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About Matthew

Baltimore City

Born and raised in Baltimore, I've written and directed four feature films here. These films present big themes and iconic, universal characters – a single mother (HAMILTON, 2006), a community in mourning (PUTTY HILL, 2011), a runaway and a family in the midst of divorce (I USED TO BE DARKER, 2013), a drug dealer and his steelworker father (SOLLERS POINT, 2017). Despite the potential breadth of these stories, I work on a scale that is small enough to focus on the regionally specific, quotidian aspects... more

Matthew Porterfield's portfolio

Coney Island

A silent, color Super 8mm sketch of a trip to Coney Island mid-summer, edited in-camera. Part of a collection of short films included in the Baltimore Museum of Art's 2010 Janet & Walter Sondheim Finalists' exhibition.

For this film, I travelled with a friend on the Q train to New York City's most-historic beach. Inspired by the personal diary films of Jonas Mekas, it was crafted chronologically and edited in the moment through careful shot selection and improvised montage.

  • Coney Island Super 8mm

    A color Super 8mm sketch of a trip to Coney Island mid-summer, edited in-camera.
  • Ferris Wheel

    View from the Q train, entering the Stillwell Ave. station.
  • Sea

    The Atlantic.
  • Crowds

    The beach.
  • Amy

    Amy on the ferris wheel.
  • Jam

    Mid-summer crowds.
  • Swim

    In the water.
  • Sun

    Amy on the beach.
  • Complex

    On the Q train.
  • Pier

    Amy on the pier.

Dope Body video

A music video commissioned by Baltimore's most brutal band, Dope Body, for the song "Enemy Outta Me" off the album "Nupping". Shot on Super 8 and 16mm at the Current Gallery basement, the video's visceral, lo-fi style was an attempt to capture the energy and raw power of the band's live sound.

"Matthew Porterfield's seismic collage for Dope Body's 'Enemy Outta Me' reminded us that there still exist some underground sounds that scream for grainy film images rather than smooth and flat DV polish."

-- Baltimore City Paper

  • "Enemy Outta Me"

    Music video for "Enemy Outta Me", by Dope Body. Shot on Super 8mm and 16mm B&W film.
  • Guitar

    Zachary Utz, guitar.
  • Zach

    Zachary Utz, guitar.
  • Andrew

    Andrew Laumann, vocals.
  • Pedals

    Zachary Utz, guitar.
  • Group

    The whole band, killing it.
  • Andrew

    Andrew Laumann, vocals.
  • Dave

    Dave Jacober, drums.
  • FX

    Zachary Utz, guitar.
  • Zach

    Zachary Utz, guitar.


Developed as a thesis project at NYU, SAVE THE PLANET, imagined a utopian group home in Bushwick, NY. Collaborating with homeless youth I met while living in Manhattan's Covenant House and inspired by the terrain of his Brooklyn neighborhood, I wrote a short screenplay about a diverse, makeshift family undergoing a change as they prepare for the departure of their surrogate father.

  • Storyboard

    A storyboard for SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Storyboard

    A storyboard for SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Dad

    Gordon Porterfield in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Self-portrait

    Matt Porterfield in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Beth

    S. 4th btw Hooper and Hughes.
  • Tall Tales

    Gordon Porterfield in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Jonas

    Jonas Jonnasson in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Mirror

    Toussaint Lockett in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Eagle

    Gordon Porterfield, in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).
  • Toussaint

    Toussaint Lockett in SAVE THE PLANET (1998).


Released theatrically in 2006, HAMILTON chronicles two summer days in the life of a young family: Lena, 17, and Joe, 20, two recent, accidental, unwed parents residing in a diverse suburban neighborhood in northeast Baltimore City.

Made for $50,000, the film was written, directed, and edited over the course of 6 years. It was shot and exhibited on 16mm, made with young actors (including students from the Baltimore School for the Arts, Patapsco, Patterson, and Chesapeake), and produced entirely on-location in northeast Baltimore. Called "one of the finest American independent films ever made" by New Yorker film editor Richard Brody, it continues to tour festivals, museums, and art-house theatres around the world and was included in John Water's 2006 Top Ten in Artforum International. MoMA and the Harvard Film Archive acquired it for their permanent collections in 2013.

  • Hamilton // Trailer

    HAMILTON (2006). Shot and printed on 16mm. Music by Animal Collective, used by permission.
  • Lena

    Stephanie Vizzi as 16 year-old "Lena".
  • Joe

    Chistopher Myers as 19 year-old "Joe".
  • Ellis

    Actor Ellis Kant, on location.
  • Camera

    The crew, poolside.
  • Jasmine

    Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips as "Kelly".
  • On Location

    Scott Martin (sound recordist) and Matt Porterfield shooting HAMILTON.
  • Sarah

    Sarah Seipp-Williams as "Candace".
  • DeWayne

    The Kant brothers in Harford Park.
  • Linda

    Gina Mooers as "Linda".


This video, a component of my installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art for the 2011 Janet & Walter Sondheim Award exhibition, is a study of the photographic image as a unit of montage. It is made up of cell phone pictures alternating at 24 frames-per-second. The rapidity of the edit exploits the phenomenon of persistence of vision, creating the impression of overlap and suggesting associations, relationships, between the images: graphic, emotional, rhythmic, and thematic.


A young man dies of a heroin overdose in an abandoned house in Baltimore. On the eve of his funeral, family and friends gather to commemorate his life. Their shared memories paint a portrait of a community hanging in the balance, skewed by poverty, city living, and a generational divide, united in their pursuit of a new American Dream.

My second feature film, PUTTY HILL was born not from a script but from a 5-page scenario combining traditions of documentary and narrative realism. According to the Maryland Film Festival program notes, "the film's central thread comes from a group of friends and family preparing for the wake of Cory, a Baltimore man whose life was taken by a heroin overdose. As characters reconnect and mourn, many are interviewed by an off-screen voice about who they are and how they live, bringing the narrative into points of intersection with documentary and experimental film. Skate parks, living-room tattoo parlors, paint-gun melees, and karaoke bars provide the visually stunning backdrop for a chorus of scarred but dignified voices calling out for better lives. As with HAMILTON, neighborhood is another integral thread, weaving us through uniquely Baltimorean rural spaces on the edges of our urban experience."

Shot for $18K, PUTTY HILL premiered at the 2010 International Forum of New Cinema in Berlin and has toured festivals all over the world. It won "Best Picture" at the Santiago International Film Festival in Chile, the Festival International du Film de La Roche-sur-Yon, the Festivala Autorskog Filma in Belgrade, and the Atlanta Film Festival. It was recently nominated for a Cinema Eye Honors Award for Nonfiction Filmmaking by The Museum of the Moving Image and Filmmaker Magazine.

In February of 2011 Cinema Guild released PUTTY HILL commercially in the United States, followed by a DVD release in the fall. The film has also found distribution in France, Germany, Australia and the UK. It was included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial and was acquired by MoMA for their permanent collection in 2013.


When Taryn, a Northern Irish runaway, finds herself in trouble in Ocean City, MD, she seeks refuge with American relatives in Baltimore. But Aunt Kim and her husband, Bill, have problems of their own: they're trying to handle the end of their marriage gracefully for the sake of their daughter Abby, just home from her first year of college. What follows is a lo-fi musical about family revelations, people finding each other and letting each other go, looking for love where they've found it before and, when that doesn't work, figuring out where they might find it next.

Co-written by Amy Belk, the film stars Kim Taylor, Ned Oldham, Deragh Campbell, Hannah Gross, Geoff Grace, Nick Petr, and Jack Carneal, and features original music by Dustin Wong, The Entrance Band, and Dope Body. It was shot in Baltimore and Ocean City in the summer of 2011 and premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

In 2014, I USED TO BE DARKER saw distribution in the US (Strand Releasing), France (ED Distribution), Germany (Arsenal) and Austria (Stadkino) and toured extensively in Latin America via Circuito de Cine Independiente. It is currently available on VOD through Netflix.


A character study as well as a meditation on communication, creativity, and physical space, TAKE WHAT YOU CAN CARRY is a picture of a young woman seen through the interiors she occupies and the company she keeps. A North American living abroad, Lilly (Hannah Gross, I USED TO BE DARKER) aspires to shape an intimate and private place of her own while remaining connected to the world around her. When she receives a letter from home, it provides the conduit she needs to fuse her transient self with the person she’s always known herself to be.

My first film made away from home, TAKE WHAT YOU CAN CARRY is my most personal and formally playful work yet. Inspired by George Perec’s text Species of Spaces, it imagines a character in transition, living in a foreign city for an indeterminate amount of time, trying to balance the various and distinct public and private manifestations of her personality.

Named after the first movie I ever saw (Charles Waters’ LILI) and the muse in Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue, Lilly is that rare multidimensional screen character: gripping yet mercurial, grounded by the performance of the actor who plays her. The other central character in the film, Lilly’s grandmother, is never seen. She is only heard through the letter Lilly receives from her and reads aloud, an actual letter written by my grandmother to me.

For the supporting roles, I was extremely lucky to cast a number of actors I’ve admired from afar, including Angela Shanelec, Jean-Christophe Folly, and members of the Berlin-based theatre company Gob Squad. The excellent technical and producing team was European and the film was funded through a grant from The Wexner Center for the Arts and a fellowship from the Harvard Film Study Center. It was written and produced in three months.

Because everything came together very quickly, I found myself writing for imagined locations while actively scouting real ones, adding new scenes to include the people and places I found along the way. It was a continuing dialogue with Berlin and the friends I’ve made there, but in the end there is almost nothing of the city on screen except the sounds, as if its image existed only in the collective imagination.

“I would like there to exist places that are stable, unmoving, intangible, untouched and almost untouchable, unchanging, deep-rooted; places that might be points of reference, of departure, of origin…Such places don’t exist, and it’s because they don’t exist that space becomes a question, ceases to be self-evident, ceases to be incorporated, ceases to be appropriated. Space is a doubt: I have constantly to mark it, to designate it. It’s never mine, never given to me, I have to conquer it.”

- Georges Perec

  • Bastian

    Art Director Anna-Sofie Hartmann and actor Jean-Christophe Folly.
  • Jenny Lou

    DoP Jenny Lou Ziegel and AC Tom Akinleminu (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Britta

    Britta Thie (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Reflection

    Hannah Gross as Lilly (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Hannah

    Hannah Gross as Lilly (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Gob Squad

    Hannah Gross performing with Gob Squad (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Family

    Louis Shanelec, Milena Gheorghiu, Ada Marie Schwitte and Angela Shanelec (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Morning

    Hannah Gross as Lilly (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Berlin

    Hannah Gross as Lilly (photo: Iris Janke)
  • Lilly

    Hannah Gross as Lilly (photo: Iris Janke)

Matthew's Curated Collection

This artist has not yet created a curated collection.