A Stanley Nelson-directed examination of the Black Panther movement, a doc following a metal band of Brooklyn teens called Unlocking the Truth that became a viral sensation, and a look at the life and career of 1950s-heartthrob-turned-John-Waters-collaborator Tab Hunter are among the entries at this year's Maryland Film Festival. The festival, now in its 17th year, is set to take place at various locations around downtown from May 6-10. An additional 40 feature films and 12 shorts will be announced over the next two weeks.
Below are the 10 unveiled today, with descriptions provided by the festival:
"The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" (Stanley Nelson) Master documentarian Stanley Nelson has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to bring history to life with films such as "Freedom Summer," "The Murder of Emmett Till," and "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple." Here he turns his lens on the revolutionary Black Panther Party and the various cultural forces that worked to support or destroy the group, creating an essential portrait of a singular radical moment in the American experience.
"Breaking A Monster" (Luke Meyer) Viral-video sensation Unlocking the Truth, a teenage metal band from Brooklyn, navigate the bizarre current state of the record industry in this fascinating, fist-pumping, and often hilarious documentary. Fresh from its premiere at SXSW, this exceptional rock doc follows the band as they sign a major-label record deal and are suddenly caught up in an adult-driven world of contracts, tours, interviews, and branding. From Luke Meyer, co-director of MFF 2006 hit "Darkon."
"Funny Bunny" (Alison Bagnall) The writer/director of "The Dish & the Spoon" returns with this offbeat, infectious mix of comedy and drama. Kentucker Audley stars as an obesity-awareness canvasser who strikes up a friendship with a wealthy, emancipated 19-year-old named Titty (Olly Alexander) and the animal-rights-activist object of Titty's desire, Ginger (Joslyn Jensen). Co-starring Josephine Decker, Louis Cancelmi, and Anna Margaret Hollyman.
"Henry Gamble's Birthday Party" (Stephen Cone) A pool party celebrating the 17th birthday of Henry Gamble (Cole Doman), the son of a megachurch preacher (Pat Healy), sets the stage for this expertly observed ensemble drama. As sunny skies fade into moonlight, director Stephen Cone ("The Wise Kids," "Black Box") offers a subtle and insightful portrait of a community full of pressures and secrets, exploring identity, sexuality, and organized religion in the process. World premiere.
"Sailing A Sinking Sea" (Olivia Wyatt) This experimental documentary, which premiered at SXSW, looks at the traditional lifestyle of the Moken people, a seafaring community of Burma and Thailand. Olivia Wyatt's gorgeous and immersive film transports viewers deep into the turquoise sea and onto 13 different islands, giving us intimate access to a culture where shamans, mermaids, and sea gods collide with present-day practices. Executive-produced by Will Oldham.
"Stinking Heaven" (Nathan Silver) This ultra-dark comedy looks at a communal home for sober living in 1990s suburban New Jersey, which spirals into dysfunctional decline when an outsider arrives on the scene. Director Nathan Silver's film boasts an uncompromising visual aesthetic that goes against the grain of contemporary indie filmmaking—not to mention a fantastic cast that includes Deragh Campbell, Hannah Gross, Keith Poulson, and Eleonore Hendricks.
"Tab Hunter Confidential" (Jeffrey Schwarz) Top-notch documentary biographer Jeffrey Schwarz has captivated MFF audiences with definitive looks at iconic personalities William Castle, Vito Russo, and Divine. Now he delivers the warm and intimate story of 1950s Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter, who simultaneously balanced a stratospheric career on the silver screen with a secret life as a gay man. From his rise to stardom to his reinvention as a cult-film star with John Waters—and a number of fascinating surprises—it’s all here.
"Unexpected" (Kris Swanberg) High school science teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders), already dealing with stress and uncertainty as her low-income school prepares to close, finds out she’s pregnant. When she discovers her favorite student Jasmine (Gail Bean) is also with child, the two form a tight and unconventional bond. From Kris Swanberg (whose earlier features "Empire Builder" and "It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home" both screened within MFF) comes this refreshing character study that mines honest emotions and the quiet battlefields of love and friendship for real beauty and insight.
"Welcome to Leith" (Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker) This edge-of-your-seat documentary follows the arrival of notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb to a small town in North Dakota, where he promptly buys up land for like-minded collaborators and disrupts town council meetings, leading to fears that he plans a neo-Nazi takeover. As his behavior escalates further into the outrageous and threatens to get violent, a once-placid community must decide how to react.
"A Wonderful Cloud" (Eugene Kotlyarenko) When his ex-girlfriend visits him in Los Angeles to resolve some lingering business entanglements, Eugene seeks to revisit old feelings, and introduces her to an L.A. populated by a wild cast of artists, scenesters, and eccentrics. Variety called this gleefully anarchic romantic comedy "a raucous, wholly improvised 21st-century Annie Hall." Starring director Kotlyarenko (whose "0s & 1s" had its world premiere at MFF 2010) and Kate Lyn Sheil ("Sun Don't Shine," "House of Cards").