As its name implies, this weekend’s New/Next Film Festival at the Charles Theatre has its sights set on the future.

“A lot of film festivals really prioritize red carpets and celebrities. They want George Clooney there or whatever,” said the Baltimore event’s director of programming, Eric Allen Hatch. “There will be celebrities at New/Next — we just won’t know who they were for about five years.”

With audiences across the country showing up for big-budget theater titles like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” New/Next offers local movie fans a chance to spot the next wave of directors before they ascend to Hollywood’s A-list. The three-day event, co-founded by Hatch and Sam Sessa, another veteran of the local arts scene, serves another purpose as well: filling the void left by this year’s cancellation of the Maryland Film Festival.

Presented by WYPR, New/Next’s slate includes 23 full-length films and roughly 40 shorts. Many entries boast local ties, a point of emphasis for Hatch, the festival’s programmer.

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“It’s a very DIY kind of city, and the things that are exciting are more from the streets up rather than from money down. I want to deliver something that feels akin to the Baltimore music scene or the Baltimore visual arts scene, where you’re hearing about things before everyone is catching up to it,” said Hatch, who served as the Maryland Film Festival’s programmer from 2007 to 2018.

Notable titles with local connections include “Harka,” the Tunisia-set drama from Lotfy Nathan, director of the Baltimore documentary “12 O’Clock Boys,” and “De Lo Mio,” the debut feature by Johns Hopkins alumna Diana Peralta filmed in the Dominican Republic by a crew mostly from Baltimore.

The festival’s opening night includes a screening of “Hummingbirds,” followed by a Q&A with the documentary’s makers. Friday wraps up with a dance party headlined by Baltimore club veterans Dapper Dan Midas and TT the Artist at the Metro Gallery.

Set to close out the festival on Sunday night is “Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes,” a documentary on the late jazz virtuoso by Ben Shapiro and Sam Pollard. After retiring as a professor at New York University, Pollard, an Oscar-nominated documentarian, moved to Baltimore last year from New York with his wife for a cheaper cost of living while being closer to family.

“The Drum Also Waltzes” has long been a work in progress, as footage in the film dates back to the late ‘70s. Shapiro pushed the East Harlem, New York, native, who hated early cuts of the film for decades, to finally finish the project in recent years. The two jazz fans completed it together, a step Pollard was only ready to take following years of filmmaking experience.

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Max Roach in “Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes,” a documentary on the late jazz virtuoso. (Courtesy of The Film Collaborative)

“I think it was just fear of failure,” said Pollard, 73, of what caused the delay, “which I’ve long gotten over since I’ve made a lot of films since then.”

New/Next will highlight another work from Pollard’s resume: a Saturday afternoon screening of Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled,” one of a number of Lee’s films that Pollard edited. Afterward, Pollard will join the Criterion Collection’s curatorial director, Ashley Clark, to discuss the legacy of the film, which polarized critics upon its 2000 release but has since grown in stature among cinephiles.

“I thought, man, what the hell is he doing? This is a challenging piece of work,” Pollard recalled thinking at the time.

The late-stage appreciation for the confrontational satire still surprises Pollard, who chuckled as he described “Bamboozled” as a “flop.”

“Spike is tackling the whole notion of stereotypes and blackface and representation, and it’s like whoa, people have finally got it,” he said. “And this generation today really seems to get the film.”

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While Pollard has taken “The Drum Also Waltzes” to major festivals around the country, he said up-and-coming events like New/Next remain important meeting grounds for filmmakers.

“It’s an opportunity for young filmmakers to meet the old dogs like me to maybe get some wisdom,” he said.

Oscar-nominated documentarian Sam Pollard moved to Baltimore last year. (Henry Adebonojo)

One title Pollard said he plans to see is Sunday’s “The Body Politic,” a documentary on Mayor Brandon Scott by Baltimore native Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough. Based on over 700 hours of footage filmed over three years, the movie focuses on Scott’s anti-violence efforts in his first year in office.

Goodenough hopes the film “helps further discussions around healing in our city and cities facing similar challenges,” the Remington resident wrote via email as he traveled back from international screenings of the documentary.

While regional film festivals have a reputation for nonfiction exposés and heady experimentations intended to challenge viewers, Hatch offered a more accessible entry point for those simply looking to be entertained: “Peak Season,” a Jackson Hole-set rom-com from filmmakers Henry Loevner and Steven Kanterthat that will have its first screening in Maryland on Saturday night. The title’s South by Southwest buzz and early positive reviews are well-deserved, according to Hatch.

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“In a lineup that is heavy on documentaries and international films and esoteric corners of film culture, this is just an impeccably made romantic funny movie that is really emotionally affecting,” he said.

The New/Next Film Festival will be hosted at the Charles Theatre, the oldest movie theater in Baltimore. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Ticket sales ahead of the festival have been better than expected, with some screenings poised to sell out, said Sessa, director of events and community partnerships at WYPR and WTMD. He added that New/Next — which includes support from the Maryland State Arts Council, the Abell Foundation,, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Maryland Film Office — will also donate tickets to underserved communities in the city “to reduce barriers to entry.”

While the response has been encouraging, it’s unclear whether New/Next is a one-off event or the start of an annual gathering. Hatch said he’d be happy for both New/Next and the Maryland Film Festival to co-exist but cautioned that the former was pitched to sponsors solely as a stopgap ahead of the latter’s planned return in 2024.

“There isn’t a written or spoken commitment from the money people here to say, ‘This festival absolutely has a Year 2,’ ” he said. “That said, I love doing this and there’s no place I’d rather do it than in Baltimore.”

Regardless of New/Next’s future beyond this weekend, Hatch said he remains passionate about identifying rising talent behind the lens. The Beyond Video co-owner pointed to Hollywood darlings like Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Ari Aster (“Midsommar”) and Greta Gerwig (“Barbie”), who all had early works featured at the Maryland Film Festival before becoming household names. He’s confident more talent is just waiting to be found on the Charles’ historic screens.

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“It’s a burst of youthful energy,” Hatch said. “I think the impact of some of the work that we’re showing will be huge over time and that we’ll be seeing the beginning of some really significant careers.”

Wesley Case is a Baltimore-based writer covering arts and entertainment.