Troy Price

It’s not any average night when an audience can delve into the world of a squirrel-activist, journey through time to revisit a deceased loved one, and sit down at a conference table with the Grim Reaper, Satan and Jesus Christ to go over God’s last will and testament.

Yet that’s exactly what happened Friday night as over 150 film enthusiasts gathered in the University of Maryland’s Hoff Theater to enjoy the Maryland Filmmakers Club‘s Winter Film Festival.

Consisting of eight short films, the festival showcased the works of amateur filmmakers, from the university student body who had spent the past two months learning the ins and outs of filmmaking. They were guided by officers of the student-run Filmmakers Club.

Junior Belinda Shao wrote “Almond Joy,” a mockumentary about a UMD squirrel enthusiast who attempts to spread “squirrel activism” and encourage students to empathize with the most prevalent on-campus animal that doesn’t have a shell. This kind of quirky, College Park-relevant plot was a common theme in each film. 

“I think our films are more accessible than Hollywood stuff,” Shao said. “They’re not glittery and CGI’d into oblivion, and there’s a raw beauty in that. It makes you feel like you can go make a film, too.”

For some members of the audience, the films were a little too raw. Sophomore Matt Levitas most enjoyed the films that were straightforward and didn’t try to do too much in a short time.

“My favorite was God’s Will,” Levitas said about the satirical depiction of God’s legal affairs. “It was short and to the point.”

According to Peter Garafalo, the president of the filmmakers club, this semester has seen more films produced and shown than any before, with 10 approved by the club, of which eight made it through the rigors of the filmmaking process and were displayed at the festival.

“This semester has been great,” Garafalo said. “I don’t think the quality degraded at all. The quality is always surprisingly good. I’m always impressed by new members who have never directed their own film before.”

Acquiring new members is one of the club’s greatest focuses. Their website makes it very clear that anyone interested in filmmaking can not only join the club, but also take on the role of a producer, musician, director, editor or cinematographer without any prior experience. The club offers workshops on various elements of filmmaking, so any lack of knowledge is easily addressed as the semester goes on.

Garafalo says the club has about 7o consistent members, and several more who show up every now and again.

The club provides opportunities for those interested in being in front of the camera as well. Each semester, they host a casting call for interested student actors, where at least two members of each film crew are present. This semester, 39 actors auditioned and about 15 were cast in the club’s films. Several were cast in multiple films.

As the club moves forward into 2013 and beyond, Garafalo is confident that his club will continue to develop and grow. “Every single semester we’ve been getting better and better,” he said. “The passion and atmosphere is getting so much better.”

View the films shown at the Maryland Filmmakers Club Winter Film Festival here.

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