Moving Pictures
Aug 22, 2023, 06:29AM

New/Next Triumphs in Baltimore

The Charles once again has a world-class film festival under its roof.

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Under the roof of The Charles Theater was once again a film festival. It has been the better part of a decade since we could say that about The Charles, and practically the entirety of our current decade since we could say that about the city itself. From homeless to listless, it seemed like the Maryland Film Festival was just another casualty of Baltimore’s art scene of the 2000s slowly commercializing, waning, and, ultimately, migrating in the subsequent decade. In many ways, the announcement that MdFF wouldn’t be holding a 2023 event for their 25th anniversary was a blessing in disguise, opening a door for former programmer Eric Allen Hatch back in at The Charles. In this way, New/Next was as much a homecoming as it was a new chapter in Baltimore’s film scene.

Right before the closing night screening of Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes I cornered Hatch and asked him how the festival went: “It’s been sort of a ‘Pinch me, I’m dreaming’ kind of experience.” And beyond the homecoming feeling, being back at The Charles had its practical advantages: “Any festival that has a small, walkable campus allows you to see more films in the day but also still have a life; have some food, have some rest, have the conversations that make you excited to go back and see the next film.” That tight setting is what allowed me easy access to the festival’s programmer, audiences access to filmmakers, and, while I was talking to Hatch, Sam Pollard, the director of Max Roach came in through the double doors.

That campus quality isn’t like some sprawling university, but a small-town high school, with a couple of classrooms just a short walk away from each other. In less than a minute you could walk from Theater 1 where Mayor Brandon Scott is speaking, to a world premiere in Theater 2, past where the volunteers are staging in Theater 3, and then hit a fork in the road where you can turn left to see a new restoration of a rarely seen Claire Denis film in Theater 4 or take a right and catch a work in progress short from local filmmaker Matt Porterfield in Theater 5. It’s a good problem to feel like you’re missing three other great things by going to one other, and at the very least if you feel like you made the wrong decision you can hop over to the next in the space of a couple of breaths.

As a confession, I’ve never been to the Maryland Film Festival. I transplanted to Baltimore in July of 2019, just missing out on what would become the last event they’d hold before the pandemic hit. I always had a certain idea in my head of what MdFF was, largely based on Richard Brody’s claim that it “shifted” the “center of cinematic gravity” for the weekend down to Baltimore. But that gravity had long seemed like it was reaching entropy before I ever stepped foot in town. The Parkway project going from a utopian dream of an artistic anchor in Station North to a museum lobby full of private security to give reassurances to wealthy County-ites that they were being catered to was just another moment of despair amidst many in a city that’s struggled like so many other mid-sizers to keep their artistic community afloat. New/Next, while new and the next thing, did feel old, or like what I imagined the old MdFF felt like. While the organization started to focus on magnets that could pull people in, New/Next had gravity, it had density—it naturally pulled objects into its orbit and sent them into a beautiful spin around The Charles Theater. It wasn’t something that needed to convince people, everyone there could tell it was the real deal.


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