Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, once called Maryland “America in miniature,” speaking about the diverse patchwork of the state’s geographies as film-setting options.
Nearly 100 films and five television programs have been filmed in Maryland since 2000, according to the Maryland State Archives. Not only is Maryland a filmmaker’s location choice, but Derek Horne, director of programming for the Annapolis Film Festival, said Marylanders love and appreciate good cinema.
The 11th annual Annapolis Film Festival returns March 23 with an impressive array of films planned. Festival director Patti White thinks this year’s offerings could be the most highly regarded lineup in the festival’s history, noting that several new films from this year’s Sundance and SXSW film festivals will be on tap.
“We are truly embracing our new theme, ‘Looking Beyond,’ which challenges audiences to move past their preconceptions, world, their boundaries and old beliefs,” White said. “This truly will set the stage for our most exciting, diverse film slate yet.”
Horne said Annapolis area movie buffs are sophisticated and open-minded, and he believes the Annapolis Film Festival rivals any other festival in the world.
“Like the city of Annapolis, Marylanders have many layers, a lot of history and pride,” Horne said. “They are very smart, discerning connoisseurs of art and entertainment.”
Perhaps Annapolis lacks the name recognition of Cannes or Sundance, but its impact on the film industry is no less impressive.
In 2022 in Annapolis, “Emily the Criminal” — now on Netflix — earned the top Jury Award for Best Feature Film, and it’s now nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards. “Fire of Love,” which earned the top Jury Award for Best Documentary, and “Night Ride,” which won the Jury Award for Best Short Film, are both nominated for 2023 Academy Awards.
A pair of feature documentaries will make their world premiere in Annapolis this year. “MELGES: The Wizard of Zenda” explores the life of sailing legend Buddy Melges, who has won Olympic medals and world championships. “No Legs. All Heart” is a documentary about André Kajlich, a double amputee wheelchair athlete who completes the Race Across America, where the finish line is in Annapolis.
About 75 percent of the films chosen are sourced by Horne and team from other film festivals and distribution companies, and the remaining are filmmaker submissions.
“We have nurtured our relationships with some top film distributors who respect our festival and its quality programming,” Horne said. “Some of the distributors we worked with this year include Searchlight Pictures, Roadside Attractions, Bleecker Street, Music Box, and NEON. Many of them were very impressed to hear about last year’s quality film slate with films that are now nominated for the Oscars and the Spirit Awards.”
Out of this year’s lineup, Horne said each film is a can’t-miss offering. Horne added that his favorite narrative feature film that he saw at Sundance this year was “The Starling Girl.”
“I’m so excited we get to screen it in Annapolis,” Horne said. “It is a masterfully directed and written film that stars Eliza Scanlen as a 17-year-old girl struggling under the confines of her strict Christian fundamentalist community and her attraction to the pastor’s son who returns to town. I was mesmerized by every detail of the story and the performances.”
Kiersey Clemons stars as Susie in “Susie Searches” — a film centered around a crime podcast host who must solve the mystery disappearance of her rival podcaster. This is from the producers of “Ingrid Goes West,” which was a similar dark comedy and satire of celebrity and social media culture screened at the Annapolis Film Festival in 2017.
Eva Longoria makes her directorial debut with “Flamin’ Hot,” based on a true story of a Mexican American janitor at Frito-Lay who came up with the idea for the flamin’ hot flavor of Cheetos. Other films include “The Grotto,” a film about a woman who inherits a struggling nightclub when her fiancé dies unexpectedly, and “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” a thriller about a group of environmental activists going to extremes to sabotage an oil pipeline.
Some local films will also be shown at the upcoming festival, including “Project Home,” a documentary about how 3D printed homes could solve the global housing crisis. The film is directed by Laura Waters Hinson, an award-winning filmmaker and assistant professor in the film and media arts division of American University’s School of Communication. “Las Abogodas,” a documentary about women immigration attorneys on the front lines of the migrant crisis, is one of the festival’s offerings, and it’s directed by Victoria Bruce, a Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker.
Waters Hinson said few festivals are as well organized and professionally run as the one in Annapolis.
“They really treat filmmakers well, and our films are honored,” Waters Hinson said. “It’s the kind of festival that you want to come back to.”
The Local Shorts program will screen on March 26 and include a mix of documentaries, animation, narrative films plus an experimental dance piece about Ocean City.
“Many of our documentaries this year will strike a chord with our community and inspire some passionate discussions following the screenings and Q&As with the filmmakers who are attending,” Horne said.
The festival will open on March 23 at 7:15pm in Maryland Hall’s main theater featuring Searchlight Pictures’ critically acclaimed “Chevalier,” a film set in the 1780s leading up to the French Revolution. It is based on the life of composer Joseph Bologne, a biracial son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, who becomes a celebrated violinist and receives the title of Chevalier de Saint-Georges by Marie Antoinette.
More than 70 films will be showcased over four days. Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley recognizes the impact the festival has on residents and the film industry worldwide.
“The Annapolis Film Festival is earning its place as a top destination for movie buffs, and it’s one of our most diverse arts events,” Buckley said.
For more information, a full list of films to be shown, or to purchase tickets, visit www.annapolisfilmfestival.com.