Last weekend, Creative Alliance held its fourth Made in Baltimore Short Film Festival, a showcase of 11 outstanding movies that were made by, for or about Baltimoreans and the city they live in. The event, held online and hosted by drag queen Betty O’Hellno, was a great way of reminding us that there is more to watch than just Netflix, even if we’re stuck at home.
This year, the festival had a total of 11 film entries, and though it was held virtually, Creative Alliance went all out in encouraging audience participation by allowing viewers to chat with some of the creators of the films afterward. The films spoke about everything ranging from LGBTQ rights, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the COVID-19 pandemic and much more, providing a diverse and authentic display of the talent of Baltimore’s filmmaking community.
The 11th entry, titled Kween For A Day and directed by James Burkhalter, was almost an encapsulation of how much of the showcase would progress — a short, raw and poignant exploration of the life of an individual Baltimorean. It was essentially a portrait of the life of Scott Murdock, who performs as drag queen Shaunda Leer, across the city. The film shows two transformations of Scott to Shaunda: one through Scott getting dressed as Shaunda and the other as a sort of monologue describing Scott’s first experiences with drag.
It concludes with Shaunda’s experience at the 2019 D.C. Pride Parade when there was a potential shooter situation, which made Shaunda realize, “If my community was ever threatened, I need[ed] to be there,” and acknowledge the familial and social difficulties LBGTQ people face through simply being themselves. One of the touching final statements that really hit home with me was “Whatever it is that makes you happy, that’s really what it’s all about.”
Two of the films from the night dealt with the impact of BLM. The first, But Don’t Believe Them from Michael Ivan Schwartz, consists of interviews and live music sessions with jazz artist Mark G. Meadows. Meadows, who has long been involved with political activism, speaks about how the killing of George Floyd reignited his anger and passion and encouraged him to make music “to see people actually coming together and having empathy for each other.”
The next film, TRIBE, directed by Maceo Tendaji and performed by Akilah Divine, was a music video that shows how the brutalization of Black people affects the psyche of future generations and the need for current action. Some lines that stuck out to me were “Don’t you fall asleep now / You must stay woke” and “Haven’t you heard, it’s open season / They killing us and not giving reasons.”
Another of my favorites from the night — Vaporwave by Jon and Mat Firman — was the most unconventional of the lot. Draped in the weird retro aesthetic of vaporwave, it depicts a sexual encounter between a man and a prostitute at a hotel, which gets progressively more unsettling because of the man’s demands from the woman and his postulations about vaporwave itself, calling it “the ultimate embodiment of the movement against postmodernism” since it “harkens [him] back to the final moment [in the ‘80s and ‘90s] when technological progress and globalization told [him] a utopia was still possible.” Though quite bizarre, it kept you hooked, and it was probably the only time I’ll ever see a movie based on vaporwave.
The Festival also nominated three of the films as its top three. These films included Pizza People by John Beckham, All of This is Somehow True from Joseph Kraemer and Not Just a Game: The Story of Savage, directed by Myles Banks.
In third place was Pizza People, a lovely film about the creation of Paulie Gee’s in Hampden. Full of shots of delicious pizza and vivid descriptions of building a restaurant from scratch, it’s the type of cheesy fare that is bound to entertain — and create a sudden urge to order some pizza.
Second place went to All of This is Somehow True, an avant-garde demonstration of the impact of COVID-19. It brought out the hidden and minute ways that the pandemic has affected our lives, from eating cereal, going to the bathroom, the sounds of traffic and more, all becoming a part of the new “normal.”
Last but not least, in first place was Not Just a Game: The Story of Savage, directed by Myles Banks. This film follows the life of Savage, a squeegee boy from East Baltimore, who attempts to escape poverty by joining an ice hockey team called the Baltimore Banners. It shows how Savage gradually begins to invest more of himself into the team despite having to clean cars for a living and how his love for the team inspired his younger brother to join as well. It was a feel-good story about individualism and community support that got me a bit teary-eyed but ultimately left a smile on my face; it perfectly capped off an emotional evening.
The Made in Baltimore Short Film Festival is still available on demand until the end of this month, and I highly encourage watching it. It’s a great way to support independent creators from Baltimore during these difficult times and, of course, to also enjoy a curated selection of great movies.