At the Howard County Film Festival, students show their work with digital cinematic technology

Microchips, camera - action

April 13, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Laura Patzer, 17, a junior at Mariotts Ridge High School, couldn't get poor Pluto out of her head after the cold blue rock was demoted from planet to dwarf planet. So she decided to make a movie imagining the scene at the "council of planets" when Pluto was kicked out.

Her film, called Planets, is one of 18 that will be shown tonight at the third Howard County Film Festival at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

"It's a comedy, like a parody of popular film, where Pluto is being kicked off the council of the planets," Patzer said.

Patzer doesn't know if her project will win a prize, but even if it doesn't she enjoyed dressing her friends - and her mother - as planets, and giving them silly props and even sillier lines to deliver. And because she hopes one day to make a career in film, the experience is valuable, she said.

With digital cameras and inexpensive computer programs, filmmaking is not the expensive and daunting activity it once was. In fact, Matt Boratenski, education coordinator at the American Film Institute and one of the festival's judges, says that students these days can be just as fluent with film as they are with computers.

"Who says every research project has to end with a paper?" he said.

Though Howard County high schools do offer some classes in filmmaking, until recently students had no place to show their work or see how their cinematic vision compared with other student efforts.

That changed in 2005 when two River Hill seniors, Yuri Stone and Rebecca Zia, both now in college, started the Howard County Film Festival as a class project with their Gifted and Talented Program teacher, Mary Jane Sasser.

"They did a lot of research on film festivals and the lack of opportunities for young people in Howard County to show their work," said Sasser, who oversees the student-run event. "So they started this."

The first year, about 10 films were submitted, Sasser said. This year, there are 18, including, for the first time, one from a private school. The festival is now run by a committee of students from all over the county.

Liza Gipsov, 17, a River Hill senior, took third place with the film she submitted last year, but she is sitting out the competition this year to work as one of the festival's organizers.

"I think in the county, there's a capacity for filmmaking," she said. "Kids, we have easy access to so much technology."

The films are created by Howard County high school students, and must be no longer than 10 minutes and 30 seconds, including credits. Other than that, the only considerations are the bounds of decency. "We tell the kids that we're really interested in family-viewing topics," Sasser said.

The films are first judged by a panel of six high school teachers. After the first cut, a second panel weighs in.

This panel includes Boratenski; Dave and Ilana Bittner of the locally owned Pixel Workshops; Steven Halloway, a local filmmaker; Reid Sasser, a local actor; and Tom Payne, the school system's coordinator for Advanced Programs and Fine Arts.

Boratenski said the panel met at River Hill about three weeks ago to watch and judge the films. He described the submissions as "high-quality, interesting stuff" and said "one or two of them were just very professional-looking."

The top five films will be announced tonight. First prize is an iPod - with video, of course.

At the festival, snippets of all the films will be shown at the beginning of the event in a montage, then the top five will be shown in their entirety, Sasser said.

"The level of craftsmanship is really wonderful," she said. "They're really creative and just so diverse."

Some students received guidance from teachers or used school equipment, while others, such as Ryan Featherman, 17, a junior at Glenelg Country School, used their own equipment.

Featherman is the first student from a private school to be in the festival, which is advertised with fliers and e-mails in the public schools.

"I've been interested in film-making for a while, so a couple of months ago I just searched Maryland film festivals on Google and it popped up. It was kind of by chance," he said.

His film, called Crazy, is about a girl who kills her best friend after learning that her boyfriend was cheating with the friend. Featherman, who says David Lynch is one of his favorite directors, used friends as actors and kept the props and costumes simple. Still, the production took three "very intense" weeks, he said.

Like Patzer, Featherman hopes for a career in film. "It's something I'm looking at colleges right now for," he said. He said he's nervous about tonight's festival, but also looking forward to seeing the work of fellow students.

"It's not just a contest," he said. "I wanted to see what other kids are doing. It's just something I'd like to be included in and I'll definitely do it next year."

Student movie showcase

What --Howard County Film Festival

When --Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where --Smith Theatre, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia.

Admission --Free, open to the public

Program --After the top films are shown, there will be comments by the directors, and a question-and-answer session with the audience. For more information, see the Web site at www.hocofilm

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