The excellent Maryland Film Festival runs from May 3-6. Here’s my sneak peek at three of the films.
The hipster primitive movement finally has a film to call its own. The taciturn James (Timothy Morton, who with his shaggy red beard and sad eyes resembles a young Louis CK) has recently been laid off from his job as a high school music teacher in Louisville, KY. Leaving behind a somewhat disappointed girlfriend (screenwriter Karrie Crouse), he embarks on a journey of self-discovery along the rugged Sheltowee Trace trail. While Pilgrim Song’s extreme naturalism and leisurely pace place it squarely in mumblecore territory, the film’s humanity and unexpected bursts of droll humor make it soar. Things really get interesting when James hitches a ride from an aimless single father (Bryan Marshall)—a sweetheart, if a bit of a mess—and his young son. James thought he would find himself by getting in touch with nature, but it turns out the real discoveries come when he reluctantly connects with his fellow man.
COME BACK, AFRICA
The more you know about this film, the more fascinating it becomes. Fresh off his neorealist triumph On the Bowery, director Lionel Rogesin traveled to South Africa to make a completely underground film about the horrors of apartheid. Beautifully restored more than 50 years after its original release, it tells the story of Zachariah, a man trying to find work in a society designed to break his spirit. The amateur acting can be stiff—Rogesin used all locals, including sympathetic-to-his-cause Afrikaners—but the film’s historic significance, not to mention its vibrant scenes of street life in South Africa, make it well worth watching.
Nothing short of a cinematic love letter to Vito Russo, a seminal figure in the gay rights movement, first as the author of The Celluloid Closet—a rigorous work that pieced together a secret gay history of cinema—and later as a founding member of GLAAD and ACT-UP. As Jeffrey Schwarz’s film makes clear, Vito’s gift was his charisma, his passion for life, and his restless, inherently activist spirit. He didn’t seek to become a leader in the AIDS crisis, but, sadly, the cause found him. An extremely moving and inspiring look at a truly heroic man.