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  • 2012 Maryland Film Festival | Preview

    MFF 2012

    By | May 1, 2012

    Maryland Film Festival (MFF) is an annual four-day event that takes place in downtown Baltimore during the first weekend of 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.

    This year your loyal Smells Like Screen Spirit scribes bring you a preview of some of the fantastic films that are in store for you at MFF 2012.



    Attenberg is certainly not as fantastically absurd as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, which Tsangari produced, but the two Greek films do share a certain cinematic kinship in farcically discussing the effects of overly restrictive parenting, specifically related to the social and sexual repression of the offspring. One might say that Attenberg is like the mellow chaser used to calm the crazy rush after experiencing the sheer frenzy of Dogtooth, but it is certainly no less meaningful and pervasive. (Check out our SXSW 2011 review of Attenberg.)


    The Comedy

    The Comedy is the case study of Swanson (Tim Heidecker); a privileged thirty-something slacker hipster from the affluent Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. With his father withering away in hospice care, Swanson faces the inevitable inheritance of the family’s estate. Due to his complete lack of responsibilities as well as unlimited free time, Swanson has a desensitized perception of the world around him. He pushes social buttons and boundaries with the same abrasive curiosity of a child poking a dead animal with a stick, and plods through life with a drag on those around him. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of The Comedy & our SXSW 2012 video interview with Rick Alverson & Tim Heidecker.)



    Sandra (Ann Dowd) is the manager of an Ohio ChickWich franchise and she’s having a bad day. It seems the freezer was left open the night before and a lot of food spoiled, leaving the restaurant low on bacon and pickles supplies. To make matters worse, a mystery shopper is expected to arrive unannounced any day now… Other than the increased stress, it’s business as usual. At least until the phone rings. It seems there’s a police officer (Pat Healy) on the line and he needs to talk to Sandra about a very important and sensitive matter. A customer has gone to the police and accused cute 19-year old cashier Becky (Dreama Walker) of stealing some cash from her purse. While it’s a bit out of the ordinary, he insists that he’ll need Sandra to assist with the investigation until officers can arrive. Apparently they’re in the middle of a larger investigation involving Becky and her brother but need Becky to be held until they can arrive. Sandra is hesitant at first but in no time at all is under the spell of the authoritative and manipulative voice on the line and is enjoying the thrill of playing police officer by proxy. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Compliance.)



    Francine begins with Francine’s last day in prison. It seems she has been locked away for a long time, though the crime she committed is left unspoken. Francine moves into a small cottage near the water and finds a series of jobs — at a pet store, in the stables of a polo club, at a veterinarian’s office… As Francine tepidly integrates herself back into society, she begins to develop friendships. This is the crux of Francine, a cinema verite portrayal of a woman struggling to become a member of the free world. As awesome as Leo’s performance is, Francine‘s strength is in its uncanny sense of realism — the real people, the real places, the real events. This is essentially a documentary from the perspective of a fictional character. (Check out Don Simpson’s SXSW 2012 review of Francine and Linc Leifeste’s SXSW 2012 review of Francine.)



    Jonathan Lisecki’s Gayby is a film with many admirable qualities; it intelligently discusses sexuality (including issues of gay identity), aging, friendship, loneliness, and the definition of family. Gayby is not a “gay film”; it is a film about people and relationships, whether they be L-G-B-T-Q or A…and everything in between. (I also love the way race is handled.) Sure, Lisecki includes a lot of gay-oriented humor but his goal is not to segregate his audience, instead he hopes to create a better understanding of sexuality and gender. As offensive as some audiences may find a narrative about an unmarried straight woman and gay man having intercourse to make a baby, the purpose of Gayby is not to shock or offend people. When it comes down to it, Gayby is a well-written (and acted) and undeniably silly romantic comedy; I would love to watch any staunch religious conservative try to watch it with a straight (mind the pun) face! (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Gayby & our SXSW 2012 interview with Jonathan Lisecki, Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas.)


    God Bless America

    Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait is certainly not afraid of pissing people off, and his cinematic output thus far plays as a testament to him not giving a flying fuck about what his haters think. World’s Greatest Dad, Sleeping Dogs Lie and Shakes the Clown are darker and more demented than most comedies would ever be willing to go, and God Bless America is certainly no different. Sure the film is a flagrant fuck you to the conservative agenda in the United States, but God Bless America also functions as an extremely critical analysis of popular culture. ADHD and Coprolalia tend to run amok in Goldthwait’s screenplays (I do not mean that in a bad way); his dialogue seems to represent an exact regurgitation of his wildest thoughts and opinions, rather than allowing his ideas and words to be processed through a “political correctness” filter first. God Bless America is sure to offend everyone, some more frequently and aggressively than others; but we should all be thankful that Goldthwait utilizes filmmaking as a vehicle to express his anger and frustrations, because otherwise the plot of God Bless America could have very easily been yet another real life example of an entertainer gone bat-shit crazy. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of God Bless America.)



    Chris James Thompson’s Jeff is nothing at all like I expected it to be. For one, it’s more of an experimental narrative than a documentary film. You might say that Jeff is constructed like Frankenstein’s monster, a haphazard creation of ill-fitting parts that seem to work against each other… As far as I can tell, Jeff has been deemed “experimental” because it is constructed of footage that most filmmakers would have left in the cutting room floor. If anything, I guess I totally missed whatever point Thompson was trying to make with Jeff. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Jeff.)



    Kid-Thing is a dream-like fable about Annie (Sydney Aguirre), a young tom-boy growing up devoid of parental guidance or societal integration, allowed to run wild and uninhibited in the woods on the outskirts of Austin, her activity only limited by her stamina and imagination. Told through Annie’s eyes, the story fittingly veers between the realistic and the fantastical, told primarily visually… The Zellner’s combination of oddball moments with quirky humor and visually striking aesthetics struck a chord with me but it is Annie’s character and Aguirre’s striking performance that truly carry the film. Her mix of uninhibited childish enthusiasm, youthful angst and occasional slight menace are a joy to behold. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Kid-Thing & our SXSW 2012 video interview with David Zellner, Nathan Zellner and Syndey Aguirre.)


    Lovely Molly

    Eduardo Sánchez’s film is a heavy-handed diatribe about the long-lasting (and unshakable) effects of child abuse and drug addiction; and Lovely Molly utilizes many of the traditional (read: tired) tropes of the haunted house genre to convey this story. The ever-startling sound design is just as blatant and bombastic — but without it, there would be no scares. The best part of Lovely Molly is the titular Molly, Gretchen Lodge who gives a creepily transcendent performance. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Lovely Molly.)


    Pilgrim Song

    Pilgrim Song tells the story of James (Timothy Morton), a public middle school music teacher, who finds himself adrift in life after his job becomes a victim of budget cuts and his relationship with long-term girlfriend Joan (Karrie Crouse) stalls. In keeping with the character of a guy who has checked out of life and is trying to figure out his next steps, he decides to take a couple of months to hike down Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace Trail by himself over the meek protests of Joan, who is trying to play the responsible half of the pair by working her job at a local distillery and at least halfheartedly fanning the flames of the relationship. The two actors perfectly convey the emotions (or lack thereof) of a couple going through the motions in a relationship that is clearly running on fumes. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Pilgrim Song & our SXSW 2012 interview with Martha Stephens, Karrie Crouse, Timothy Morton, Bryan Marshall, Kristin Slaysman and Michael Abbott Jr.)


    Sun Don’t Shine

    There’s no doubt that Amy Seimetz and crew perfectly capture the claustrophobic and deadly world of Crystal and Leo, it’s just a matter of whether the viewer is interested in entering therein. While the poster for the film says “Good Hearts Can Do Bad Things,” how much “good” is in either character’s heart is up for debate. Viewing the film is an intense experience, and to be honest I walked out of the theater going back and forth about how I felt but never doubting that I’d just witnessed some masterful storytelling. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Sun Don’t Shine & our SXSW 2012 interview with Amy Seimetz, Kate Sheil and Kentucker Audley.)



    Bill and Turner Ross‘ Tchoupitoulas does a tremendous job of defying classification. It functions as both a surreal documentary that borrows from narrative storytelling techniques and a narrative film that paints a realistic portrait of its protagonists by utilizing documentary devices. The narrative unfolds like an improvised jazz album with various tangents that flow seamlessly away from and towards the forward-moving primary thread. The tempo continuously alternates as well; as the sublime, impressionistic cinematography alternates between running, walking and pausing. We are fully immersed into the surrounding environment from the perspective of three young brothers as they embark upon an adventure deep into the heart of New Orleans. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Tchoupitoulas.)



    V/H/S is an anthology horror film with segments directed by David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard. The premise is that a group of guys are sent on a job to steal a VHS tape from an old man’s house. It sounds like an easy enough gig. An old man living alone in the country; he will most likely be asleep, but if worse comes to worst the young guys can certainly handle an old man. When they arrive at the house they find the old man stone cold dead, sitting in front of a haphazard stack of television monitors. Then, down in the basement, they discover a treasure trove of VHS tapes. Uncertain of which tape is the tape, they alternate watching the footage to see what is on each one. Surely they’ll know the correct tape when they see it. Oh, and lucky for us, they have brought a few low quality video cameras to record the entire endeavor. (Check out our True/False 2012 review of V/H/S.)


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