Maryland Film Festival

People stand in line, waiting for the showing of the film, "Family Affair," during the Maryland Film Festival at the Charles Theatre in 2010. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun / May 7, 2010)

Five short narrative films, on themes ranging from a modern-day urban cowboy to a scamming extraterrestrial, kicked off the 14th annual Maryland Film Festival at MICA's Brown Center Thursday night.

Maryland's festival remains the only one of its kind to devote its opening night to short films — works the evening's host, salon.com film critic Andrew O'Hehir, praised as a way for filmmakers to hone their craft.

The evening's fare kicked off with MFF alum Christina Choe's "I am John Wayne," a cryptic modern take on the cowboy tradition, complete with a horse, a laconic hero and a two-timing woman, all set against a Coney Island backdrop. That was followed by Cutter Hodierne's "Fishing Without Nets," the compassionate but disheartening story of a reluctant Somali pirate that was shot in Kenya and starred Somali refugees recruited there. Hodierne said later that he hoped to expand the short into a feature-length film.

Eric Steele's bet-you-didn't-see-that-coming "Cork's Cattlebaron," starring indie film staple Robert Longstreet, asked viewers to judge between two levels of boorishness, one compulsive, the other destructive. Kerri Lendo and John Merriman's puckish "Modern Man" looked at the budding love triangle between a man, a woman and his smart phone.

The evening's offerings ended with Nat Livingston Johnson and Gregory Mitnick's crowd-pleasing "The Kook," the wry tale of an otherworldly scam artist and his cult followers.

"I thought they were all they were all terrific," said Virginia Coleman, visiting form Boston. She singled out "Cork's Cattlebaron" for special praise, saying there was "truth to it." Her friend, William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund Executive Director Melissa McC. Warlow, whose group sponsored the opening night screenings, said she felt a certain kinship with "Modern Man."

"So many people you know live on their phones," she said with a laugh.

The evening ended with eats and drinks under a large tent pitched just outside the Brown Center. Happily, the evening's thunderstorms did little to dampen festival-goers' spirits.

"It's been really great," said Choe, whose previous short, "Flow," played last year's MFF. "You just develop these friendships with the filmmakers. It becomes like family."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

The 14th annual Maryland Film Festival runs through Sunday, primarily at the five-screen Charles Theatre (1711 N. Charles St.), but also at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center (1301 W. Mount Royal Ave.) and The Windup Space (12 W. North Ave.).

The first screenings are at 11 a.m. daily, with films running continuously until about midnight Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 per film, save for the 11 a.m. Sunday screening of the 1920 German Expressionist "From Morning to Midnight," with live music from the Alloy Orchestra ($15), and the 7 p.m. Sunday closing film, Todd Solondz's "Dark Horse" ($25), which includes a post-film party across the street. Information: 410-752-8083 or mdfilmfest.com.

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