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Student filmmakers try new techniques at VideoPalooza

Filmmaker Aaron Chiusano finishes editing his neo-noir film "The Archivist" about a retired detective.
Filmmaker Aaron Chiusano finishes editing his neo-noir film "The Archivist" about a retired detective. (Submitted photo)

December is usually the time film fans begin taking stock of the movies released in the past year and planning their Oscar picks for January. Members of the film program at McDaniel College this year are less interested in looking back at the past and have instead set their sights on the future of filmmakers soon to leave their campus.

On Thursday, Dec. 4, the college will host its annual VideoPalooza student film festival, the first time the program has been moved from May to the end of the calendar year.

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Films being screened include a neonoir, documentaries, dramas and an animated film. Each of the eight films runs about 20 minutes long, and all were created by McDaniel College seniors as their capstone projects for the film production major.

Film professor Jonathan Slade said the climactic VideoPalooza screening is an important final step for the cinema majors.

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"They've been struggling on this labor of love all semester, and now they can finally put their films in front of people who don't know anything about it," Slade said. "It's almost like a gift to them: They get to see their work through the fresh eyes of an audience."

The films include documentaries about religious faith, prejudice against Italian-Americans, indie rock and the history of Cumberland along with narrative films about aimless 20-somethings, and a retired detective returning to an open case, which Slade described as having a unique and compelling style and color palette, mirroring the style of film noir from Hollywood's '30s and '40s.

In addition, this year the film festival has taken on an international flavor, with films by Van Pham, of Saigon, Vietnam, and Mangie Moreno, of Quito, Ecuador.

Pham has produced VideoPalooza's first foreign language film in its 10-year existence, "Mommy, Where's My Father," a subtitled film created in Vietnam. The film follows a single mother explaining her past as a prostitute to her child through a letter in what Pham calls an inspirational drama. He said he was interested in breaking out from the conventions of student film.

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"Normally, when I'm watching my other friends' films, they're often about student life on campus. I wanted to do something new," Pham said. "I'm really interested in doing a movie about touchy subjects."

Pham said the story evolved out of an article he had read earlier about a similar situation. He said one of the challenges he faced was in translating the film for the English subtitles.

"We use a lot of slang and things [in the film] that feel really natural when you're speaking," Pham said. "It's hard to be natural when you're writing it out into another language."

In contrast to Pham's gritty drama, Moreno has produced a light-hearted comedy as well as VideoPalooza's first animated film, "Life of Death." Moreno's film follows a personification of death who is tired of taking lives that have yet to live a meaningful life. Death switches roles with a bored millennial named Max and together they learn about the difficulties of each other's lives — or death, as it were.

Moreno said she's long been attracted to the imaginative possibilities the format of animation provides.

"A lot of the better animated films are ones that create fantastic situations and surreal worlds," Moreno said. "Originally, I was going to do an animation that was more grounded, but all of a sudden I had this idea just pop into my head."

Because she is the first McDaniel student to attempt making her own animated film, Moreno said she largely had to stake out her own claim, teaching herself the animation program Flash. Moreno said she has wanted to be an animator since she was 11 years old. After learning about American Thanksgiving in school, she put together a short animation for her mother about the holiday.

"I told her I think I want to make cartoons for the rest of my life, and I think you do that in the U.S.," Moreno said. "She said, 'OK, let's make that happen.' [My parents] have been so incredibly supportive in helping me find what my niche in the animation industry will be."

Moreno said she is still working on finding what role in the animation industry she would like to play once she graduates, her mind constantly switching between two- and three-dimensional work as well as character design and other roles.

"Despite it all, I do know I would like to go into animation for children," Moreno said. "I think that now more than before, children are more exposed to film and TV and cartoons, and I would like to transmit some good messages through that pathway. I feel like it truly is one of the fastest ways to communicate to the new generation."

Slade said the event brings former students back to campus to check out McDaniel's new filmmakers, and one of the biggest advantages VideoPalooza provides is the opportunity for students to network with established filmmakers.

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

If You Go

What: VideoPalooza

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4

Where: Decker Auditorium, Lewis Hall of Science, McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster

For more information: Visit http://www.mcdaniel.edu or call 410-857-2450

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