Filmmaker Gregory Bryan says he was "sick and tired of seeing the same Hollywood films." What he came up with instead was "The Dark," an ethereal, 21/2-minute nightmare complete with crawling blackness, creaking skeletons and enough creepiness of all kinds to win the 2011 Sun Shorts film contest.
"I really just wanted to experiment," says Bryan, 24, who, when he's not crafting eerily compelling nightscapes, works for his dad's cabinet-repair company. "It was an amazing, thrilling experience."
More than 50 films were entered in the competition, ranging from a personal plea to be taken seriously as a filmmaker to yarns about time travel and the vagaries of childhood memories. While many of the entries drew praise, each of the contest judges, evaluating the films separately, was impressed with Bryan's work, ranking it no lower than second.
"Spooky atmospherics, awesome art direction, evocative cinematography — the all-around high production value packed into 2 minutes kind of blew me away," said director Matt Porterfield, whose most recent film, "Putty Hill," has been earning critical and audience praise in Los Angeles and New York.
Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz called it "quite mysterious without trying too hard; simple and sophisticated."
Chimed in director John Waters, who knows a few things about bucking the Hollywood mainstream, "Voyeurism and the nullification of other humans — ah, there's a good concept!"
Films entered in the contest, the results of which were announced Sunday afternoon in the Tent Village at the Maryland Film Festival, had to run between 11/2 and 21/2 minutes. Beyond that, form, content and subject matter were up to the individual filmmaker's imagination.
The inspiration for David Partin's "Crosswalk," which earned a second-place nod from the judges, came while he was waiting for the traffic to ease one afternoon. The result was a puckishly creative animated short about a traffic sign that fails to heed its own advice.
"My inspiration was standing on a street corner and staring at the crosswalk sign — and wondering what this crosswalk person would do if he would come to life," said Partin, a 23-year-old graduate of Stevenson University, where he majored in film, video and theater. "But I took a sadistic approach."
Given that, it's no surprise that Waters appreciated Partin's work. "Finally, a funny public-service announcement that actually works," he said. "Hire THIS director to rebrand the city for the Office of Tourism."
Agreed Dietz, "It was simple, charming, and nicely mixed film techniques."
Partin, who grew up in Perry Hall and now lives in Owings Mills, works for Bonnemaison, a digital production company in Mount Washington. He says he spent one day shooting the film and a month animating it. "The contest," he said, "made me interested in finishing it."
Third-place winner Joe Hancuff, 31, came up with a gritty, propulsive piece of cinematic freneticism for "Mine," the story of two men in some dystopian landscape running toward or from … something.
The film, combining both computer innovations and conventional filming techniques for a look that seems like a cross between "The Twilight Zone" and "Run, Lola, Run," allowed him "to experiment with new ways of combining light and dark exposures in a single frame," Hancuff said. "It gives it that gritty look — and ironically brings out the worst in people's complexions, which I wanted."
Dietz highly praised both the look and spirit of the film, calling it "just plain fun. I even liked the outtakes during the end titles."
Originally from Salt Lake City, now living in Columbia, Hancuff is a former Marine who took up filmmaking only two years ago. He works for an information technology company in Arbutus. But he's also doing all the technical jobs on another director's feature film, while pioneering wedding videos that "use proper scoring and proper editing to tell a story, and make it more of a movie and less of a documentary."
In addition to the juried prizes, a viewers' choice award was also handed out Sunday, based on votes cast by visitors to baltimoresun.com. That award was given to third-place winner Hancuff for "Mine."