The Chesapeake Film Festival opens tomorrow night with a screening of The Radiant Child, the new Jean-Michel Basquiat documentary, at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. I was mighty impressed by CFF's lineup of films—it gives the Maryland Film Festival a run for its money—and speakers—including Tamra Davis, Mike Sragow, and Linda DeLibero—so I caught up with Artistic Director Doug Sadler to ask about this year's event. Sadler's a filmmaker himself (2005's Swimmers was an indie fave), and his name might ring a bell for our readers—Geoff Himes wrote an excellent profile of him a few years ago.
JL: What's your role with the Festival?
DS: I am the founding Artistic Director. I was one of the original group in the room that launched the idea, and I now coordinate all of the artistic elements of the festival, from working with our Programming Director to select films to overseeing website and poster design. Since CFF is a relatively new enterprise, though, everyone lends a hand in many, many areas from fundraising to volunteer recruitment.
JL: What makes CFF unique, programming-wise?
DS: We take our mission to share the best in film very seriously. This year, we have award-winning films from Cannes, Galway, Dublin, Sundance, Slamdance, and the NY Int’l Children’s Film Festival, as well as favorites that screened at the Maryland Film Festival—including Baltimore-based filmmaker Matt Porterfield’s Putty Hill. With Academy Award winners and nominees, classics and kids fare, we try to serve the Chesapeake community, and we also try to appeal to more adventurous filmgoers interested in seeing cutting-edge and classic film. This year, we’re launching an environmental film slate with the support of the Town Creek Foundation. It includes our closing selection On Coal River; Gasland, an award-winner about natural gas and fracking; and A Sea Change, about a Norwegian fishing family contemplating the impact of ocean acidification on their way of life.
JL: Tell us about the festival’s location and ambiance.
DS: This area—with picturesque, historic walking town centers—is perfectly suited for the unique community of ideas and discussion that a film festival can generate. The opportunity to stroll down the street to a restored 1930s Art Deco theater [Easton’s Avalon Theater] and watch a classic like the 1937 film Captains Courageous—hosted by author and Sun film critic Michael Sragow—is very special, and that film may well have played there in its original release. These are the sort of experiences we provide. It’s a remarkably attractive area with fine restaurants, and for one weekend at least, amazing film from around the world.
JL: You've been to other fests... How does CFF measure up?
DS: Very well. I believe the breadth, quality, and diversity of our slate of films puts us on par with any festival our size in the country. As a filmmaker myself, I’m very focused on treating our filmmakers very well—something Jed Dietz and the Maryland Film Festival do very, very well. Jed and MFF were of huge assistance in getting CFF underway, and we have tried to emulate their focus on making the experience as rewarding as possible for the filmmakers. The interaction between filmmakers and audience is the most unique component of a festival, which is why we try to bring in as many filmmakers as we can.
JL: And what are you particularly looking forward to this year?
DS: The whole festival! It’s very hard to say because we’ve worked hard to make each of our screenings a unique experience. Screening the film Freedom Riders—a powerful, historical documentary about a pivotal time in the history of our country, the Civil Rights Era—should be a great event. The British comedy Skeletons and the hilarious and horrifying Bitter Feast directed by my friend Joe Maggio will, I think, be crowd-pleasers as will Gabi On The Roof In July about a twentysomething’s NYC summer gone awry and Mars an inventive, hilarious animated film about space exploration and inner angst. Having Baltimore-based filmmaker Matt Porterfield and his crew on the Shore with Putty Hill will also be a highlight. And our closing film, On Coal River, is such an inspiring film, and with the subjects of the film present and co-director Adams Wood’s Eastern Shore roots, that should be a special event, too. As you can see, I could go on and on …
JL: Any thoughts on Radiant Child?
DS: I think it’s a remarkable, personal film that takes you on a journey through a time and a place and into the life of a person [Jean-Michel Basquiat] that is very rewarding. That it’s filled with great music and fascinating discussion of the art world is a bonus. And to view some of Basquiat’s original artwork [at Easton’s Academy Art Museum], see the film, hear directly from the filmmaker [Tamra Davis], and then party with an internationally acclaimed DJ after the show … what could be more fun than that?
JL: Finally, are you working on a new film?
DS: Yes. I’m working on a script called Fresh Horses, which tracks the journey of a grandfather and his grandson through the desert on horseback. It’s a psychological thriller and a modern day twist on the Western. As soon as the festival is over, it’s back to the computer!
The Chesapeake Film Festival takes place in Easton, Cambridge, Oxford, and St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore September 24-26. Tickets and information available at www.chesapeakefilmfestival.com