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Film Festival to Feature Foreign Flicks, Shorts and a Movie Starring Common

It's a film frenzy.

Three days of nonstop movies, featuring nearly four-dozen feature films and 75 shorts. It takes place May 3-6 at the Charles Theatre, Windup Space and the Maryland Institute College of Art. More than 20,000 attended last year's Maryland Film Festival, Director Jed Dietz estimates.

“Movie making in America is terms of volume and creativity is all concentrated now in the smaller and independent film,” Dietz says.

Foreign films, shorts across a variety of genres and two feature films made by artists who have connections to Baltimore are among the highlights of this year's event. 
With movies from Turkey, Iran and half a dozen other countries, the festival has one of its strongest selections of foreign films ever, Dietz says.
“A few years ago, a foreign film meant one from Western Europe," Dietz says. "That world has changed completely.”
Dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is under house arrest, had to make his movie surreptitiously -- hence the title, This is Not a Film.” Panahi had to smuggle it out of Iran by loading it on a USB flash drive hidden in a cake.
The opening night of the Maryland Film Festival will begin, as always, with a selection of shorts. The mini-movies come in a variety of genres throughout the festival: comedy, drama, documentary, experimental and something called "The Passion of the WTF Shorts." The latter includes a "macabre depiction of a high school formal" and a peek at underground moped gangs in Richmond, Va. 
The festival's longstanding emphasis on short films is one of the reasons why the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund has given  it $230,000 since 2007, fund Executive Director Melissa Warlow says.
Short films bring out a lot of budding young filmmakers, which energizes the audience, Warlow says.
“It’s a real vote of support for their work,” for new filmmakers who get their shorts featured. “It does bring them recognition and ultimately helps their careers.”
As for the festival's domestic feature films, two of them have a connection to Baltimore. “LUV" is a coming-of-age story shot entirely in Baltimore City and Cockeysville. Its director Sheldon Candis and producer Jason Berman are from Park Heights and Pikesville, respectively.

“Detropia,” which explores urban decay in Motor City, was made by D.C. native Rachel Grady, who frequented Baltimore as a kid to eat crabs and catch a Baltimore Orioles’ game. "Detropia" makes its East Coast premiere at the Maryland Film Festival. 
Here's some more information about these films. 
Sheldon Candis grew up in Park Heights watching Barry Levinson movies.
But he says he always wanted to tell his own Baltimore story.
And Candis certainly has. He has co-written and directed a $1.5 million feature film that has an all-star cast, including Charles Dutton, Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert and rapper Common.
Candis attended film school at the University of Southern California, where he met “LUV” Producer Jason Berman.
Some of it is filmed in Cockeysville, where a “great stretch of road” stands in for North Carolina. Viewers will also recognize Lexington Market, where Candis recalls eating clams at Faidley’s. The Mount Vernon monument, Pimlico Race Track and the loading dock outside the Domino Sugar plant all make an appearance.
"It highlights parts of Baltimore that are really beautiful," particularly its historic architecture, Berman says.
The semi-autobiographical movie is about an 11-year-old boy’s quest to find a father figure in his uncle (played by Common), who has just been released from jail.
“The movie revisits the time when we were kids and we found out that the person we loved was flawed but we love them anyway,” Candis says.
“I’m super excited to be back home,” Candis says. “There was a theater down by the harbor, down by the Power Plant. My dad instilled a real love and appreciation of cinemas. He would take me out of school certain days and take me to the movies.”

"Not only do I love the script, but being able to make a movie in a city where I grew up in was really special," Berman says.
The movie was shot in 20 days last year, but Candis and Berman have been trying to get it make for six years. It premiered at Sundance and was shows at the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho, the Real World Film Festival in Toronto. Next stops are Dallas, Nashville and Sundance London.
So how did they get such an all-star cast?
Sheldon's uncle knew Charles Dutton, the first actor that came on board, Berman says. Candis went through one of the producing partners Derek Dudley, who knows Common, to do the movie.

A former manufacturing town that is now in decay is the subject of Rachel Grady’s film. 
We're talking about Motor City 
“Detroit is a metaphor for other cities and could be looked at as a canary in a coal mine,” says Grady, who directed “Detropia"  with Heidi Ewing.
Grady and Co-director Heidi Ewing have already taken their camera to Baltimore. They directed “The Boys of Baraka,” a 2005 film that follows inner-city boys on their journey to an experimental boarding school in Kenya.
Though Grady is obviously already familiar with urban blight in Baltimore, she says it’s nothing like the “vast empty tracks of land” you see in Detroit.
Not that Baltimore and other Rust Belt cities can't learn a few lessons from the nearly bankrupt Detroit, Grady says.
Grady says she hopes the movie will be shared with other cities and help foster a network among city leaders who share best practices.
“I’m hoping policy people and legislators see it and get some ideas about encouraging entrepreneurship and training our workforce,” Grady says. “I think these things will be incredibly important in the next 20 years.”
“I’ve lived in cities my whole life,” Grady says. “I felt like taking on this iconic American city was worthwhile. It’s a wakeup call for people in cities.”  
The movie has played at Sundance and the Cleveland Film Festival and will show at a public screening in Detroit in June. 


Melissa Warlow, Executive Director of The William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund / Photo by Steve Ruark

A still from the film "LUV" / Courtesy Maryland Film Festival

A still from the film "Detropia" / Courtesy Maryland Film Festival

Sheldon Candis, co-writer and director of "LUV" / Courtesy of filmmakers

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