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New Columbia Film Festival includes Maryland filmmakers

For Howard Magazine
Here's what to expect at the first Columbia Film Festival.

Cannes, Sundance, Toronto … Columbia?

Well, not quite. But someday the Columbia Film Festival’s name may be in lights. The competition has grown from last year’s Maryland Student Film Festival, based out of Howard Community College, to a cinematic spectacle open to everyone as a part of “Silk Road Stories,” the summer installation of Columbia Festival of the Arts, running June 10-26. The Film Festival winds down those festivities on June 24 and 25.

When the Festival of the Arts screened Sundance Film Festival Shorts on Tour several years ago, it was a huge audience pleaser, according to marketing and communications director Robert Neal Marshall.

“With lower expenses compared to our larger performer staged events, this mini-screening was continued,” he says. “I suggested we expand a portion of the Festival to include new and original films.”

Ken Arnold, an organizer of the Annapolis Film Festival from 2000 to 2006, consulted with Marshall and Todd Olson, the festival’s executive director, in creating a version for Columbia.*

Entrants are up for Best of Fest, Best Director or Audience Choice awards, with the big reveal during the closing reception, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“With the birth of the Columbia Film Festival we will be folding in many different film experiences into one brand. We’re excited to see where this goes,” Olson says.

News of the festival spread fast. A total of two dozen shorts and documentaries have been selected by Festival team members for their power to move viewers. International entries came in from as far away as Japan and South Korea, but there were also some with Maryland ties. Here’s a look at a few of those local productions.


Ellicott City-born and raised Matthew Myslinski may be a 20-year-old UMBC student filmmaker, but last month his short film “Lightyears” was screened at a venue no less eminent than the Cannes Film Festival (shown independently, not in actual competition). Although he is equally happy in all genres, the “dark cerebral science fiction” he admires in British TV series “Black Mirror” influenced this alien abduction piece, says Myslinski, who wrote and directed it — and handled matters when police were called twice by worried witnesses during filming. Watch closely for local sites that may be recognizable: the UMBC campus, Miller Library in Ellicott City and an Arbutus doctor’s office. You won’t, however, see the late Enchanted Forest, the subject of an earlier Myslinski documentary called “Disenchanted.”

Screens: During the Maryland Student Film Festival shorts program, Sat. June 25, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

“Cordially Invited”

Professional screenwriter Jamie Nash of Ellicott City scripted this film, chosen “Best of Baltimore” in the 2013 Baltimore 48-Hour Film Project. In that contest, teams — Nash’s numbered about 20, many professionals in the field — draw a genre and have a weekend to write, shoot, edit and score their opus, which must include three given elements. For this dark comedy, Nash had to use the line “I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine,” include cupcakes and work in a character named Abby Tuesday. It sounds wacky, but “the hardest thing in writing is the blank page,” Nash says. “If you can box it in, not have a bazillion iterations, you can get started.” The 44-year-old former software engineer resides in Howard County and telecommutes with the West coast. “I’ve never even seen my agent,” he says.

Screens: Friday, June 24, 8 p.m.-10 p.m.

“The Recursion Theorem”

This film is writer-director-producer Ben Sledge’s homage to “The Twilight Zone” and other spooky 1960s TV serials whose reruns he loved – and still does. The Gaithersburg resident, a 39-year-old videographer, photographer and designer, wanted to capture their tone and feel, offering social consciousness along with entertainment — a message in a minimal setting. With a limited budget, he wanted to write something he could actually produce well with a new crew. Searching the area for an appropriately classic setting to create the retro atmosphere, Sledge found them unaffordable, so built his own set, a la “House of Cards” and “Veep,” in a warehouse in a commercial area. “I worried about the screaming and warned the neighbors,” he says, “but it was so sad. I learned that no one cared!”

Screens: Friday, June 24, 8 p.m.-10 p.m.

“My Brother Is a Zombie”

This film was inspired by Russell Yaffe’s notion of a zombie kid at the family breakfast table, and the writer-director-editor ran—or maybe that’s lurched—with it. Yaffe also turned the concept into a literal nostalgia trip from New York back to the Bethesda neighborhood where he grew up to film this tale of a suburban pre-teen girl and her zombie younger brother. Half his crew was local; the New York half got “the Bethesda experience,” sleeping in the family basement during weekend filming. The vignette-filled piece is a departure for the 27-year-old film editor, who has worked on the Disney live-action film “Queen of Katwe,” to be released this fall, and a comedy web series. “I usually like interpersonal drama,” he says. But in fact, there is some of that here, too.

Screens: Friday, June 24, 8 p.m.-10 p.m. 


*Clarification: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Ken Arnold's involvement with the Annapolis Film Festival. Arnold was an organizer of a previous incarnation of the festival from 2000 to 2006.

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If you go

Columbia Film Festival
Monteabaro Theater in the Horowitz Center at Howard Community College
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia
$15 for one-day pass, $25 for both days

Friday, June 24
Opening reception: 7 p.m.-8 p.m.
Maryland-based short films: 8 p.m.-10 p.m.

Saturday, June 25
Student film shorts: 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Documentary: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Shorts: 1 p.m.-2 p.m.
Documentaries: 2:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Closing reception: 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.

Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour
Not to worry, fans; the Columbia Festival of the Arts will still show the popular Sundance Shorts, with talk-backs following.

Sunday, June 12, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Howard Community College’s Horowitz Center