Q&A with Maryland Film Festival Programming Director Eric Hatch

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from Swim Little Fish Swim, directed by Ruben Amar and Lola Bessis.
from Swim Little Fish Swim, directed by Ruben Amar and Lola Bessis.

This year, the Maryland Film Festival is the biggest it’s ever been: more nights, more movies, more advance tickets sold. From May 8 – 12, Baltimore will play host to around 50 of the most exciting domestic and international feature films and around 80 shorts, shown in screening packages according to genre.

The festival’s programming director, Eric Hatch, used his Facebook page to publish an FAQ for the event, giving tips on ticketing policy and alerting cinephiles to the Maryland-centric films playing this year — which include the Baltimore-based documentaries 12 O’Clock Boys and If We Shout Loud Enough.

If you want the inside track on what to see, Baltimore’s favorite filmmaking son Matthew Porterfield (who’s own I Used to Be Darker will be playing at the festival) published his picks for this year in a Facebook note. Hatch, who’s seen every blessed one of these movies already, published his annual “Insider Picks” at Mobtown Shank.

As if that weren’t enough, Eric took time to answer our questions about this year’s festival.

BFB: Why has the festival grown so much in the last couple years?

Eric Hatch: Our boom in submissions is partially due to word of mouth spreading about the relaxed and creatively charged filmmakers experience while they’re here, as well as some key press that boosted our national profile, especially some fantastic coverage from the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody. Generally, Baltimore is in the midst of a cultural explosion, and I think the festival’s done a great job connecting with some of the audiences that have made our music and visual arts scenes so exciting in recent years.

BFB: You point out in your FAQ that while some bona fide celebrities will be presenting films, many emerging filmmakers who screen at MFF are celebrities in the making. Are there any MFF 2013 films or filmmakers that strike you as on the cusp of finding wider audiences?

EH: So hard to predict, but I think that this is the year Amy Seimetz and David Lowery will become household names. I also think 12 O’Clock Boys is going to be seen and discussed all over the world, reaching a lot of the same people The Wire has.

BFB: You called Post Tenebras Lux, Leviathan, Computer Chess, and The Rambler the “craziest and most challenging” films of the festival. Why is that?

EH: Post Tenebras Lux and Leviathan are the most rigorous films in our lineup; those are the films for people who want movie-going to take them to bold (and in the case of Leviathan, abrasive) new places outside their comfort zone, and give them things to process and think about for days to come. Computer Chess takes a lot of creative risks, particularly in being shot on period analog video. But for viewers prepared to take that ride, I think it’s also one of our most entertaining films. The Rambler is an extended nightmare, one that should particularly appeal to fans of David Lynch and Repo Man (and people who know what the word psychotronic means).

BFB: How is “WTF” a short film category?

EH: The WTF Shorts program is something Skizz Cyzyk and I launched in 2007, my first year at the festival. Early in the programming process we fell in love with a short film that started out as a documentary about a real-life athlete, took a turn into fiction (I think) with some almost science-fiction claims about that athlete, and ended with staged soft-core scenes featuring people who resembled (I think) that athlete. Having no obvious place to put that short challenged us to build a full program of totally bizarre and uncategorizable shorts, and the MFF programming team has kept that tradition alive since. It’s become one of our signature shorts programs, so popular that it’s one of the few programs we screen three times within the festival.

BFB: Any must-see comedies this year?

EH: Our comedy shorts program, WTF shorts program, and Computer Chess are the things that made me laugh the most this year in building the festival. Zero Charisma is a nice dark comedy set in gaming culture, and Drinking Buddies and Swim Little Fish Swim mix lots of comedy in with the romance and drama.

BFB: The selection process must be unreal.

EH: It is an overwhelming process, especially since our pool of considered films is almost twice as large as it was when I started here in 2007. The screening committee is a diverse group of about 20 people active in the Baltimore arts community that I’ve recruited. This committee generously volunteers their time to evaluate the films that come through our call for entries. Each film is assigned randomly to several different members, each member seeing and writing reactions to dozens of films over the course of the process.

Myself and Scott Braid work through the many hundreds that have risen to the top–as well as many of those that haven’t, so we have a well-calibrated sense of the pool of available films. As budget allows, we also travel to other film festivals such as Toronto, Sundance, Slamdance, and SXSW, and bring back some of the gems we see there.

BFB: What’s your background in film?

EH: After moving here in 1996, I curated some 16mm film events as one of the founding members of the Red Room Collective in the 1990s, and was active on the MicroCineFest screening committee (an amazing underground film festival here in Baltimore). I started writing music reviews for City Paper in 1997, and in 2001 I shifted my focus to film reviews. In 2006, I launched a free monthly international film series at the Baltimore Museum of Art (which lasted until the economic collapse a couple years later). I started working year-round at MFF in 2007, and became director of programming in 2010.

BFB: How about the rest of the editorial panel?

EH: The other members of the screening committee range from other film curators (such as people involved in Sight Unseen and Open Space), film critics, filmmakers, video artists, and enthusiasts.

BFB: Is there any genre you’d like to see better represented at the festival?

EH: When I started at the festival in 2007, there was very little international content, focusing mostly on American independent, so I’ve worked to broaden our scope each year. We’re also trying to deliver more genre and midnight-movie fare each year.

 

For more information, visit the Maryland Film Festival website.



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