Most filmmakers exploit the make-believe quality of the movies to let them reveal their innermost secrets on the big screen.
But that is not the style of student-director Christopher Mosner, who turned the camera squarely on himself and his family to unblinkingly examine the effects of his brother's cocaine addiction in his documentary "Home Movie."
This weekend, Mr. Mosner's 45-minute film won the Baltimore Film Forum's Helen Cyr Silver Reel Award for best Maryland filmmaker.
Mr. Mosner beat competing films that were shot in color, with budgets near $100,000. Mr. Mosner shot his film in black and white, spending a meager $7,000, all his own money.
And he used his own family members to tell their story of life with an addicted brother, something that is not revealed until the closing credits.
"I haven't seen anything quite so stirring and moving from a young filmmaker in a long time," said Helen Cyr, who for many years ran the audiovisual department at the Pratt Library and reviewed many of the films in this year's competition.
"We saw about 12 hours of footage, and his film just stood out. It was so moving and personal and profound -- there was something about it that really sticks to you."
The film was shot last year as an assignment for a film course Mr. Mosner had enrolled in at Towson State University. It tells the story of Timmy, his elder brother, who has been addicted to cocaine on and off for the past 20 years.
Shot in harshly shadowed tones and using the returning metaphor of a family portrait in flames, the film pulls no punches. In one scene, Mr. Mosner hurls a fistful of canceled checks at his addicted brother and demands to know how he could have asked his family to finance his drug habit. The checks were real; the brother looks away.
In darkened rooms, his relatives reveal, one by one, the devastation that living with an addict can bring. One sister had ulcers before her 25th birthday, so bad was the stress.
In his cramped Charles Village apartment, the 26-year-old filmmaker looked surprised when asked if his mother, sisters and brothers had any reluctance to talk on camera.
"Everyone had been walking around with this for such a long time that they were dying to get this off their backs and communicate their feelings to someone," he said.
He admits that it is difficult for him or any of the Mosner clan to view the film. His mother, who in the film's opening scene states frankly that her son is a drug addict, cried when she saw the film for the first time, on Mother's Day.
"It took a lot guts on his part to show this aspect of his family," said Steven Weiss, Mr. Mosner's film professor at Towson State. "Technically, I think it's a very good film for an advanced film student."
For his part, Mr. Mosner has no regrets about the film.
"I just want to tell the truth," he said. "There are many, many rTC families out there who have similar problems. By showing this film, I want to tell them they are not alone, that they can take heart and take hope."
Although he graduated last May from Towson State with a degree in psychology, Mr. Mosner now says his future is in film.
"I'm not really into Hollywood," he said. "I like to tell about things that are real. There's enough real stories on this block to keep a filmmaker occupied full-time."
This summer he spent three months traveling around the country shooting his next documentary, "Four Noble Truths."
The title comes from Buddhist philosophy, he said, and one of the truths is: "To be human is to suffer."