Back in March when this pandemic got very real and movie theaters closed and film festivals were cancelled, I wrote about Baltimore filmmaker Marnie Ellen Hertzler’s Crestone because that small, brilliant movie, about a bunch of Soundcloud rappers growing weed and making beats in Colorado during what might be the end of the world, was suddenly a lot harder to see or even read about.
Following a premiere at True/False Film Festival in early March, Crestone was set to screen at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and then that was cancelled. Normally, interest in and awareness of a movie builds by word of mouth at festivals and, for those of us not in Austin watching movies all day, via tweets or festival roundups, and there would be less of that without SXSW happening.
Then last month, local filmmaking felt this when the Maryland Film Festival, at least as we have understood it for more than 20 years, was cancelled (there will be a “virtual” festival showing a more limited slate of movies). Crestone was supposed to screen at MdFF as well and so was TT The Artist’s Dark City: Beneath The Beat which was also supposed to screen at South by Southwest and MdFF. So these two cancellations (for very good reasons, mind you, because people’s lives are more important than people’s movies) severely limited how two thrilling Baltimore movies could be seen—and hyped—nationally and locally.
Another movie that was supposed to screen at MdFF this year was Kevin Abrams’ I Got A Monster, an adaptation of the upcoming book I co-wrote with Baynard Woods, about the Gun Trace Task Force. I Got A Monster was made while we were writing the book, and Baynard and I helped form the story, do research, and conduct many of the interviews. Premiering it at MdFF would have been great. It’s a movie about Baltimore that is, first and foremost, for Baltimore. I hope you’ll be able to see it at some point.
I bring all of this up as a disclosure but also because this experience gave me a different kind of insight into the challenges filmmakers experience during COVID-19. These cancellations don’t just deprive filmmakers of a chance to show their movies to audiences, but it’s at festivals where movies end up being purchased for distribution. This is how filmmakers dogged by debt are likely able to climb out of it and also get their movie into the world beyond a couple hundred festival-goers at a time.