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Made in Ocean City: A motion picture-perfect backdrop

The Ocean City Film Festival is happening this weekend. For three days, in venues around north Ocean City including the Clarion, the Princess Royale and the Fox Gold Coast Theater, filmmakers and moviegoers from all over Delmarva and farther reaches of the U.S. will assemble to watch, and talk, movies. 

The OCFF accepts and screens films made all over the world, from Austria to Iran to our own backyards. (We already wrote about some of our personal favorites here.) Since the festival first began accepting submissions way back in 2017, foreign films have proved to be some of the most unique and inspired pieces on-screen. But, like many Eastern Shore dwellers, us Film Festival folk also have a pronounced since of local pride. That’s why one of the three awards up for grabs is The Pink Flamingo, which ultimately goes to whichever film the judges deem “most Maryland.” 

 There’s something incredibly special about seeing your hometown, or just your general “happy place,” on the big screen. The Ocean City Film Festival, with all of its abundant local pride, seeks to encourage and support filmmakers from all over Ocean City, all of the Shore and Maryland in general, in addition to those from other places who want to make their films here. It’s a beautiful, and totally unique, place to do so.

While I did recently speak to a Pennsylvania director who’s coming to film his indie feature-film debut in Ocean City this September, the sad truth is that not a whole lot of films have been made here on the Shore. Yet, anyway. Here are a few movies that have, as well as a few locally-made films that you’ll be able to catch during the 2nd annual Ocean City Film Festival weekend. 

Made in Ocean City

Still from Ping Pong Summer. On the Ocean City beach, of course. 

The most recent movie that comes to mind is Ping Pong Summer (2014), shot  on-location in Ocean City, Maryland and directed by long-time OC vacationer Michael Tully. Most locals have probably seen the movie by now if they weren’t in it themselves, but for those who haven’t seen it, Ping Pong Summer is a coming-of-age tale that follows a young boy and his family on vacation in Ocean City in 1985. Because it’s a period piece, the movie is super nostalgic and paints a picture of an Ocean City now lost to time. If you visited Ocean City at all in the ’80s, you’ll be immediately brought back. And if you, like me, weren’t able to see Ocean City during that decade, you still might feel like you lived it anyway. 

Another film that was actually made in Ocean City one year after Ping Pong Summer is set is Violets are Blue (1986), directed by Jack Fisk and starring Sissy Spacek and Kevin Kline. Spacek’s character returns to her hometown of Ocean City after years spent traveling the world and is reunited with her high school sweetheart. Romance, and plenty of shots of the Ocean City shoreline, ensues. 

Those are probably the two biggest movies that have been made in Ocean City, but student filmmakers have been known to make their art on Ocean City’s beach, Boardwalk and beyond, too. Erich Gelling, as a student at Towson University in 2017, made an existential sci-fi short film called Take Away, shot entirely in OC (other than a diner scene that was filmed just over the Maryland-Delaware border in Selbyville). And I, while not a filmmaker but more of a person who sometimes-makes-movies-for-fun, shot a mockumentary short film that utilized the Boardwalk, the inside of an Ocean City church and a nearby bar in Whaleyville.

I am totally biased in favor of this place, but as an aside, I will mention that shooting in the off-season in Ocean City was a fantastic experience, and that every local business owner we approached when location scouting was more than willing to let us film in or around their business. Seriously–everyone was so nice.

Made in Berlin

Berlin, Maryland, just a 15 minute drive west from Ocean City, has been a hotspot for films in recent years, particularly for those that require a charming, small town setting. 

Runaway Bride (1999), directed by Gary Marshall and starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, transformed Berlin into the fictional town of Hale, Maryland. Berlin’s Main Street is immediately recognizable in many of the outdoor shots, as is the Atlantic Hotel. Aside from a few business names, the downtown area was largely untouched by the film crew and appears in the movie mostly the same as it did in real life. Just try to ignore the rolling hills that pass through the window of the car scenes, which decidedly do not exist anywhere near Berlin. 

Berlin went through another transformation in 2002 when it became the town of Treegap, Maryland in Tuck Everlasting, a Disney movie directed by Jay Russell and starring Alexis Bledel. (And Sissy Spacek is in this one, too. Maybe she’s as drawn to Delmarva as we are…) Downtown Berlin was made to look like a small town in the 1880s, and many locals were cast as extras in the film. 

See it at the festival: 

  • Life’s a Stage, directed by Annie Danzi, is a documentary about retired Stephen Decatur High School teacher Gwen Lehman, who built the Berlin school’s theatre program from scratch and dedicated almost 50 years to the program and to supporting the arts. 
  • Berlin resident Joan Chak wrote and stars in Sister, a short film about a 55-year-old woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury when young and is cared for by her sister.

Made in Maryland

It would take awhile to list all the movies in history that have been made in Maryland, though if you’re looking for a good Maryland film to watch, our awards’ namesake Pink Flamingos is a good place to start (if you don’t mind a little good-hearted crassness). That John Waters is a Baltimore native is a point of pride for many Marylanders, at least those with a good sense of humor. 

As for movies made on the Shore, there’s Wedding Crashers (2005) which takes place in St. Michaels, Md., Failure to Launch (2006), also St. Michaels, and Misty (1961), Chincoteague, VA, among a few others. 

But, most importantly, here are some of the Maryland-made films appearing this weekend at the film festival: 

  • Short film Plan Bee, directed by Danielle Gibson, tells the story of entomology major in Baltimore who studies  bees and wishes to keep complete control over her body, just like a Queen Bee, when planning to have her offspring.
  • Max Radbill’s The Sisterhood of Girls Who Won’t Date Me is a feature-length comedy about a high school senior out to uncover why all the girls in his class have pledged not to date him, and some dark secrets about his school along the way. Sisterhood was filmed in Frederick, Md. 
  • In short documentary A Day with Nana and Gpgp, directors Jessee and Annee Lyons document a day in the life of an 87-year-old couple on their farm in rural Maryland. 
  • Feature film American Vienna, directed by Vienna, Austria filmmakers Jasmin Al-Kattib and Richard Kromp, documents the landscapes and lives of people in American small towns called Vienna, including Vienna, Md. 
  • Feature-length documentary The Sign by Torrez Wise follows the controversy surrounding a confederate marker in Salisbury, Md. 

The full schedule of films is available at ocmdfilmfestival.com/schedule

Kristin is a writer and photographer in Ocean City, Maryland, and is the content manager for OceanCity.com and other State Ventures, LLC sites. She loves getting reader-submitted stories and photos, so send her an email anytime. She also works part-time at the Art League of Ocean City and the Ocean City Film Festival and lives just off the peninsula with her dog and fiancé. Her photos can be found on Instagram @oc_kristin.

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