Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hit & Stay

Release Date: 2013
Production Company: Haricot Vert Productions
Directors: Joe Tropea and Skizz Czyzk
Run time: 98 minutes
Seen at: Maryland Film Festival, Charles Theater 1, Thursday, May 9 7:30pm
Official Website

"Hit & Stay" was the first film I saw at the Maryland Film Festival this year.  It was first screened on Thursday, the first full day of the festival. At the time I saw the film, I had volunteered late Wednesday for opening night and early Thursday for Tent Village Set-up.  I knew I had a late night ahead of me, so I took a nap before seeing one of two films Thursday evening.

Purely by coincidence, both films I saw Thursday had a Baltimore connection, "Hit & Stay" and "I am Divine."  There were other films with connections, namely "12 O'Clock Boys," "By and By: New Orleans Gospel at the Crossroads," and "If We Shout Loud Enough."  These other films were interesting, but I ultimately decided on the films I did for a few reasons.  First and foremost, the topic interested me.  I had first read an article in Baltimore City Paper a few years ago.  The author of the article, Joe Tropea, is one of the film's directors and has been researching this subject since he was an undergraduate.  Secondly, I planned to see six films over the course of the festival.  A daunting task to be sure.  Due to the wide range of documentaries available, I wanted at least two to have a Baltimore or Maryland connection.

The weather Thursday evening was beautiful as I lined up outside the historic Charles Theater.  The film was screening in Charles 1, the original and largest theater there.  (The film screened at MICA Brown Center for it's Saturday showing.)  As I waited in line, the directors mingled with film goers.  I was not surprised to see them interacting as both are locals and undoubtedly knew many in the line.  I was surprised to realized after the film that I was standing directly behind David Eberhardt, a member of the Baltimore Four and Joan Nickelson, another peace activist featured in the film.  These chance encounters are what make film festivals so interesting.

Hit & Stay begins its focus on the Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine, anti-Vietnam protests which took place in Maryland.  The term Hit & Stay comes from the fact that after committing an illegal act of protest (Hit), the members would wait peacefully to be arrested (Stay).  Baltimore Four was a group who occupied the Selective Service Office in the Customs House in Baltimore in 1967.  They performed a ritual protest by pouring blood on the draft documents.  The blood was a mixture of donated blood from the participants mixed with chicken blood.

During the time of the trial, the members found out that no duplicate copies of draft records existed.  When they destroyed the copies during their action, there was no record of who was drafted in the area.  With that knowledge, they planned their next action.

On May 17, 1968, nine men and women, including Catholic priests, nuns, and lay people, walked into the draft board in Catonsville, just outside of Baltimore.  They removed several hundred draft records, brought them to the parking lot, and lit them aflame with homemade napalm.  The fire was captured on film by WBAL.  These actions and subsequent trials went on to spur action in places across the country as diverse as Rhode Island, Camden, New Jersey, and Milwaukee.  The spread of actions across the country was outlined with a map.  Each time an action occurred, it would be marked on a map to show the growth across the country.

The documentary itself combines pictures, film reel, and modern interviews with the subjects.  The filmmakers were able to interview many of the people who participated in the actions, journalist Patrick McGrath, the Maryland prosecutor Stephen Sachs, and several FBI agents.  The traditional documentary methods were punched up by the interesting treatment of photographs to instill movement and dimension, as well as the use of the graphics and map.

"We have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power.  We have chosen to be banded as peace criminals in a time of war criminals."  Dan Berrigan

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Interrupters available online at

I watched and reviewed The Interrupters this past August.  It is now available streaming on  I highly recommend.  I have embedded the Broadcast version (edited for profanity).  You can watch an unedited version here.  I highly recommend.

Watch The Interrupters on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

End of Maryland Film Festival 2013

So, I am tired.  Like capital T, Tired.  But it's a good tired.  I volunteered each of the last 5 days of the festival, saw 6 new documentaries, saw a few recognizable faces, and enjoyed the (mostly) good weather. Overall, I really enjoyed my experience this year. I thought I may had overdone it with the amount of volunteering I did.  But now that I am on the other side and can relax, I am really glad that I did.

Even though I am tired, I am (almost) not thinking about the amount of emails I may have to catch up on tomorrow.  It was almost like being on vacation.  The film festival is like this temporary community which pops up, does good work, and then fades away until the next year.

I plan to post my thoughts/reviews in the upcoming days.  I have been thinking that I need to choose set dates to post each week.  Having a set deadline may compel me to post more often.  I also may post interesting thoughts and links, rather than just full reviews.

The films I saw this festival were:
Hit & Stay
I am Divine
16 Acres

I enjoyed them all.  Two were Baltimore/Maryland based.  Two were experiential films (new for me).  Two were of larger, overarching subjects.  I thought it was a nice range.  There were also several I wish I had a chance to see: By and By and 12 O'Clock Boys.

For now, here is my festival in a nutshell:

  • Oddly, did not see John Waters this year.  He was in the screening of Leviathan I went to, but I did not see him.
  • Painted my nails with 2 different fun patterns.  First, tuxedo shirts for opening night.  Then, red with a camera and gold film for the rest of the weekend.  I will post pictures if I can.
  • Saw 6 films on 3 days (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday).  Worked Opening Night on Wednesday and just worked Friday.  Saturday was EXTREMELY long, worked 9:30-1:30, saw films from 2:30-9:30.
  • Did see:  Bobcat Goldthwait (3x), Mink Stole, and Alex Winter
  • The festival's tagline was "Film for Everyone."  I feel that this really is the case.  I volunteered numerous times because I took some time off from work.  However, there is such flexibility with scheduling that you could help out even if you worked full-time, part-time, or irregular hours.  For each 4 hour shift I worked, I received a voucher to see one film (or $5 credit on merchandise).  They also provided us with a crew t-shirt, food, and drinks.  They really take care of volunteers.  I also took the free Charm City Circulator to volunteer.  So even someone with a limited budget could help out and still enjoy the festival.  It really is "Film for Everyone."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Opening Night of Maryland Film Festival

Runs through Sunday afternoon

Maryland Film Festival opened this evening with its program of short films.  I am excited to volunteer again this year.  Last year was such a positive experience seeing movies as well as volunteering.  The film festival organizers are so thankful for volunteers, and they really take the time to make sure you know what you are doing, and check-in is organized.  I will volunteer each day at the festival (I already helped out opening night tonight and I will be up early for set-up tomorrow.)  In return, I will be able to see several films this year.

I thought I had them all figured out, but now I may change my mind.  Some of it may be out of my control (some films have already sold out advanced tickets, although there is always stand-by).  Some may change if I hear really good things about other films.  The rough plan is to see: Hit & Stay, I am Divine, Aatsinki, Leviathan, Downloaded, and 16 Acres.  However, I am also drawn to 12 O'Clock Boys and the feature Computer Chess.  I plan to post reviews as soon as I can.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Capturing the Friedmans

Release Date: 2003
Distribution Company: Magnolia Pictures
Director: Andrew Jarecki
Run time: 107 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD
Tone: Contains graphic descriptions of child abuse and language

I decided to watch this film for two reasons. First, it is number 20 on "50 Documentaries to See Before you Die."  Second, I plan to see 16 Acres at the Maryland Film Festival next week.  Richard Hankin is the director of that film, and he was the co-producer and editor for this film.  I hope by seeing other works by the directors, it will give me a better sense of the documentaries.

"Capturing the Friedmans" uses interviews and home footage to tell the story of Albert and Jesse Friedman, father and son, residents of Great Neck, NY in the 1980s who were both charged and plead guilty to child molestation.  The father, Albert, plead guilty first, in hopes of sparing his 19 year old son.

The interviews are of judges, lawyers, prosecutors, police detectives, students, parents, and immediate family members.  The film is remarkable for telling the story both from within and from without the convicted's family.  All those interviewed seem reliable, however, their reliable stories contradict one another.  The film also contains home videos from the Friedman family, which shows both a loving relationship between brothers and a conflicting parental relationship.

The film is graphic, containing descriptions of abuse, strong language, and fighting.  It is a powerful film, which causes one to consider several opposing views.

The film may be best described by Washington Post columnist Desson Howe, writing, "It's testament to Jarecki's superbly wrought film that everyone seems to be, simultaneously, morally suspect and strikingly innocent as they relate their stories and assertions...This is a film about the quagmire of mystery in every human soul."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story

Release Date:  2010
Production Company:
Director: Kevin Tostado
Run time: 88 minutes
Seen on: Free Documentary DVD from Enoch Pratt Free Library, also on Netflix Watch Instantly
Tone:  Lighthearted and fun.  Appropriate for all.

I picked this up at a whim at my local library.  They have a great free movie section, including a wide range of documentaries.  While I started to watch this, I almost turned it off about 15 minutes in.  (I usually give documentaries 20 minutes first.) I was not drawn into the documentary at first.  I was never a fan of Monopoly growing up.  It never seemed to have an end.  I enjoyed games with a clear end like Life or Sorry!  However, once I gave it a chance, I was drawn in.

The film has several aspects: the history of the game, talking heads of fans of the game, and footage of Monopoly competitions.  The serious players shared their techniques, game collections, and rivalries.  While most of the competitors are likeable, a few were not.  I began to root for certain competitors and look for the downfall of others.  (I was pleasantly surprised by one's loss.)

The documentary was an enjoyable look at one of America's popular pastimes.  It reminded me a little of Wordplay with its competitive aspects.  Overall, it was a closer look at a popular and common game.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Of Dolls & Murder

Release Date: 2012
Director: Susan Marks
Run time: 70 minutes
Seen on: Netflix Watch Instantly
City Paper: The Art of Murder

A small, doll-sized room.  Full of details such as window coverings, rugs, and a bloody hammer hidden near a chair.  This is the idea behind "The Nutshell Cases of Unexplained Death."  These were created by Frances Glessner Lee, an heiress to the International Harvester fortune.  Frances Glessner Lee was born in 1878 and with the time period, not allowed to attend college.  The "Nutshell" dioramas were a reaction to the constraints of her time.

I first read about Of Dolls and Murder in an article in City Paper last year (link above).  I was intrigued by the premise of the film as well as the fact that it was narrated by Baltimore icon John Waters.  It seems that anything Waters is affiliated with is dark and more than a little twisted.  I was glad to see that the film is offered on Netflix Watch Instantly.

The film shows the dioramas on permanent loan from Harvard to the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore.  The dioramas are not open to the public, but are regularly used for their intended use of training law enforcement.

While it is a relatively short film at 70 minutes, it maintains a nice balance between the story of Frances Glessner Lee, a look at some dioramas, and their impact on pop culture.  I recommend this film, but it is not for the faint of heart.  WARNING: The dioramas themselves are not cute, cuddly dollhouses, but the film also includes footage of crime scenes as well as the Body Farm, a facility in Tennessee for the study of the decomposition of human remains.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Maryland Film Festival 2013 Update


Maryland Film Festival has now announced 36 total films showing at the festival next month.  I am looking forward to the full schedule coming out (hopefully soon).  They have added a day to the festival this year, which may account for a schedule not being up yet.

They have announced several additional documentaries.

It looks like this is the roster of 12 documentaries announced thus far.  All information is taken from Maryland Film Festival's Blog:

12 O’Clock Boys (Lotfy Nathan) This gritty and exhilarating documentary follows several years in the life of Pug, a young Baltimorean who hopes to join the exclusive ranks of Baltimore’s urban dirt-bike riders.

16 Acres (Richard Hankin) From the editor and co-producer of Capturing the Friedmans comes this riveting and nuanced documentary look at the rebuilding of Ground Zero—one of the most architecturally, politically, and emotionally complex urban renewal projects in history.
Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys (Jessica Oreck) One year in the life of a family of reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland yields an immersive study of hard work, hard earned leisure, and an intricate bond between man and nature. From the director of Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo.
After Tiller (Martha Shane and Lana Wilson) A documentary look at the personal and professional lives of the only four U.S.-based doctors who continue to perform third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller.
Before You Know It (P J Raval) This observational documentary raises the curtain on a profoundly neglected segment of the LGBT community, its senior population, as three gay men residing in very different regions of the U.S. face new life challenges.
Downloaded (Alex Winter) With remarkable insight and access, this documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of Napster, taking a close look at the internet mavericks and musicians involved and the lasting global impact of peer-to-peer file sharing.
Good Ol’ Freda (Ryan White) Freda Kelly was just a shy Liverpudlian teenager when she was asked to work for a local band hoping to make it big. That band was The Beatles, and Freda was their devoted secretary and friend for 11 years; this documentary tells her story—and the story of the world’s most famous band through her eyes.
Hit & Stay (Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk) This Baltimore-made documentary tells the story of the radical priests, nuns, and everyday people who comprised the Baltimore Four and the Catonsville Nine, risking prison to challenge U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
I Am Divine (Jeffrey Schwarz) From the director of Vito comes the definitive documentary look at actor, singer, and drag icon Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as Divine; featuring extensive interviews with John Waters and many others who knew, loved, and worked with Divine.

If We Shout Loud Enough (Gabriel DeLoach and Zach Keifer) An inside look at the Baltimore underground music scene through one of its most pivotal bands, Double Dagger, as they embark on their final tour.
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel) Functioning as both an immersive experiential documentary about modern commercial fishing and a feature-length experimental film, Leviathan offers an explosive and chaotic sensory experience like no other.
We Always Lie to Strangers (AJ Schnack and David Wilson) A documentary story of family, community, music and tradition, built over five years and set against the backdrop of Branson, Missouri, one of the biggest tourist destinations in America.
My hope is to see I Am Divine, 12 O'Clock Boys, Hit & Stay, and 16 Acres.  I would also like to see Aatsinki or Leviathan.  They seem to be a different type of documentary than I have seen thus far.  I am planning to prep a little for the festival this year.  I plan to watch a previous film from the director(s).  Hopefully this will give me a better insight to the new films this year.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Release Date: 2012
Production Company: Dumbdumb Entertainment, Electus, Warrior Poets
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Run time: 84 minutes
Seen on: Netflix Watch Instantly
Mansome is a 2012 film by director Morgan Spurlock, perhaps best known for Academy Award nominated Super Size Me.  This film takes a humorous look at men's grooming in today's society.  The film is not ground-breaking: it covers trends such as beard competitions and the personal grooming habits of a professional wrestler.  It includes interviews with John Waters, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis.  The film is forgettable, but not necessarily one to skip.  It's a film where you don't necessarily have to give all of your attention 100% of the time.

However, I think it could have been improved.  There is a schtick between Will Arnett and Jason Bateman at a spa that runs throughout the film.  I would have been interested in more content from the "talking heads," such as the cultural anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher.  But maybe that's just me.  This is a film that doesn't seem to take itself overly seriously.  That's good, because a pious film about beard grooming and eyebrow threading might just be too much for me.

Overall, a watchable film, but not groundbreaking or revolutionary.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Maryland Film Festival 2013


I am looking forward once again to the Maryland Film Festival.  Last year was my first time attending and volunteering.  I helped set up tents and usher in the Charles Theater.  My volunteering allowed me to see 4 documentaries and one feature for FREE last year.  Since I worked on the set-up day, I earned more vouchers than I would have otherwise.

Last year I saw:
Love Free or Die
The Source Family
Save the Date

Before going to MFF last year, watching documentaries was an individual activity.  It was refreshing and stimulating to become immersed in a true story with a theater sometimes packed with people.  This fleeting community springs up to work and watch great films.  The bonus of the festival was the Q&A session after the film.  The person(s) are often a director of the film.  However, the most interesting Q&A was after Love Free or Die last year.  The session was hosted by the director, Macky Alston, and the subject of the film, The Right Reverend Gene Robinson.  This was a surreal experience, watching someone's personal story unfold on the screen and then having them in the room answering questions.

I am volunteering again at MFF.  While the full roster and schedule of films is not out yet, there are a few documentaries I am looking forward to and hope to have a chance to see.

I am Divine by Jeffrey Schwarz.  Described as "The True Story of the Most Beautiful Woman in the World."
Hit & Stay by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk.  About the Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine, anti-war protesters during the Vietnam era.
12 O'Clock Boys by Lotfy Nathan.  About a young boy striving to become part of an urban dirt-bike gang in Baltimore.  "The film presents the pivotal years of change in a boy's life growing up in one of the most dangerous an economically depressed cities in the United States."

There are 24 films already announced.  John Waters hosts a screening of a selected film every year.  This once always sells out.  I am interested to see what he chooses this year.