Filmmaker Ken Burns has already famously tackled classic examples of Americana, including baseball, the national parks, and the Civil War. His next documentary subject, however, is a bit more unexpected: cancer.
If you were one of the 603 people who donated to help Baltimore filmmaker Lotfy Nathan take his film to this year’s South by Southwest film festival, you can pat yourself on the back: thanks to a well-regarded SXSW debut, the documentary about Baltimore’s dirt bike culture has been picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories, a distribution company started by a Beastie Boy and known for films like We Need to Talk About Kevin, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Meek’s Cutoff. Now the dirt bike debate can really get going.
A documentary about Baltimore’s favorite drag queen, Divine, (nee Harris Glenn Milstead) is making quite a splash at South by Southwest this week, the New York Times reports. Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz tells The Times that the movie about the John Waters muse focuses on his “celebration of the outsider and renegade in all of us.” The movie has been a standout in a large field of documentaries at the festival about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender icons.
Divine, who died in 1988, grew up in Lutherville and went to Towson High, where he was a member of the class of 1963. In describing his Baltimore County upbringing, Divine once said, “I was an only child in, I guess, your upper middle-class American family. I was probably your American spoiled brat.”
Read “Looking Divine at South by Southwest” at The New York Times.
Creative Alliance is known around town for their incredibly thought-provoking, creative, eclectic events. They find the hidden artistic gems in our city and generously put them on display for us. Baltimore-based filmmaker, Gregory Marsh, brings us the story of Victory for Change, a documentary about two Indian women fighting for the rights of the marginalized in Indian society. The untouchables, women and children are often neglected, and Marsh felt compelled to bring light to those who work for the betterment of others. This Thursday, check out a screening of this powerful film, followed by a panel discussion with Elizabeth Alex from Casa Maryland, Aida Pinto-Baquero from Mis Raices, Sawsan Al Sayyab of International Rescue Committee, and members of Baltimore Women’s Forum, a monthly dialogue group of refugee women, including Mary Kinyoli of Kenya, and Nidaa Haseeb of Iraq.
Baltimoreans have mixed feelings about our city’s dirt bike culture (“total menace!” a commenter opined here at the Fishbowl last summer; “both intimidating and thrilling,” a New York Times reporter weighed in last weekend). Local filmmaker Lotfy Nathan has been documenting the city’s 12 O’Clock Boys for years, and his documentary film about a West Baltimore kid who joins up with the Boys, has just been selected to have its world premier at the South By Southwest film festival — one of only 8 films selected out of 905 submissions.
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are the creepiest dollhouses you’ll ever see: miniature scenes of murders, suicides, and bloody accidents, all painstakingly crafted in quaint dollhouse scale by an heiress in the 1930s. It’s always seemed fitting to me that these odd, gory dioramas make their home in Baltimore — the only problem is that they’re only available for viewing by appointment with the Maryland Medical Examiner. Which is why it’s all the more exciting that filmmaker Susan Marks’ documentary about the Nutshells, Of Dolls and Murder, was just made available on Netflix streaming. And it’s narrated by none other than John Waters!
One sure sign it’s Sunday in Baltimore is the sweet sound of revving dirt bikes as Baltimore’s Twelve O’Clock Boyz wheelie their way through the city streets. It’s a classically Baltimore conundrum: the bikes are illegal, but, after a fatal high-speed crash a number of years ago, police aren’t allowed to pursue them, either. The Twelve O’Clock Boyz themselves have been both condemned as a gang and lauded as an informal social-support organization in a city without many other options, especially now that rec centers are closing down due to budget crunches. So, who are these dirt bikers of Baltimore? Heroes or villains? Criminals or mentors?
Making a documentary about the Amish wasn’t easy. For one — and it’s a big one — the group forbids TV and has a moral taboo against posing for photos. Nonetheless, the project of documenting the simple-living, modernity-rejecting religious community has tempted plenty of film directors along the way. And they often turn to Amish expert (and Johns Hopkins University Press author/editor) Donald Kraybill for help. “[In the past,] I have always refused,” Kraybill says. “For me to go into the Amish community and try to persuade my Amish friends to violate one of the religious norms of their community would not only scar my personal relationship with them but could result in them being punished by the church.”
So when the directors of the PBS series American Experience approached him with the same old request — help us get access, please! — Kraybill gave his standard answer. Until the documentarians came up with a novel (and respectful) solution to the problem: they would record the voices of the Amish off-camera, but would refrain from filming anyone. In all, with Kraybill’s help, the documentary includes the voices of some 20 Amish people narrating the story of their communities — an unprecedented peek into a fascinating and insular group.
Kraybill served as program consultant on the film, which means he helped build connections, proposed stories, found information, checked facts, and critiqued a rough cut of the film. But, as he notes, “I offered ideas and made suggestions, but the director of the film controlled the content. Even a documentary, in the end, is an artistic interpretation of the subject. Only certain Amish stories were selected from dozens of possibilities.” (For those wanting a nuanced and thorough take on the Amish, an exploration of Kraybill’s books with the Johns Hopkins University Press would be a good start.)
The documentary is set to air later this month.
Documentary film The Learning, which shows what goes on in some city classrooms as it follows the lives of four Filipina women who immigrate to teacher in Baltimore public schools, will air on MPT Select on Sunday night at 10:30 p.m.
The film by Ramona Diaz is receiving raves from Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik and The Sun education reporter Erica Green. It was also shown at the Maryland Film Festival where it impressed viewers.
The documentary can been seen at www.pbs.org/pov/learning/ until October 20, 2011. You can see a trailer for the documentary on the video landing on our homepage.