The 5th Annual Ocean City Film Festival kicks off this month and promises to share unique, local stories with audiences around the world. The festival, which runs from March 4-11, will be virtual and streamed to homes. Despite the format change, audiences should expect films with compelling footage and resonating messages.
There is no shortage of films in the upcoming showcase. With 80+ independent films from 15 U.S. states and 11 different countries, there are more than enough movies to keep viewers busy.
First launched in June 2017, the Ocean City Film Festival is produced by the Art League of Ocean City and has grown significantly over a short period. What started as the bright idea of a college student has now turned into a respected festival with a long reach. The festival is now accredited with the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent showcase in the United States. Sundance, which takes place in Utah, is the first stop for many major films and provides the local festival with a strong new partner.
Rina Thaler, Executive Director of the Art League of Ocean City, is amazed by the extraordinary heights reached by the relatively new film festival. “This festival has helped to build the local filmmaker community in Ocean City. We initially talked about showing films at the Arts Center, and that turned into an entire event,” Thaler explained. “This event is now gold-rated, reviewed in the top 100 festivals, and highly reputable. We are so thankful for our supporters and their help in making this a success.”
In previous years, the festival has hosted numerous screenings and in-person workshops with the filmmakers and audience members at local theaters and hotels. However, circumstances are much different in 2021. The reimagined virtual event will run through Eventive, a streaming video platform similar to Netflix and Hulu.
B.L. Strang-Moya, Film Festival Director, says that preparing for the 2021 festival has been different, though he is confident in the festival’s ability to reach far and wide. “Planning virtually has been very strange, but we’re very fortunate that we adapted early on. Working with file transfers has not been the same, and we don’t have a printed booklet of events this year,” he said. “It’s just been different and a lot of learning. Regardless of the format, we want our filmmakers to have the opportunity to be celebrated.”
Film topics this year focus heavily on racial justice and the environment. Broad genres also include sci-fi, animation, funny shorts, horror, and short feel-good films. Viewers can watch the films anytime during the festival week, one benefit of the virtual format. Plus, everyone will have the best seat in the house – their sofa!
One of the featured films, “The Friendliest Town,” is based on the contentious firing and subsequent trials of former Pocomoke City Police Chief Kelvin Sewell. The story highlights the major racial discrimination dispute that rocked the area.
The festival also will show “Fish and Men,” a non-fiction feature film chronicling the dangers the huge seafood economy has on the shore, small fishing industries, and public health. Additionally, viewers can expect to see fantastic footage of nature on the Eastern Shore.
While all these productions demonstrate unique perspectives and stories, they also represent a major triumph for filmmakers over the past year. Due to the pandemic and its financial impacts, many projects organized by independent producers have been put on hold or scrapped entirely. According to Strang-Moya, these films represent the preservation of film and expression during one of the toughest times in history.
In addition to the film screenings, the festival will offer live sessions via Zoom throughout the week. This includes six Q&A sessions with the producers and filmmakers, along with eleven panel discussions about topics including animation and prop design. There will even be virtual happy hours.
To grow a festival so rapidly, major advertising is indeed required. With the help of impressive graphic design artist Ian Postley, the festival has presented imaginative posters for five straight years.
“I wanted to continue with this narrative of virtual events, so I included robots in our design for this year,” Postley explained. “I like to emphasize creativity and film on the poster itself, because the festival has given a safe space to the filmmaking community. I’m so honored to be a part of the team.”
As Strang-Moya noted, putting together a virtual festival after four successful years of in-person screenings was no small feat. However, the team was more than prepared after a year of online events. Every month, the Art League hosts virtual film screenings on Facebook Live. To date, these events have been viewed by approximately 3,000 people, which is a much larger crowd than there would be in-person at the Arts Center. The creative team believes that their ability to reach a wider audience is the silver lining of pandemic restrictions.
After the Ocean City Film Festival, Thaler and Strang-Moya hope that the community has a greater appreciation for the local arts and filmmaking.
“I didn’t understand or appreciate films like these before I started working with our Film Festival, but I now see that filmmaking is a very personal form of art,” Thaler said. “You see a narrative, and there are so many elements that go into it, Festivals like these are how films end up going big. We want to be a regional catalyst, and understanding the value of the arts helps people to understand that there are all types of creative forms everywhere.”
Strang-Moya echoes many of Thaler’s sentiments. “We have awoken so many people to various issues through our films,” he reflected. “Also, people in this area know life is unique on the Eastern Shore, and they celebrate it. There’s nothing people love more than recognizing and appreciating our special lifestyle.”
Tickets Are Available Now
Passes are available now for purchase at OCMDfilmfestival.com or by calling 410-524-9433. Participants have the choice of four different ticket options.
- $149 All-Access Pass: All 80+ films, panels, and digital swag bag*
- $99 13-Film Pass: 13 films, panels, and digital swag bag*
- $49 6-Film Pass: 6 films, panels, and digital swag bag*
- $10 Individual Tickets: Select single films
*Digital swag bag includes entry to win an exclusive OC giveaway package.
Click here for the film guide and festival schedule.
OceanCity.com is a proud sponsor of the 2021 Ocean City Film Festival. To become a sponsor, click here.