One of the more peculiar and touching films from this year’s Maryland Film Festival is gaining traction on the national stage. Written and co-directed by Baltimore artist and Gilman School alum Albert Birney and actor Kentucker Audley, “Sylvio” tells the story of an eccentric, cubical-bound debt collector struggling with his job and fantasizing about a more fulfilling career in the performing arts. It will begin a weeklong run at the Parkway Theatre on Oct. 27.
“Sylvio” is a film about remaining true to yourself — a remarkable feat when the “self” in question, the film’s hero, Sylvio Bernardi, happens to be a silent, six-foot-tall gorilla who looks suspiciously like a man in disguise.
It earned a rave review this week from The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, preceding a short run at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. Variety, Paste Magazine and the Village Voice have all weighed in with positive reviews, and the film has managed a very favorable score on Rotten Tomatoes. It will be shown in similarly limited runs at independent theaters across the country this year.
“Sylvio” actually began as a popular Vine series, “Simply Sylvio.” The project was scaled up for a film that was shot entirely in Maryland, a decision the film’s makers are proud of.
“It was super easy for us as a small production to shoot in Baltimore,” said producer Meghan Doherty. “The [Baltimore Film Office] was a huge resource and worked closely with the production to ensure we had everything we needed — permits, locations, catering — and went out of their way to advocate for us when we needed help.”
Despite a long history of filmmaking in the area, Maryland has struggled recently to remain financially competitive to attract larger productions for filming. HBO’s “Veep” moved production from Baltimore to Los Angeles in its fifth season after California tripled tax credits for film production. “House of Cards” from Netflix threatened to do the same thing in 2014 unless a push in Annapolis provided enough incentive to keep filming in-state. (It did.)
Smaller, independent productions, however, have continued to use Maryland as a hub for their project. Citing an eager and helpful film office and affordable commercial space, artists working here say Baltimore is an exceptionally navigable city, even when hauling around production equipment and a crew.
“It was so easy to go from point A to point B, we were able to shoot really fast,”said Doherty, who came from New York to Baltimore to produce “Sylvio.” “It felt like guerrilla filmmaking, but on the books. There was an excitement to it.”
She also lauded the community’s support for the project.
“A local resident offered us his warehouse at an extremely affordable rate for the entirety of the shoot,” she said. “We were able to use some of Baltimore’s best resources, from Serious Grip and Electric to BlueRock Studios, and we got to work with a talented crew and Baltimore cast. As soon as we talked about our project, the Baltimore community leaped to help. It took a village to make ‘Sylvio,’ and we’re very proud our village was Baltimore.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Doherty was referring to the Baltimore Film Office as a resource that helped facilitate production.