Q & A with Jed Dietz

One who usually stays behind the scenes, former FOX Network movie producer Jed Dietz is Maryland’s film front man. Twenty years ago, he founded the Producers Club of Maryland. Its crew-friendly online hub aims to help entertainment industry players decide to base their productions in Baltimore. And under the non-profi Producers Club umbrella, Dietz directs the Maryland Film Festival (MFF) which screened more than 120 films last year during its weekend-long run. Surrounded in his office by stacks of movie posters and a flurry of show programs, Dietz tells Where why Baltimore steals the show.

What is it about Baltimore that attracts filmmakers? Here, within a very small range of geographic space, you get completely different urban looks and country looks, and that’s hugely important. We’ve seen films come through here playing Baltimore as Spain and Texas, New York, D.C. and even Paris.

Give us some examples of two films showing different sides of Baltimore. Almost all of Washington Square was filmed here, even the parts set in Paris in the 19th century. And Syriana takes place all over the world, but spaces here turned into Texas offices and homes stood in for some in Spain.

What are the prime filming spots in the city? The best kept secrets? Well, the favorite ones aren’t secrets anymore. Mount Vernon looks European, as does the western side where the B&O Railroad Museum is located. It’s amazing how much of the city is still left to explore visually. Even with all of the film and TV that’s been shot here, the city is hardly tapped.

Do you think the Diner recognition has been overplayed? It changed the entertainment industry and had a huge impact in a modest way. And that’s very “Baltimore.” Levinson didn’t say, “I’m going to change the entertainment industry.” But Diner did. And every cast member has gone on to play a major role in the industry. [Levinson proved that a low-budget, semi-improvised film made outside of Hollywood could turn a profit.]

What’s unique about the MFF? You mean other than some filmmakers joining John Waters for soul night at the Lithuanian Hall? We don’t have competition at the festival. It’s not a market festival like Sundance or Cannes, but it helps filmmakers understand their power and all the ways to take a film to market and build careers. We devote the opening night programs to short films, a glimpse of the movie-making world that most audiences rarely get to see.

Why do the year-round MFF screening events have such a following? During the festival events, people who might be intimidated by other art forms—products of the avant-garde world—aren’t at all intimidated by film. It doesn’t mean they’re going to like the movie, but they’re very comfortable watching it.

Describe the Baltimore film community. It’s a very unpretentious group. The greatest film festivals reflect the personality of their community, and Baltimore has a friendly personality that film people really love.

Is that unique to Baltimore? Pretty much. I think that some cities are trying to figure out the trends in the film world, but that’s not what’s happening here. People go to undiscovered movies to see what they’re like, meet the filmmakers, hear them out and enjoy the experience. And audiences aren’t there because it’s cool to go but because there’s something to learn.

For more information about the MFF: www.md-filmfest.com