The Maryland Film Festival is Back!

Just in the nick of time.

Starting Wednesday, May 6, the Maryland Film Festival is back, just in time to soothe our souls, turn us on to some truly extraordinary art, start some meaningful conversations, introduce us to some great new friends, and remind us what an all-around awesome city Baltimore can be. (No pressure, guys.)

Here are reviews of three titles, but check out the whole schedule here.

3 stars

Some pregnancies are planned and blessed events. Some are completely unplanned and disasters. But most pregnancies fit somewhere in the middle—not entirely unwelcome, but maybe the timing could be better. That’s the reality for Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders) in Kris Swanberg’s wryly observant new movie. On the one hand the timing seems okay—the inner city high school where Samantha teaches is about to close, so she’ll be out of work. Her mother (Elizabeth McGovern) may not be thrilled, but her supportive boyfriend (Anders Holm) immediately proposes and promises to take care of her and the baby. But the thing is, Samantha’s not ready to just be a mom—she has dreams that seem suddenly derailed and she’s overcome by an acute sense of loss (much to the befuddlement of her new husband). Meanwhile, one of her prize students, Jasmine (promising newcomer Gail Bean) is also pregnant and the two expectant mothers bond, even going to prenatal yoga together. But is Samantha overly involved in Jasmine’s life? And might she be projecting some of her own fears onto this self-possessed young woman? The film smartly explores this surprising friendship and makes an argument that no two pregnancies are alike and every mother-to-be is on her own unique journey.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution
3.5 stars

Why did they call themselves the Black Panthers? Because, as is explained early in Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution, panthers are never the aggressors. They only pounce when they’ve been provoked. It was in that spirit that Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and co. decided to take advantage of California’s open carry laws to fight back against an oppressive and violent police. Their message of “black power”—not to mention their iconically cool look of leather jackets, dark sunglasses, and military-style berets—struck a chord with young people and activists of all races. (At the peak of their influence, they counted Marlon Brando, John Lennon, and Jane Fonda among their fans). J. Edgar Hoover feared their widespread influence so much he set out to destroy them, with some success. Through the use of file footage, still photography, and interviews with surviving members, cops, and historians, this riveting documentary charts the rise and fall of the Panthers, whose influence on modern culture is still felt to this day.

Call Me Lucky
3.5 stars

Prepare for a bit of emotional whiplash—from laughter to tears— as you watch Bobcat Goldthwait’s affectionate portrait of his friend and mentor, the comedian Barry Crimmons. Burly and shaggy, Crimmons would stalk the stage—cigarette and beer bottle in tow—and rage against the powers-that-be, sometimes stopping his routine to berate the audience, give a civics lesson, or quote Thomas Paine. Hilarious as he was—his admirers include Steven Wright, Patton Oswalt, and Marc Maron, who are all interviewed here—there was an edge to him, not to mention a reservoir of real sadness. One-third of the way through, we find out why (although I won’t share it here). Getting to spend time with the likes of the larger-than-life Crimmons, an American hero in his own right, is what documentary filmmaking is truly about.

All photos courtesy The Maryland Film Festival