Leave it to John Waters to pitch his latest Maryland Film Festival selection in a way only Baltimore’s eccentric native son can: “I’m looking forward to a Friday night with ‘Butt Boy!’”

And with that quintessential declaration from the Pope of Trash, the state’s celebration of film, its culture and emerging talent is officially back, returning to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre this weekend following a yearlong hiatus.

Now in its 25th year, the event kicked off Thursday with the regional premiere of the Luther Vandross biography, “Luther: Never Too Much,” and will run through Sunday. Waters’ pick, “Butt Boy,” an absurd, gastrointestinal-focused 2019 crime thriller, screens Friday night.

It’s undoubtedly a “peculiar” movie, but it’s also well done, the director, author and actor said. He described it as “a heterosexual movie about a man and his asshole, basically.”

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“I don’t want to give away too much of it by telling the plot,” Waters said. “But it is pretty astounding.”

The festival’s return brings needed foot traffic and enthusiasm to the Parkway, the historic Station North venue that was renovated and reopened in 2017 and then temporarily closed due to declining attendance amid the pandemic.

At the helm of the festival is Program Director KJ Mohr, who was hired in September. Mohr, an adjunct faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art, previously helped program other film festivals, including the MdFF, in years past. Her main goal, she said, is to create an event informed by a range of collaborators that reflects Station North, the city and Maryland at large.

“I want folks from Baltimore who have never been to the Maryland Film Festival before to want to come and to see themselves in the images that they see on screen,” said Mohr, a Wisconsin native who moved to the city to work at Creative Alliance in 2011.

The festival offers plenty of examples with local ties, but it doesn’t get more Baltimore than Friday’s world premiere of “More Than Hype,” a documentary on the history and influence of Baltimore club music. Directed by Larry “Whaddup” Caudle, it’s a love letter to the city’s strain of deliriously giddy dance music and the scene’s beloved champion, the late DJ K-Swift.

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“Even just watching the trailer, your legs are moving,” Mohr said. “You just want to dance.”

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Other festival highlights include Sunday’s “Look Back at It,” a movie made in Baltimore with a cast and crew largely from the city (including star Angel Laketa Moore and director Felicia Pride), and “Ain’t No Back to a Merry-Go Round,” a documentary on the 1960 Glen Echo Amusement Park protests, likely America’s first organized interracial civil rights demonstration — and an inspiration for a scene in Waters’ 1988 film “Hairspray.”

While Mohr described Baltimore as “a cinephile city,” she conceded that part of programming a film festival is “accepting the fact that not everybody loves movies.”

The festival’s offerings go beyond traditional screenings, including an area called CineTech, a multifloor exploration of how augmented reality and emerging technologies could affect the future of storytelling. There are also free, family-friendly events in the mornings, too.

And naturally, “More Than Hype” will be followed by a dance party, “One Night at the Dox,” at The Garage, featuring an eye-watering lineup of club legends Rye Rye, DJ Class, Rod Lee and more.

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Mohr said sales for the festival have looked “really good,” which is likely welcome news to any local film lovers concerned that the event could take another year off — or worse. That’s not the case, according to Mohr, who said organizers are already thinking ahead to next year’s edition.

“We’re planning to be going strong,” she said. “No plans for gaps. I think that was a one-time thing.”

Waters, however, warned that “all theaters are struggling these days” and that the types of movie fanatics who clamor for independent and esoteric films at theaters like the Parkway too often don’t show up.

“You have to put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “Even if you don’t go to the movie, drive by and buy a ticket on the way home from work. That’s my advice.”

Wesley Case writes The Scan, The Baltimore Banner’s weekday morning newsletter.

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