The 4th Annual Ocean City Film Festival: Notes from a Judge or Festival Juror
The 4th annual Ocean City Film Festival will be spooled over four days from March 5-8. It touts 40 films from Maryland. This year, about hundreds of submissions were whittled down to fill four days of selections. The majority of which are short films that are bundled together into various categories.
Eleven categories exist in total. There are Feature Films, Social Commentary Shorts, Feel Good Shorts, Short Documentaries, Dramatic Shorts, Funny Shorts, Short Horror Films, Animation Films and Youth Shorts. There’s a de facto category called Emmi Shockley, which is a special category dedicated to actress and filmmaker, Emmi Shockley. She’s a successful artist who hails from Ocean City. The eleventh category is a relatively new category called Aquatic Films.
Aquatic films is a collection of brief movies that are either on or about the water. Literally, the movie here could have been photographed atop, against or near a maritime body. What’s interesting is that this category isn’t simply a category. It’s a theme that runs through all the other categories. It makes sense, given the area where the festival takes place. It’s also been a theme in previous years, but it’s certainly more pronounced this year or the theme has coalesced more for 2020.
Yet, it isn’t just about setting or geography. The theme is also about environmentalism and marine conservation. If you’re concerned about pollution and climate change, the OCFF 2020 line-up is the place for you. Even if those things aren’t concerns, then this year will provide not only entertainment but education and enlightenment. With the recent, WBOC stories about coastal communities like Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach banning certain plastics, it also makes the OCFF 2020 line-up relevant and highly topical in that regard.
In full disclosure, I am a judge or member of the festival jury. I was responsible for watching a chunk of those nearly 200 submissions and whittling them down. Specifically, I was in charge of three categories: Short Documentaries, Dramatic Shorts and Animation. I viewed 60 submissions in those, three categories and had to rank them. My rankings were used to determine the festival’s line-up, what got onto the schedule and which films won awards.
One of the other judges is Gwen Lehman, the highly-acclaimed and retired educator from Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, Md., about 10 miles west of Ocean City. If one wants another theme at the festival, it’s the presence of Stephen Decatur alums, including Jennifer Taher who has two films playing at the festival. Another Stephen Decatur alum is John Chester. His film The Biggest Little Farm (2019) won the Damn Fine Film Award at last year’s OCFF. Organizers have programmed an early film of his called Lost in Woonsocket (2007) to be a centerpiece this year. It’s also one of about ten feature films in the fest.
Several of the other feature films echo that aforementioned aquatic films theme. One of them is the PBS documentary High Tide in Dorchester, which focuses on rising seas and erosion on the Eastern Shore. Another feature is Life in Synchro, which is about ice skaters and their coaches. Ice is of course frozen water. There is even a feature called The Duckpond (Ankdammen), a Swedish tale that only fits the aquatic theme tangentially. The title of course refers to a body of water.
In addition to the films, there are several parties where one can interact with filmmakers, as well as film lovers. There is even a panel discussion called the Maryland Film Office Panel, which will host Jack Gerbes, the director of the Maryland Film Office. He will be speaking with Delmarva filmmakers, such as Emmi Shockley, Dave Messick of Unscene Productions, Chelsea Thaler and Rob Waters of W Films about the process of making movies so that maybe attendees might shoot to have works in the festival some time in the future.
For showtimes and tickets, as well as more information, go to ocmdfilmfestival.com.