The Maryland Film Festival kicks off a stunning four-day event today, Thursday, May 3, and runs through Sunday, May 6, with most of the screenings at the Historic Charles Theater in Baltimore. There's a large, interesting body of work on display, along with the usual shorts and other accoutrements that power film festivals. Below is a selection of this weekend's screenings, culled from the Maryland Film Festival's Film Guide on its website. For more information, ticket prices, and to see more details on these and other films, visit www.md-filmfest.com or call 410-752-8083.
Sense of Loss
Sunday, May 6, 11:30 a.m.
MICA Brown Center
In the large body of movies about war, fiction and nonfiction, A Sense of Loss stands alone. Banned by the BBC, this extraordinary work about the ''troubles'' in Northern Ireland remains controversial to this day. Exploring the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland, Marcel Ophuls won't let us find easy answers where there are none.
Friday, May 4, 7 p.m.
A hit from this year's Sundance Festival, this movie shows how lives can intersect in important and unexpected ways on the streets of Manhattan. Director/co-writer Alfredo de Villa has drawn remarkable performances from leads Heather Graham and Victor Rusak (Raising Victor Vargas).
Friday, May 4, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 5, 11 a.m.
Stuck in a dead-end town, an overweight grocery clerk tries to find his place in life while exploring poetry, acting, and mentoring. American Fork is a new dark comedy from director Chris Bowman and members of the Napoleon Dynamite/Sasquatch Dumpling Gang camp. A hit at 2007's Slamdance Festival.
Boobs, and Beast
Friday, May 4, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 6, 5 p.m.
UB Student Center
MICA Brown Center
The world premiere of a loving documentary look at Baltimore-area filmmaker Don Dohler, who in the late 1970s began producing his own psychotronic, proudly independent alternatives to Hollywood sci-fi and horror films (including cult classics such as Alien Factor, Nightbeast). Sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, Blood, Boobs and Beast memorably broadens the understanding of Baltimore's cult-movie scene.
Saturday, May 5, 6 p.m.
Exploring the world of a single professional woman in Manhattan who is surrounded by well-intentioned advice about romance -- but who knows none of it quite fits her -- Broken English is a contemporary love story from an assured filmmaker. Cheerfully blowing past romantic movie clichés, director Zoe Cassavetes and her cast are confident enough to let their characters dominate the story -- especially Parker Posey's exquisite un-Carrie Bradshaw, Nora Wilder. With Drea de Mateo, Melvil Poupaud, Gena Rowlands, Peter Bogdanovich and Justin Theroux.
Thursday, May 4, 8:30 p.m.
Melding live-action graphic-novel art with Victorian-era toy theater, Dante's Inferno is a subversive, darkly satirical update of the original 14th century literary classic. Dazzlingly retold with the use of intricately hand-drawn paper puppets and miniature sets, and without the use of any CGI effects, this unusual travelogue takes viewers on a tour of modern hell unlike any filmed before. Featuring the voices of Dermot Mulroney, James Cromwell, Dana Snyder and Martha Plimpton.
Friday, May 4, 11 a.m.
Saturday, May 5, 1:30 p.m.
Perhaps the most artfully uncomfortable film you'll see this year, Frownland follows a nervous, awkward pest of a man as he annoys everyone he comes in contact with. A Special Jury Prize winner at 2007's South By Southwest Festival for ''uncompromising singularity of vision.'' This disturbing, gritty film is likely to appeal to fans of Vincent Gallo, Harmony Korine and Todd Solondz.
Saturday, May 5, 10:30 p.m.
Matt Ruskin's documentary follows a hip-hop-based youth-outreach program headed by rapper Chris ''Kazi'' Rolle as it struggles to produce its first album. Meanwhile, some unfinished business in Kazi's personal life comes to a head. This galvanizing Tribeca and Silverdocs crowd-pleaser features appearances from Doug E. Fresh, Russell Simmons, and Bruce Willis.
Don't Want to Sleep Alone
Sunday, May 6, 11:30 a.m.
Visionary director Tsai Ming-liang delivers a dreamlike, sexually frank feature, concerning a stoic young man nursed back to health by a stranger after falling prey to urban bandits in Kuala Lumpur. An award-winner at the Venice Film Festival, this is visually sumptuous and wryly humorous work from a major voice on today's international art-film scene.
Friday, May 4, 11:30 a.m.
Saturday, May 5, 8 p.m.
Charles Burnett's 1977 graduate student film has taken on legendary status, despite the fact that for thirty years it was seldom seen. Shot on 16mm black-and-white ''short ends'' scrounged from LA production houses and beset with rights issues over its amazing soundtrack, this film has never had a proper theatrical run. Thanks to the determination of Dennis Doros and his team at Milestone Film & Video -- and aided by a $75,000 gift from Steven Soderbergh -- the newly-restored film is now finally ready to take American art-houses by storm.
Sunday, May 6, 4:30 p.m.
A fictionalized account of filmmaker Nelson George's family, the film is centered around terrific central performances by Queen Latifah and The Wire's Wendell Pierce. It shows us the amazing story of a woman, HIV positive, who will use every tool she can to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in her beloved Brooklyn.
Saturday, May 5, 8:30 p.m.
A lonely man attends a Halloween ''Murder Party,'' unaware that his invitation is really a ploy for a group of dimwitted Brooklyn hipsters to commit murder in the name of art. This unique suspense/horror/dark comedy -- written, shot, and directed by the cinematographer of Hamilton -- won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at Slamdance.
Sunday, May 6, 7:30 p.m.
With Baltimore standing in for New Jersey, director Jeffrey Blitz (of the documentary Spellbound fame) provides a fresh take on a familiar genre: the coming-of-age story. When a shy youth with a stutter gets pulled into the debate team by its attractive female star, there's a lot more on the line that just another state championship. Rocket Science walked away with the Directing Award at Sundance 2007.
Friday, May 4, 6:30 p.m.
A funny, outrageous exploration of just how honest you should be with your fiancé about past sexual experiences. Bob Goldthwait will join host John Waters for this screening.
Friday, May 4, 9 p.m.
Saturday, May 5, 4 p.m.
Like a colorful late-'60s issue of Playboy come to life, Viva is the story of a sheltered housewife breaking out of her shell to explore the swinging sexual revolution, and conquering it on her own terms. Director Anna Biller wrote, produced, and directed this amazing piece of work. Not enough for you? She also handled the impeccable costumes and set design, contributed to the soundtrack, generated a trippy animated sequence, and shines in her film's starring role.
Sunday, May 6, Noon
Startling recreations and extensive audio testimonials power Robinson Devor's controversial, fresh-from-Sundance film about a Seattle man who died as a result of a sexual encounter with a horse. Walking into a film exploring such extreme subject matter, audiences may expect a probing interview-based documentary along the lines of Capturing the Friedmans. While that comparison isn't entirely off base, Zoo weds audio tracks culled from interviews with actual participants to dreamlike camerawork from acclaimed cinematographer Sean Kirby (Police Beat) to give us something more, a highly challenging work of art that poses difficult new questions even as it answers others.