THE HIGH FIVE (Screening with the feature film DEEP CITY: THE BIRTH OF THE MIAMI SOUND. Film described below)

Directed by Michael Jacobs (10 mins)

The origin of the seemingly most instinctual of celebratory gestures can be traced to a spontaneous moment between Los Angeles Dodgers Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke on October 2nd, 1977.

SHORTS: DRAMATIC

Featuring among the collection of dramatic short films:

BABY MARY Directed by Kris Swanberg  8 minutes

Shot with non-actors on the west side of Chicago, Baby Mary, is the story of eight-year-old Kiara, who finds a neglected toddler and decides to take her home.


SHORTS: NARRATIVE

AFRONAUTS  

Directed by Frances Bodomo  13 minutes

It’s July 16, 1969: America is preparing to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon in this film inspired by true events. Afronauts also screened in the Shorts Competition at Sundance 2014.

STRAIGHT DOWN LOW  

Directed by Zach Wechter  25 minutes

Straight Down Low is a neo-noir set in the inner city. A shrewd high school detective must solve a curious gangland crime to protect the girl he loves.


FEATURES:

Below are the feature length films.

FREEDOM SUMMER

Directed By: Stanley Nelson

Hosted/Presented By: Stanley Nelson

In the summer of 1964, a thousand civil-rights volunteers worked to combat segregation in Mississippi. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders; Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple; The Murder of Emmett Till) tells their story.

I saw his last documentary Freedom Riders at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival and it was excellent. Afterwards I sought out his 2007 film Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple and THAT was excellent. Really looking forward to this newest film!

EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL

Directed By: Darius Clark Monroe

Hosted/Presented By: Darius Clark Monroe

In this gripping blend of documentary, true-crime, and personal essay, a filmmaker confronts his past, dissecting the circumstances that led him to commit a bank robbery as a young man, and his journey since that act. Executive Produced by Spike Lee.

THE HIP-HOP FELLOW

Directed By: Kenneth Price

Hosted/Presented By: Kenneth Price

The points of intersection between hip-hop culture and academia are explored in this documentary following Grammy Award winning producer 9th Wonder’s tenure at Harvard University. Interviewees include Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Kendrick Lamar, Young Guru, Phonte, and DJ Premier.

I’ve seen this film and it is a really great lesson on hip-hop for fans and non-fans alike.

DEEP CITY: THE BIRTH OF THE MIAMI SOUND

Directed By: Dennis Scholl, Marlon Johnson, Chad Tingle

Hosted/Presented By: Marlon Johnson

While the soulful sounds of Detroit and Memphis are celebrated worldwide thanks to influential labels like Motown and Stax, the 1960s and 1970s saw explosions of soul and funk scenes throughout the country. Deep City mixes wonderful music and archival footage with new interviews as it documents the songwriters, performers, and entrepreneurs behind a vibrant Miami record label that should’ve been huge.

Also screening with this film, the short film THE HIGH FIVE (described above)

FIGHT CHURCH

Directed By: Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel

Hosted/Presented By: Bryan Storkel

Christianity and the world of Mixed Martial Arts collide in this thought-provoking and expectation-challenging documentary from Academy Award Winner Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel.

BALTIMORE IN BLACK AND WHITE

Directed By: Mary Posatko, Emily Topper

Hosted/Presented By: Mary Posatko, Emily Topper

One night in 1972, a murder rocked a Baltimore family. Years later, Emily Topper returns to the city, seeking closure for a crime that has haunted her family over 40 years—and uncovers complex issues of race and class in the process.

I’ve seen this film and found it a totally engrossing documentary built like a mystery.

EVERYBODY STREET

Directed By: Cheryl Dunn

Hosted/Presented By: Cheryl Dunn

More than a dozen photographers (including Ricky Powell, Jamel Shabazz, Martha Cooper, and Boogie) are the subject of this visually rich documentary celebrating artists who have given us new ways to see both the streets of New York and the colorful characters that populate them.

GUEST HOST SCREENING

The MFF 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 they have a special screening of Robert Downey, Sr.’s satirical landmark Putney Swope, introduced by composer, visual artist, and author Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky).

Putney Swope tells the story of the new head of a stodgy advertising agency (Arnold Johnson) who transforms the painfully white business into Black Power outfit Truth and Soul, Inc. He quickly introduces a new policy of refusing work from alcohol, tobacco, and weaponry companies, fires most of his white employees, and produces ads that are bold, revolutionary, and deliriously R-rated.  But how long can Putney Swope’s subversive activities continue without drawing the attention of The Man?

Indicative of every year I have been attending the Maryland Film Festival, there are an abundance of films “with brown people in it” among the over 100 films that are playing at the festival (Approximately 50 feature films and 70 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. In recent years studio pictures seem to be more and more focused on spectacle rather than story, leading to weak results, and are quickly forgotten. Concurrently I have been drawn more and more to independent film, for often times they don’t have the budget to be “spectacle”, story reigns supreme and thus the results are uniquely memorable.

I want to extend Special Thanks to Eric Allen Hatch, Director of Programming for the Maryland Film Festival, for distinguishing many of the films featuring people of color screening this year. You can check out the full Maryland Film Festival 2014 schedule here. It runs from May 7-11.

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

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