Annapolis Film Festival brings powerful slate with ‘Chevalier,’ ‘The Grotto’ and ‘Judy Blume Forever’


WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Annapolis Film Festival (Part 1)

The 11th annual Annapolis Film Festival returns to Annapolis, Maryland, this Thursday through Sunday.

Over 70 films will screen at Maryland Hall on Chase Street, as well as Annapolis Elementary School, Asbury United Methodist Church and a new 30-foot screen inside the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club.

“This year, we have two world premieres and nine films from Sundance — that’s a record for us,” co-founder Lee Anderson told WTOP. “We just want people to come out, explore a little, be bold, try some new things, we will not disappoint. We’ve worked so hard … on getting an amazing slate. We’re so proud. We’ve kind of leveled up here.”

The festival kicks off Thursday with “Chevalier,” starring Kelvin Harrison Jr.

“It takes place in Paris in the mid-1700s before the French Revolution,” co-founder Patti White said. “It’s the true story of Chevalier Joseph Bologne, the son of Caribbean-Guadeloupean slave and her plantation owner. The father drops the kid off at a boarding school for gifted musicians in Paris and leaves him there and he grows up an incredible violinist challenging Mozart.”

Friday brings the Sundance hit “Little Richard: I Am Everything” directed by Lisa Cortes.

“He was part of that ‘Chitlin’ Circuit,’ they called it, that came through towns like Annapolis and all up and down our area in the Mid-Atlantic,” White said. “It really takes you back to the beginning of rock ‘n roll, the founding of it, the really interesting gender issues he had, his storytelling, where he came from and how he made it onto the scene.”

Friday also brings “Somewhere in Queens,” directed by Ray Romano and starring across Laurie Metcalf. “It’s a great story of an Italian family and just the power of one family and the effect that it has on all of its family members and a father who is overly interested in his son’s basketball career,” White said, to which Anderson added, “Mostly because he doesn’t want him to be a third-generation construction company employee in the family business.”

The Friday spotlight film is Joanna Gleeson’s “The Grotto.”

“It’s a wonderful film that stars Betsy Brandt, who you may recognize from ‘Breaking Bad,’ and it’s just a perfect little indie, it’s so nicely done, an unusual story with poignancy and humor all wrapped into one,” Anderson said. White added, “A woman finds herself, her fiancee has passed away, and she’s coming to terms with that and finds out some secrets, so this is her journey through that.”

Friday also includes “Judy Blume Forever,” which White calls “a really cool documentary,” adding, “Many young girls and boys who read her books know how she took you through growing up, sexuality, all of those things that were never discussed, it’s all discussed in this film. It’s all in there and she gives her reasons. We find out more about Judy Blume and how she became the author she became and why she was writing about all of these things.”

The reading theme continues Saturday with the documentary “Butterfly in the Sky.”

“We all know LeVar Burton, some know him from ‘Star Trek,’ but many know him from ‘Reading Rainbow,'” Anderson said. “This film is a nostalgic walk down memory lane of ‘Reading Rainbow’ and its impact on generations of young kids.”

Saturday also brings “What’s Love Got to Do With It” starring Emma Thompson and Lily James. “Lily James plays the next-door neighbor to a doctor, whose parents are arranging a marriage. It’s a very charming film,” White said.

Don’t miss Saturday’s sailing showcase featuring “MELGES: The Wizard of Zenda.” “This film is about America’s Cup, the races that went on, the old footage is phenomenal and I think sailors are going to love this,” White said.

Sunday features “Farewell, Mr. Haffmann.” “It’s set in World War II in Paris, France where a jewelry-store owner realizes he’s Jewish and has to get out of dodge,” White said. “He lets the guy who’s working for him take over the shop and his family moves in, but what happens is Mr. Haffmann can’t escape, so he has to be hidden.”

Sunday also brings “A Thousand and One,” the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. “It’s so compelling, it’s the story of a mother who basically kidnaps her child out of foster care,” Anderson said. White added, “It’s their journey and I think it tells you in the right kind of way the things we need to know about this.”

The closing film is “Two Tickets to Greece” starring Kristin Scott Thomas. “Two old schoolmates who have lost touch after they were 10 years old find each other again after one of them has had a very bad divorce,” Anderson said. “They go to Greece together, the problem is they’re not the same people they were when they were kids.”

No matter which screening you pick, the festival makes for a fun weekend in a historic bay town.

“This festival is the true jewel of the Chesapeake,” White said. “It’s really a gem.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Annapolis Film Festival (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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