The newly renovated Parkway Theater officially opens today.

The 19th annual Maryland Film Festival opens Wednesday, May 3, with the opening night shorts program and gala, followed by four full days of excellent independent film.

This year’s festival is particularly special because it coincides with the grand re-opening of the newly renovated, 100-year-old Parkway Theatre on North Avenue, which will serve as a film center for Johns Hopkins and Maryland Institute College of Art.

The new center features a breathtaking auditorium that highlights the building’s original architecture, along with two smaller 85-seat theaters in a newly built wing. Thanks to the grand re-opening of the Parkway, this year’s film festival has an entirely walkable campus, with additional screening venues at MICA and events at neighboring businesses along North Avenue.

The programming of this year’s festival promises to be exceptional as well, and an especially notable year for local film. The 2017 lineup includes the regional premiere of Sylvio, the bizarre tale of a fully clothed gorilla in existential crisis, which was co-directed by Gilman alum Albert Birney (’00) and shot on location in Baltimore. Rat Film, directed by Baltimore’s Theo Anthony chronicles Charm City’s struggle with an unwelcome rodent populace and features appearances and musical score by familiar locals.

Baltimore-based documentarian Ramona Diaz takes us inside one of the busiest maternity wards in the world, in her Philippines-based film Motherland. Our nation’s complicated history with segregated education is analyzed and the future of historically black universities considered in Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, which touches down in Baltimore among other places. Finally, a legendary D.C. punk band’s tumultuous relationship with its own lead singer is revealed in Finding Joseph I: The HR From Bad Brains Documentary.

Rat Film, directed by Baltimorean Theo Anthony (2017)

With a broad range of emerging films from Baltimore, MdFF 2017 has bragging rights as the world premiere locale for not one, but two feature films. Stephen Cone’s coming-of-age drama Princess Cyd, and Josh Crockett’s dark comedy Dr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks will both screen for the first time this weekend.

The two films join an impressive list of national and regional premieres of new features and short films throughout the festival. Ten themed shorts programs at MdFF give viewers a taste of new genres without the commitment of choosing one full-length film. The shorts are an extraordinary offering that allows rare access to a broad range of independent work, often hard to find outside the festival circuit.

The bold choice to use a shorts program as the opening night screening each year sets the MdFF apart from other festivals as a champion of diversity and innovation in film. For those less inclined toward experimenting with new genres, the festival offers a full spectrum of feature films, from abstract plots and piercing documentaries to easily digestible narratives, and even a few familiar names. MdFF brings an unrivaled weekend of creative energy to Baltimore and with it a vivid prism of important new faces and minds.

The 2017 Maryland Film Festival runs May 3-7 in Baltimore. Tickets to individual screenings and events are available online, as well as in person during the festival. All-access festival passes have now sold out. For more information, visit

Rachel Bone is a regular contributor to the Baltimore Fishbowl.