Catch the 24th Annual Maryland Film Festival April 27-May 1

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Maryland Film Festival
Crowd of moviegoers gathers for a previous Maryland Film Festival | Provided Photo

The 24th annual Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) is now open at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre.

Film buffs and anyone wishing to celebrate Maryland culture can head to the historic venue in the Station North Art & Entertainment District from Wednesday, April 27 through Sunday, May 1.

The noncompetitive, globally recognized film festival will feature 20 feature films, 130 short films and one episodic film over the five-day span beginning with short films on Wednesday.

Buy tickets per film and for special events, or purchase VIP Ticket Packs for access to three special events and 12 to 15 films.

A complete schedule can be found on mdfilmfest.com.

This festival will be the first time the event is held in person in two years—as with many other annual traditions that were put on hold for the COVID-19 pandemic. Sandra Gibson, executive director of MdFF and the Parkway Theatre, is eager to see its return.

“MdFF attracts talented filmmakers from all over the world, as Baltimore is considered ‘hallowed’ ground for emerging artists,” she said in a news release.

Stanley Nelson 2020
Stanley Nelson 2020 | Provided Photo

Among this year’s roster is MacArthur Genius and Primetime Emmy winner Stanley Nelson, who will be premiering a preview of two historical documentaries produced by Maryland Public Television and Firelight—a nonprofit media and film production company he founded with his wife, Marcia Smith.

The evening will include a post screening Q&A for “Becoming Frederick Douglass” and “Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom” and a pre-show performance.

As part of Firelight’s mission, Nelson always strives to highlight underrepresented narratives.

“I think that we kind of know (Tubman’s) story, but I don’t think that we know it through documentary film,” he says when reached Wednesday.

There are many stories we don’t know—especially the surrounding stories of what it was like to live in Maryland as a slave state, he adds.

Tubman and Douglass were both born in Maryland—where a large part of these stories take place.

“Slavery in Maryland was very different from what we think about as enslavement in the Deep South,” Nelson says. You could step over to freedom in free bordering states. There weren’t large-scale cotton plantations or sugarcane plantations but slavery still existed, “so what was that slavery like?” he asks.

Nelson is looking forward to seeing the films on the big screen—his first time viewing them as well—and in showing what Tubman and Douglas’ lives were like leading up to their fame.

The story of Frederick Douglass focuses largely on the first half of his life.

What’s interesting, he says, is they are both bookends of the same story but in very different ways—fighting for justice with Douglass’ booming voice and oratory and the action of a small but mighty person in Tubman.

Maryland Film Festival
Maryland Film Festival | Provided Photo

Other highlights of the festival include a screening of the first episode of the HBO documentary “We Own This City” from The Wire producer David Simon, which premiered April 25.

The six-hour limited series based on the book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton chronicles the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. A community conversation featuring cast, filmmakers and community leaders will follow the screening.

A tradition since the festival began in 1999, acclaimed Baltimore filmmaker John Waters will also show a special screening of a film he believes has slipped under the radar. This year it’s David Cronberg’s 2014 satirical drama “Maps of the Stars.”

Among its full collection, genres at MdFF range from kids and family to LGBTQ+, BIPOC and Baltimore-centric pieces.

“We’re a place that democratizes the power of narrative. We aim to provide a welcoming space for all to organically connect, and we offer film for everyone,” Gibson says in the release.

Visitors to the Parkway must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show proof of a negative test. See full guidelines online. Follow mdfest.com for updates on post-festival after parties throughout the week.

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