Arts & Culture

Three Maryland Film Festival Screenings You Can’t Miss This Year

After a hiatus in 2023, the MdFF is back to celebrate its 25th anniversary, May 2-5.
The Hypnosis.—Jonathan Bjerstedt

After taking one year off, The Maryland Film Festival is making its big return May 2-5 in honor of its 25th anniversary. Throughout the weekend, Station North’s SNF Parkway Theatre will host panels, events, after-parties, gaming and tech programs, and, of course, a curated lineup of screenings that celebrate diverse filmmakers from near and far. Here are three highlights we recommend snagging tickets to:

The Hypnosis

Directed by Ernst De Geer

As The Hypnosis starts, Vera (Asta Kamma August) is facing the camera, practicing a pitch for the new women’s health app she’s building with her boyfriend, André (Herbert Nordrum). Speaking in English, although the film is mostly in Swedish, Vera tells the story of getting her first period when she was 12 and how much blood there was. She didn’t know it at the time, but she had a coagulation disorder. But because of the stigma surrounding women’s health, she was ashamed to tell anyone. The app she’s building is to educate girls like her.

An older female partner is impressed with Vera’s presentation. But André isn’t so sure. For starters, she mispronounced “definite” as “definitive,” he notes. Secondly, was her tone too heavy? No, the older woman says, it was just right. We see immediately that this is the dynamic between Vera and André. There’s love there, but he carries a noticeable sense of superiority. He’s the boss of this relationship—both in business and in life. Shortly thereafter, Vera visits a hypnotherapist to help her quit her nervous habit of smoking. But the therapist immediately sees that Vera isn’t so much anxious as unsatisfied. She feels like she’s a submissive participant in her own life. She doesn’t get to express her truest self.

The therapist says she wants to try something “radical” with her. We don’t see what exactly transpires, but the next time we see Vera, she is noticeably changed. She jumps on André’s back in a playfully exuberant way. She stands up to her imperious mother.

But when André and Vera attend “Shake Up,” a conference where would-be entrepreneurs first workshop and then make their pitch to an audience of investors, her behavior gets increasingly bizarre. At first, Julian (David Fukamachi Regnfors), the casually self-regarding coach to the investors, is impressed by her passion and outside-the-box thinking. He’s amused when she reaches across the bar and pours herself a glass of milk, as the bartender is nowhere to be found. He likes her bluntness when she calls André out for not having read a book he claims to have loved. The attendants of Shake Up see themselves as disruptors, after all—iconoclasts who are “shaking up” the system. But in Ernst De Geer’s squirm-inducing satire, the myth of this disruption only goes so far.

Soon, Vera is pretending to have an imaginary Chihuahua and really committing to the bit. Later, she dons an apron and starts serving drinks to participants. Is she joking or has she gone mad? Has she been hypnotized to act like a child, to indulge her id? Suddenly, Julian is no longer amused. For his part, André is annoyed, baffled, embarrassed. He’s a buttoned-up kind of guy. Her outbursts are the antithesis of the image he’s trying to project. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we in the audience find her behavior cringy as well.

The Hypnosis is about what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real, to borrow a phrase. Will this be the end of Vera and André’s relationship? Will she sabotage the investor pitch? And what would you do if you encountered someone like Vera in the wild?

Aint No Back to a Merry-Go-Round
Directed by Ilana Trachtman

The title is a reference to the Langston Hughes poem, “Merry-Go-Round”—the implication being, they can send Black people to the back of the bus, but there is no back of a perpetually spinning merry-go-round. This symbolism was a reality at the Glen Echo Park, just outside of D.C., in 1960. The amusement park was “whites only,” even though many Black children lived nearby.

Interviewed by Ilana Trachtman in her stirring new documentary, those Black residents, now senior citizens, still talk wistfully about hearing the happy cries of children in the pool and on the rides and feeling horribly excluded. But two events converged to finally integrate the park. Nearby Howard University started the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG…get it?) on campus. And the adjacent town of Bannockburn, a would-be utopia of liberal values and co-operative living, was founded. The residents there were largely white and Jewish, some survivors of the Holocaust, but many of them—particularly the housewives who were bored and overeducated—joined NAG in protesting the park.

The film combines video-illustration, contemporaneous documentary footage, and interviews with the surviving activists—including several Howard students who went on to become prominent civil rights leaders and the aging liberals of Bannockburn who are still fighting the good fight (one has a Black Lives Matter button pinned to her lapel)—to tells its enraging but ultimately inspiring story.

Ain’t No Back To a Merry-Go-Round reminds us the civil rights movement was full of people like this, righteous citizens who saw injustice and overcame their own differences to come together and fight it.

When Morning Comes
Directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s film is a poignant look at Jamal (Djamari Roberts), a young Jamaican boy who finds out he’s being sent to live with his grandmother in Canada. His mother, Janeesha (Shaquana Wilson), a widow, loves and him wants what’s best for him—but the prospects in Jamaica are grim.

Janeesha’s boyfriend works in a coal mine. The school bully gets killed by gang-related gun violence—we see his mother sobbing in church. And yet, despite the poverty and crime, When Morning Comes is a love-letter to Jamaica.

Jamal has a happy life. He goes fishing on the boat of his best friend’s father. He plays soccer and runs races with his schoolmates. He tentatively flirts with a girl—undoubtedly his first crush—and rides on the back of a motorbike with an older friend. Everyone knows him and greets him with a cheerful “wah gwaan?” (“what’s going on?”). The people who live in Jamaica are clear-eyed about the hardships they face, but they also love their country—its “water and wood,” its cool breezes, its laid back vibes—and of course, its reggae music, which powers the soundtrack.

In one of the film’s most touching scenes, Janeesha tells her mother what Jamal can eat. He’s allergic to pork. And he really loves oatmeal and eggs and mint tea before bed. Oxtail is his favorite. She cries as she recounts these things—she’s also folding clothing into his suitcase—and her mother reassures her, in that uniquely Jamaican fashion, “You don’t have to worry, Janeesha.” Jamal is loved and therefore, we know Jamal will be okay.