Image courtesy of Himmelrich PR.

Jed Dietz, who helped start the Maryland Film Festival two decades ago and guide it to what The New Yorker called “one of the crucial showcases for independent films” with a new headquarters in the renovated Parkway Theatre, is stepping down this fall, the festival announced Tuesday.

Sandra L. Gibson, the former president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals and a consultant working with the festival, will serve as interim director starting Nov. 1. The board of directors will conduct a national search for Dietz’s replacement.

In a letter to supporters, board chair Tad Glenn lauded Dietz’s vision and his stewardship that eventually brought works by directors such as Barry Jenkins, Greta Gerwig and David Lowery to screens in Baltimore. This year, Glenn wrote, the festival set an attendance record with 12,000 attendees.

“It is an understatement to say that our organization and the Parkway Theatre would not exist without Jed’s passionate leadership, and the local film community would not be as strong and vibrant without his vision and enthusiasm,” Glenn wrote.

In a statement, Dietz hinted that he plans to stay involved with the local film scene in some capacity.

“Creating opportunities for talented, energetic and cutting-edge filmmakers and bringing them together with the great audiences here has been one of the most fulfilling achievements of my life,” he said. “I love the film community in Baltimore. I am excited to be part of the growth of this art form and this industry, both for the past 20 years and in the future.”

In addition to launching the festival in 1999, Dietz two years earlier created the Maryland Filmmakers Fellowship, helping 18 first-time directors make their films.

One of the biggest parts of his legacy is the $18 million renovation of the Parkway Theatre, a Beaux Arts movie palace built in 1915 that had fallen into disrepair and sat vacant for years. A partnership with Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art helped bring the theater back to life in 2017 as the primary home of the festival, a year-round independent movie house and educational center.

The presidents of both Hopkins and MICA, Ron Daniels and Sammy Hoi, respectively, released statements singing Dietz’s praises. And local legend, director and Pope of Trash John Waters called the Parkway’s existence a miracle.

Waters said in a statement he would miss Dietz, but also offered that “now is the time for our artiest theater to really soar, even explode with new ideas.

“I’ve been here from the beginning and it’s time for you to join our cinema cult and make this realized dream a movement that all Baltimore can embrace with movie fanatic abandon.”

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...