Howard High senior wins top award at annual film festival

There are typical mothers and cool mothers and the transformation from one to the other can be as simple as pitching the "mom jeans" and acquiring a more carefree attitude.

That was the subject of the tongue-in-cheek, winning student film, "How to Be a Cool Mom," made by Howard High School senior Julia Miller, at the eighth annual Howard County Student Film Festival March 23. The festival was held at the Kossiakoff Conference and Education Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in North Laurel.

The nine-minute long film was a family affair for Miller, as she enlisted the help of her father, Doug Miller, the former opinion page editor of the Howard County Times and the Columbia Flier, to narrate and appear in the film. Julia's mother, Katie Miller, acted as the casting director.

"My mom was the inspiration, though she's definitely on the 'cool' end of the spectrum," said Julia, 17, of Columbia. "Those scenes, though, are literally taken out of my life. And I knew I wanted a narrator, so I thought, who do I know who's weird enough and who would want to do this without griping? It was my dad."

The festival is a chance for students to share their talents, said Mary Jane Sasser, the festival committee adviser and teacher at River Hill High School, in Clarksville.

"This shows students that they can produce films that make it to an audience, even if the audience is only Howard County. It showcases the quiet parts, and it connects students with one another."

The festival is juried and adjudicated, Sasser said, so all students receive feedback, which helps their work develop and improve. As a result, she said, the caliber of the films submitted gets higher and higher every year.

Forty films were submitted to this year's film festival, including 15 from Howard High students. The films were first viewed by a team of preliminary judges, made up of television, English and media teachers from several high schools, who narrowed the field to 10. Those films were then judged by local members of the film industry — filmmakers, actors, photographers and casting directors. In addition to the first-, second- and third-place films, two were named judges' choices — a separate honor for films that deserved accolades for merit, story and technical skill, Sasser said.

Javier Scott, a senior at Atholton High School, took home the first judges' choice award for his film "Fruit Ginja." Michael Riddle, of Hammond High School, won the second judges' choice for his film, "Mike's CF Documentary," which documented his daily routine of living with cystic fibrosis.

"Right now, I'm 18," Riddle said as he accepted his honor. "The average life span for a person with cystic fibrosis is 38, so let's see if I can bypass that."

Third place went to the film "High School & Such," from Hammond students Jesse Maier, Ian Lyness and John Lamberton. The film, Maier said, is the first zombie movie told from the zombie's perspective. Second place went to "A Night to Remember," from Mt. Hebron High School's Jon Sevik.

Students of all levels of experience participate in the festival, Sasser said. While Miller had only made films for class, students such as Zach Madden, a senior at River Hill and festival committee member, are already getting film credits in Hollywood.

Madden, 17, was a camera intern for the film,"Mirror Mirror,"and is traveling to Los Angeles next week for work on his own original short film. He first became involved in the film festival his freshman year.

"It's a great place to meet other, like-minded people," he said. "It's fun to interact with your peers and the community like this."

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