Made in Baltimore spotlights local filmmakers

By CHAEBIN JEON | October 11, 2018

This past Saturday, Oct. 6, I drove down to Canton to attend Creative Alliance’s Made in Baltimore Short Film Festival. The evening featured a showing of short films made in the Greater Baltimore Area that were selected for the event.

I walked down the blocks toward the venue. A large “Patterson” sign hung from the roof of the building, brightly lit and enticing.

As I entered the theater, about 200 people were already seated. The lights were on and the screen was blank, with organizers standing in front of the screen kicking off the night by introducing the list of short films and directors. The lights dimmed and the show began.

HOMEWORK: Episode 1, directed by Darree Hyun, was the first film shown. It provided an interesting take on the modern education system. The refrain, “All prisoners, report to your case managers,” repeats throughout the film. In the film, a young black student named Walker receives a poor grade on her test and finds that her test was graded incorrectly. However, her teacher is rigid and callous, and she refuses to consider Walker’s request to regrade her test. The teacher also rejects her request for a letter of recommendation for an internship, stopping her from getting experience for a future career in news writing. This shows how the current education system can prevent students from getting opportunities, even if they show initiative.

The Prologue, directed by Maxwell Towson, was an ironic take on rom-coms. A boy and a girl are dating and then they break up, a classic start. The narrator comments in a self-aware manner on the exes, often breaking the fourth wall. When the boy walks into the same cafe that the girl is working in, things change. The film was funny, smart and took a refreshing take on typical rom-com formulas.

Baltimore Ceasefire, directed by Amy Oden, is a documentary about the Baltimore Ceasefire movement. Baltimore Ceasefire started over a year ago, urging the community to abstain from violence for a 72-hour period. Contrary to expectations, the documentary did not focus on details about the actions or effects of the Baltimore Ceasefire, but on one of the co-founders, Erricka Bridgeford. She discussed the “smudging” rituals in which members bless an area, usually with burning sage, in commemoration of a victim of violence. “We tell them, ‘Don’t use murder to spread violence; use murder to vibrate higher,’” she says.

Blue Light: Haunt My Dreams, directed by Miceal O’Donnell, is an avant-garde short film that experiments with time. It is about a housewife in the 1950s who’s unsure of her sanity and wonders if she is experiencing something a bit more sci-fi oriented. The film begins with a woman stuck in a theater, surrounded by a handful of people frozen in place. The woman is terrified. The film then switches focus to a mother, Mildred Sullivan, and her daughter, Peggy Sullivan, preparing their house for a surprise party for a relative. Suddenly, chaos ensues as different versions of past Mildreds appear throughout the house. This film was particularly unsettling and made use of abrupt cuts and changes to the pacing to achieve a disorienting, disturbing effect. 

Nour, directed by Danielle Naassana, is about a female Muslim high school student named Nour who wears a hijab to school. Nour experiences teasing from other students about her faith and navigates this discrimination. I found Nour to be a sympathetic portrayal of the struggles that many Muslim girls have to undergo in America. The film was effective at making the audience empathize with not just Nour but one of the boys in her class who she forms a connection with.

Indie, directed by Angel Kristi Williams, is a music video for the song “INDIE.” by the rapper Greenspan, featuring Christen B singing on the bridge and chorus. It is one of two music videos that were shown at the festival. In the video, Williams attempts to change the way black people are represented in media by combining shots of Baltimore residents at night with shots of a photoshoot featuring black models. Greenspan discusses individuality, pride and unity in his lyrics. 

Dear Country, directed by Jena Richardson, is an all-female produced and cast short piece showcasing multicultural and multi-ethnic experiences in America. Four young women discuss their cultural heritage and their hopes for unity and female empowerment in the context of the U.S. post-2016.

Milo’s Misfits, directed by Will Bryson, is a humorous short film about a straight-laced and unemployed man, Milo Danger, who measures the height of water in his cup and unsuccessfully looks for work. The film is filled with wacky muppet characters such as an octopus chef, Octavia Baits and Upton Downs, the “third best door-to-door door salesman.” Milo Danger runs into these characters throughout the film, and they work together to solve Milo’s problem.

Operation First Light, directed by Irving Nestor, is about a group of boys at a summer camp who, armed with water guns and led by the camp counselor, raid the girls’ cabins. However, the situation is reversed when they fall into an ambush.

The Elephant’s Song, directed by Lynn Tomlinson, is a music video animated frame by frame with clay-on-glass animation. The visuals, swirling like a moving painting, tell the story of Old Bet, the first circus elephant in America, from the perspective of her friend, an old farm dog. During each chorus, depictions of the ivory trade and the capture and mistreatment of elephants connect the story to larger ecological and environmental issues.

The short films played at Made in Baltimore provided interesting takes at a wide array of subjects: modern education systems, urban violence in Baltimore City, commentary on rom-coms, wacky web series and much more. After attending the event, I left happy, having sampled the many creative voices in film right now in the greater Baltimore area.

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