Baltimore’s New/Next Film Festival Offers an Eclectic Array of Screenings

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“Baltimore is a city with an immensely diverse array of artists and musicians from different backgrounds, with different perspectives,” says Sam Sessa, Director of Community Events for WYPR and WTMD and co-founder of the New/Next Film Festival with Eric Allen Hatch. “What unites them is a willingness to experiment—to push and pull and break new ground. The first question is never how much, but how far.” On the cusp of Baltimore’s newest film festival, Sessa explains that he and Hatch want to honor that spirit with New/Next, a brand-new film festival which occurs August 18 – 20 at The Charles Theater and surrounding areas.

In the last few years, arts and cultural event programming throughout the country but particularly in Baltimore has had to get creative in order to stay afloat. From hybrid in-person/online offerings to relocation to postponement, event curators have had to make due with what national and local economies are able to offer. In 2022, because of economic factors and public health concerns, Baltimore was without Artscape, Light City, the Book Festival, and the Maryland Film Festival. For art creators and appreciators alike, this reality was hard to fathom. This year fortunately marks the dawn of resurgence and revitalization in many respects. While the Book Festival, Light City, and the Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) aren’t back quite yet, new gatherings are primed not only to fill their temporary absence but to explore new parameters.

In the world of film and experimental video, Baltimore is gearing up for the commencement of New/Next Film Festival, which like MdFF in its heyday, will take place at The Charles in Station North. Spearheaded by Eric Hatch, an integral organizer in the Baltimore film scene for close to twenty-five years, and Sam Sessa, New/Next came together by virtue of a massive collective effort in the span of just a few months.


Hatch recounts that before he and Sessa got together, upon hearing the news that MdFF would not take place in 2023, “Sam [Sessa] had a conversation with mutual friend Dan Deacon lamenting the loss of another big Baltimore arts event.” When, on Dan Deacon’s suggestion, Sessa got in touch with Hatch, “things started coming together rapidly.”

Because of Hatch’s rhizomatic presence in the Baltimore film scene—among many other things, Hatch organized 16mm nights in the early days of the Red Room and co-founded Beyond Video—and Sessa’s knack for generating excitement, appeal, and also institutional support for the sake of local art, the pair were able to collate New/Next’s bill in a condensed window of time. As Sessa puts it, “the fact that Eric was able to pull together a film festival from April through August is insane… He curated all the films, wrote the entire program and has been helping me understand how a film festival works.”

In terms of the kinds of films that will begin showing on the 18th, in true Baltimore style, viewers will have an eclectic array of screenings to sift through and attend. Unlike many big name international film festivals, a tenet of New/Next is that “it is increasingly important to remember that film is an art form as well as a popular entertainment,” says Hatch. “A good film festival honors that artistic core, and brings its city an international view of independent cinema that hopefully also says something meaningful about the city in which the festival takes place.”

“New/Next is a natural fit for WYPR because we’re a public radio station, with a mission to serve our community,” says Sessa. “We’re donating large blocks of tickets to community associations and underserved communities to lower the barrier to entry. And as Eric noted, New/Next is intently focused on showing films with connections to Baltimore and Maryland.”

In part, this is why several of the films premiering at New/Next will not play again on the big screen in Baltimore, including some that were written, shot, and produced locally. One of the many exciting highlights of the festival is its collaboration with New Works—a screening series held at 2640 Space in Charles Village committed to and frequented by local experimental video and film artists.

“Too many film festivals these days are geared towards the red carpet, celebrating the already celebrated,” explains Hatch. “New/Next finds its focus in emerging voices, with the majority of our lineup being short films, or the first or second feature by their filmmaker. Baltimore connections were weighted heavily as a plus in building the lineup, and there are dozens of films that have direct Bmore ties.”

New/Next Festival will host an assortment of New Works projects from its six year history selected by its curators. Some other films cultivated within the Baltimore film scene screening at New/Next will be the world premiere of Albert Birney’s latest movie entitled 22 ROOMS and the first Baltimore screening of Meredith Moore’s experimental documentary short called Margie Soudek’s Salt and Pepper Shakers.

It has not been established whether New/Next Festival is in Baltimore to stay, considering that much of its funding came together in the wake of MdFF’s sabbatical. But for Hatch, New/Next’s longevity will not determine its value. To the contrary, New/Next Festival 2023 will be a success “if people have meaningful viewing experiences with the films they watch and great conversations about them.”

“Festivals offer that rare opportunity to see smaller things writ large,” says Hatch. “And for the many independent filmmakers traveling from elsewhere to show work, festivals have become a sort of replacement for their film’s theatrical run—a theatrical run sadly being something that’s less and less likely to happen for handcrafted films in this economy.”

Both organizers believe that bringing a variety of filmmakers to Baltimore poses an opportunity to show off our city, and set the stage for fruitful cross-pollination to occur in the future between film communities. For viewers, New/Next offers a critical balance of local and global talent exemplified with the sheer force of organizing prowess, a clear-eyed awareness of the best films being made right now, all located under one roof at The Charles theater, so that viewing, conversations, food and drink, and even a dance party can occur.

The intention behind this festival, after all, is one that foregrounds the visceral experience of a three-day whirlwind of moviegoing. Collective effervescence, a love for sharing and finding inspiration in visual media shaped in some measure by the city we call home, lies at the core of Hatch and Sessa’s goals for New/Next.


Here are the links to New/Next Festival’s schedule, tickets, and information about the Opening Night Screening & Party

Complete List of Films –

22 ROOMS (2023 Albert Birney) | EXPERIMENTAL SHORT
In your life you will enter many rooms. These are 22 of them. World premiere.

ALPHA KINGS (2023 Faye Tsakas & Enrique Pedráza-Botero) | DOC SHORT
From a rented mansion in suburban Texas, a group of young men sell a hyperbolic, alpha-male version of themselves on the internet.

ANOTHER BODY (2023 Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn) | DOC FEATURE
ANOTHER BODY follows a college student’s search for answers and justice after she discovers deepfake pornography of herself circulating online.

With this blisteringly funny, unapologetically confrontational satire, writer-director Spike Lee examined the past, present, and future of racism in American popular culture, issuing a daring provocation to creators and consumers alike. Under pressure to help revive his network’s low ratings, television writer Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) hits on an explosively offensive idea: bringing back blackface with The New Millennium Minstrel Show.

Following the film, we’re thrilled to offer a discussion between Bamboozled editor Sam Pollard and Criterion Collection’s curatorial director Ashley Clark about this important film and Pollard’s long-standing collaboration with Spike Lee.

THE BODY POLITIC (2023 Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough) | DOC FEATURE
THE BODY POLITIC follows Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott during an unprecedented election and throughout his first year in office as he puts his political future on the line in hopes of saving lives by implementing a new violence reduction policy in the city.

CARMEN (2023 Cristine Brache) | NARRATIVE SHORT
Lazara loses her cool while helping her unstable mother, Carmen, run risky errands.

CARPET COWBOYS (2023 Emily MacKenzie and Noah Collier) | DOC FEATURE
In Dalton, Georgia, the “Carpet Capital of the World,” we meet the unsung creators behind the psychedelic carpets lining casinos, offices, and hotel hallways. Chief among these textile honchos is Roderick James, a Scottish expat with a self-styled outlaw-country manner—and countless schemes to grab himself a larger share of the American dream. Brimming with stranger-than-fiction characters, Carpet Cowboys delivers rich documentary portraiture and bursts of outrageous humor in the tradition of American Movie, Hands on a Hardbody, and Winnebago Man. World Premiere.

Marielitos is a Mexican immigrant nanny struggling with the last days of her current nanny job, and trying to find a new one.

CONTENT: THE LO-FI MAN (2022 Brian Lonano + Blake Meyers) | NARRATIVE SHORT
“Filmmaker” Brian Lonano tries to talk about a beloved cult film. What happens next will shock you.

Jim and Dave, a dad and a step-dad, have trouble bonding during a 3-day weekend upstate with their son, Branson. Starring Colin Burgess, Anthony Oberbeck, Brian Fiddyment, and Clare O’Kane.

DE LO MIO (2019 Diana Peralta) | NARRATIVE FEATURE
Two “ride or die” sisters raised in NYC reunite with their estranged brother in the Dominican Republic to clean out their late father’s childhood home. The siblings laugh, brawl, and face their demons as they come to terms with letting go of their last connection to their motherland.

“DELTA AIRLINE SAFTEY VIDEO [sic]” (2023 Jordan Michael Blake) | NARRATIVE SHORT
Welcome aboard!

A balding film director loses his fiancé’s dog at a gender reveal party on the morning of an important shoot.

A tranquil day in the park is interrupted by the onset of an unnerving sensation. Two couples find their lives inexplicably intermingled. World Premiere.

Youth football player #13 lies unconscious after a brutal in-game collision. While a medical crew begins emergency procedures, the boy descends into a menacing odyssey through his own mind. As he plunges deeper into his subconscious, fantasy and reality coalesce into an operatic fever dream.

THE FOUNDRY (2023 Robert Machoian) | DOC SHORT
Life plays out, in the foundry as a metaphor, though sound and image, as a pressure machine.

Barry’s starting over.

THE GRAVITY [La Gravité] (2023 Cédric Ido) | NARRATIVE FEATURE
An unprecedented alignment of planets impacting gravity will upset the balance of a ghetto and the destiny of two duos of brothers eager to do anything for their freedom in an unceasing fight between old and new generations. Grounded by the deep relationship depicted between the brothers and capped off with an explosive finale, director Cédric Ido’s second feature is a bold entry in the sci-fi genre.

GUSSY (2022 Chris Osborn) | NARRATIVE SHORT
As children, Miles and Rocky hunted a monster they thought they saw in the woods. Twenty years later, they’re still searching.

OPENING NIGHT: HUMMINGBIRDS (2023 Silvia Del Carmen Castaños & Estefanía “Beba” Contreras
In Texas, on the Mexican border, best friends Silvia and Beba dance through long summer nights. Stuck in the immigration process in a politically divided America, home seems fragile. But their bond is not. The half-light is a space for poetry and dreams.

When his father dies, Ali has to take care of his two younger sisters in a house from which they will soon be evicted. Faced with this sudden responsibility and the injustices he is confronted with, Ali awakens to anger and revolt.

A social media influencer describes her perfect day harvesting the eyes and minds of her followers to achieve immortality. U.S. Premiere.

IN THE FLESH (2023 Daphne Gardner) | NARRATIVE SHORT
Tracey is just trying to jerk off with her bathtub faucet like normal when some old memories dredge themselves up, the pipes explode with dirty water, and she starts leaking black goo.

THE INVITE (2023 Catherine Licata) | NARRATIVE SHORT
Encouraged by a self-help audiobook, a housekeeper reaches for connection with her employer.

THE ISOLATED (2023 Jay Giampietro) | SHORT FILM
A lonely New Yorker struggles to find connection during the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown.

The speculative tale of Canadian outsider musician Lewis and the belated discovery of his 1983 album L’Amour. A love story composed in myth and song.

KING COAL (2023 Elaine McMillion Sheldon) | DOC FEATURE
A lyrical tapestry of a place and people, KING COAL meditates on the complex history and future of the coal industry, the communities it has shaped, the myths it has created. While deeply situated in Central Appalachia, the film transcends time and place, emphasizing the ways in which all are connected through an immersive mosaic of belonging, ritual, and imagination. Emerging from the long shadows of the coal mines, KING COAL untangles the pain from the beauty, and illuminates the innately human capacity for change.

Germán Alonso strives to create his first feature film, the fantastical sci-fi epic MEXMAN, in spite of struggles with his producers, an unrequited love, and tensions with a documentary crew.

LIFE BEGINS, LIFE ENDS (Rafael Palacio Illingworth) | HYBRID FEATURE
The film diary of a family, pieces of an Argentinian fiction film that wants to be completed, a tumor that dreams to be loved, two hunters looking for something to kill. The film glides between reality and fiction as the filmmaker tries to grasp the essence of his passing life.

Seventeen year-old Leigh fights to step out from her mother’s shadow.

MANDARINS (2023 Chelsie Pennello) | NARRATIVE SHORT
A black sheep attempts to eulogize her mother with a story about pigeons.

An artist and visual-effects instructor connects with her aging grandmother, Margie, through collecting, art-making, and obsessing as a way to enhance reality. Produced by Jonna McKone, executive produced by MEMORY (Rat Film; Crestone; All Light, Everywhere), and scored by Dan Deacon.

The director of the Baltimore-made films Hamilton, Putty Hill, I Used to Be Darker, and Sollers Point shares a work-in-progress transmission from Mexico.

MAX ROACH: THE DRUM ALSO WALTZES (2023 Sam Pollard and Ben Shapiro) | DOC FEATURE
MAX ROACH: THE DRUM ALSO WALTZES explores the life and music of the legendary drummer, composer, bandleader, and social activist through a remarkable series of creative peaks, struggles, and personal reinventions—from the Jim Crow era to the Civil Rights years, surveying the heady days of post-war modern jazz to hip-hop and beyond.
Beach House Presents: MORVERN CALLAR (2002 Lynne Ramsay) | NARRATIVE

We asked Beach House’s Alex and Victoria to pick a favorite film to introduce, and we’re thrilled they selected this second feature by Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, You Were Never Really Here, We Need to Talk About Kevin). From the moody chills of Scotland to the sun-bleached beaches of southern Spain, Morvern Callar immerses viewers in a vibrant sense of place as it follows Samantha Morton as a young woman who takes some liberties reinventing herself in the wake of her boyfriend’s death.

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand are Beach House, the Baltimore-based musical duo that has given us eight impeccable studio albums, including Beach House (2006), Teen Dream (2010), Depression Cherry (2015), and Once Twice Melody (2022). Beach House will not be performing at this screening; they’ve selected the film and will say a few words of introduction before we all enjoy it together.

MILISUTHANDO (2023 Milisuthandu Bongela) | DOC FEATURE
Explored through the memories of Milisuthando, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over, the story is a meditation on power, intimacy, difference, and the weight of loving and fearing your enemy in a time of decolonisation.

NAKED GARDENS (2022 Ivete Lucas and Patrick Evans) | DOC FEATURE
A visually stunning narrative documentary, NAKED GARDENS immerses audiences in the complex, unseen world of a family nudist resort in the Florida Everglades. Filmed over one season at this lush tropical campsite, the film follows the stories of individuals drawn to an unusual community, which promises both non-conformist values and, more importantly for some, a cheap place to live.

Co-headlined by Baltimore hip-hop and club icons TT the Artist and Dapper Dan Midas.

Trapped in a cycle of work and self-isolation, burnt out Kelsey’s reality starts to blur until an irregular order for pickup disrupts everything. Original music by Dan Deacon.

PEAK SEASON (2023 Henry Loevner & Steven Kanter) | NARRATIVE FEATURE
Feeling neglected during a getaway with her fiancé to the wealthy town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, New York yuppie Amy finds herself drawn to the free-spirited Loren, a local wilderness guide.

PREP (2023 Raymond Knudsen) | NARRATIVE SHORT
A bodybuilding fever dream fueled by childhood trauma, food porn and acid techno music.

PROOF OF CONCEPT (2023 Max Cohn & Ellie Sachs) | NARRATIVE SHORT
An aspiring auteur tries coaxing her dad and uncle into financing her first short film but winds up raising more questions than dollars.

PUBLIC SURFACES (2023 Gillian Waldo) | DOC SHORT
In 1964, Baltimore became the second city in the country to pass a 1% for Art law, allocating one percent of the construction budget for any public building to commissioning a new piece of art. Most of the buildings were public schools, and by 2016, the city revealed that many of the pieces had gone missing. Through landscapes of Baltimore and depictions of the sculptures, the film explores the history of the program, the failures of modernism, the neglect of the school system, and asks who public art can really serve. World Premiere.

Writer-director Sebastián Silva’s Sundance hit ROTTING IN THE SUN is a darkly funny and refreshingly audacious meta-comedy that skewers the business of filmmaking and our self-obsessed culture. While unwinding at a Mexican gay beach town, depressed director Sebastián Silva meets gregarious Instagram influencer Jordan Firstman (both playing versions of themselves), and Sebastián reluctantly agrees to collaborate on an upcoming project. But when Jordan arrives back in Mexico City, Sebastián is nowhere to be found, and Jordan embarks on a wildly unpredictable, quasi-detective journey.

SCOTTY’S VAG (2022 Chaconne Marin-Berkowicz) | NARRATIVE SHORT
The night of a sorority hazing event, Scotty, a college freshman, must make an impression on the older girl she wants as her “big.” As the night goes on, Scotty realizes how far she’s willing to go to prove herself. Power dynamics are not what they seem.

We’ll never tell.

SEEDS (2023 Pisie Hochheim & Tony Oswald) | NARRATIVE SHORT
After a visit from the ghost of her grandmother, a writer secretly fosters the growth of a mysterious pepper plant in her mother’s garden. As the seed bears fruit, she begins to question the choices the women before her made, and her own role in her family’s lineage. World Premiere.

An abandoned cat embarks on a journey to discover the most precious thing in the world.

Eden, a dancer in New York City, pays the bills with financial support from her sugar daddy. Documentary interviews with sugar babies and sex workers weave into Eden’s fictional story through her consumption and interaction with social media, contextualizing her experience within a community of voices.

An increasingly unhinged pregnant woman gives a house tour. Equal parts horror and comedy, this queer autofiction short was shot in the filmmaker’s childhood home.

Up against a deadline that could cost them their jobs, rivaling mattress store employees find common ground in latex.

Meg is trying to readjust to normalcy after surviving a traumatic kidnapping — but her grasp on reality soon starts to deteriorate when she travels with her husband to his wealthy family’s isolated compound. Starring Jennifer Kim, Marin Ireland, Kentucker Audley and Michéal Neeson.

SONG DOG (2022 Danielle Criqui) | NARRATIVE SHORT
A woman struggling to feel connection in her present reality, embarks on a solo trip to the Mojave Desert.

The Taste of Mango, Chloe Abrahams’ debut feature, is an enveloping, hypnotic, urgently personal meditation on family, memory, identity, violence, and love. At its centre are three extraordinary Sri Lankan women: the director’s mother, Rozana; her grandmother, Jean; and the director herself. Their stories, by turns difficult and jubilant, testify to the entangled and ever-changing nature of inheritance and the ways in which we both hurt and protect the ones we love.

The director of Baltimore documentaries Rat Film and All Light, Everywhere talks us through the steps of his latest project: a wooden stool.

TRANSFERENCE (2022 Dylan Trupiano) | SHORT
In the Peruvian village of Palma Real, a member of the Ese’Eja nation shares the story of falling in love and running away with his wife. As he urges for their memory to live on, he slowly slips into a haunting reverie. Made as part of Playlab Films’ Creators Lab with the consultancy of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

13-year-old Dani and their mother Anne embark on an all-day odyssey to flip a stolen laptop and make a modest score for themselves. Pressures mount as the day runs long, forcing Dani to take drastic measures that unexpectedly bring the two of them closer.

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