County students' cinematic efforts screened at festival


Watch out Sundance, members of the next generation of filmmakers are crafting cinematic masterpieces right here in Howard County.

About 20 students representing nine of the system's 12 high schools submitted films this year to the HOCO (for Howard County) film festival, a competition run by and for teenagers.

The final four movies were shown Wednesday night to more than 100 people in Smith Theatre at Howard Community College.

The films, which could not exceed 10 minutes and had to be appropriate for family viewing, ranged from animation to mystery.

"This gives young filmmakers an opportunity to have their work evaluated and screened," said Mary Jane Sasser, Gifted and Talented Program teacher at River Hill High School and adviser to the film festival. "[HOCO] also develops an audience of independent film watchers."

Although Sasser was there to help, students directed this event, soliciting sponsors and recruiting judges and participants.

"It's so exciting because these kids are creating an opportunity for other kids in film, which is the language that this generation is most fluent in," Sasser said. "It's an area in education that we do not get too much of. It's a wonderful opportunity for their peers."

Prizes included an iPod Nano for first place; a $100 gift certificate from Penn Camera in Laurel for second; a $75 gift certificate to Best Buy for third; and a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy for fourth.

First place went to Ben Winter, a senior at Mount Hebron High School, who directed the action-adventure Broken Minds. The movie is about a man who uses time travel to prevent the murder of his girlfriend.

Patrick Muhlberger, a senior at Centennial High School placed second; Liza Gipsov, a junior at River Hill High School was third, and Alex Fatemi, a senior at River Hill was fourth.

Caitlin Merritt, 17, a senior at River Hill High School and chairwoman of the film festival, said participants worked hard, which added to the quality of the films.

"No one turned in something that they threw together the night before," Merritt said.

She said she was most impressed with the animated movies.

"With animation, the voices are keen to the film," Merritt said.

Merritt said she hopes future festivals will draw participants from other counties while attracting more students from Howard County.

"Hopefully, this will give filmmakers the opportunity to show off what they have been working on with people of similar interest," Merritt said.

Patrick Wilson, 18, a senior at River Hill and executive coordinator of the festival, made a two-minute trailer that promoted the festival this year. The trailer was distributed and shown in the 12 county high schools.

"I've always been interested in film," Wilson said. "I jumped on board and did everything I could."

Wilson said he was apprehensive about what to expect from the participants. But after watching the films, he was impressed by the quality.

"You would never expect this level of films from high school students," said Wilson, who is writing a screenplay. "For being under 10 minutes, it is really spectacular. These kids definitely have a future."

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