The 5th annual Ocean City Film Festival has been virtual, all online, running from March 4-11. OCFF 2021 has a collection of short films and features, numbering about 80 titles total. As a juror, I was able to view most of them. There is an Awards Ceremony that announces which films are honored in their various categories. That list can be what’s considered the best of the festival. However, I have my own personal list of my favorite films from this year’s OCFF. My list is also what I consider the best of the fest. In full disclosure, Eric Walter’s My Amityville Horror is a film that I was involved in the making but it was theatrically released in 2013. The screening of Walter’s film is a kind of special presentation, which in most film festivals would take it out of competition for festival awards. Yet, it would be at the top of my list, if it weren’t out of competition. Loira Limbal’s Through the Night would also be at the top of my list, but it wasn’t submitted through FilmFreeway, which is how most local filmmakers submitted. It’s a special presentation that I counted as out-of-competition. Otherwise, here is my personal Top Five for OCFF 2021.
5. CYAN by Emeka Perkins-Johnson. This film is ranked number-one for me in the Animation category. The film is about racism and bigotry. It’s reminiscent of a film from OCFF 2020 called Purple by Erin McDowell, which was more about discrimination among adults. Perkins-Johnson looks at discrimination more from the point-of-view of a child. Instead of just being a parable for the African-American experience, Perkins-Johnson has done a great metaphor for the immigrant experience or for anyone who feels like an outsider, using the science-fiction cartoon aesthetic.
4. ENTANGLED IN COSTA RICA by Innoceana / The Vegan Pirates. It’s a short documentary that is prominently featured in the Environmental & Aquatic Films. It’s one of three films in the festival that is specifically about whales and the conservation of an endangered species. All of them are pretty fantastic, but this one plays as an action-adventure. It depicts a rescue on the water that’s incredible and thrilling. It really pulls the viewer into it and engages in a very exciting way.
3. TO KILL A LILY by Paul Cosby. This is a horror film that really utilizes the city of Annapolis, Md. It’s about a young man who is haunted by the death of his girlfriend. It’s a beautiful and power film about grief and guilt, as it’s slowly revealed that the young man might be harboring responsibility about the loss at hand.
2. GRACE by Michael Strassner. It’s one of the few films in the festival that is in black-and-white, which makes it stand out and helps to be more distinctive. Strassner not only writes and directs, but he also stars in the film. Strassner is mostly known for doing comedy. One might even consider this film a dark comedy at first, but it proves to be by the end a very powerful drama. Strassner gives a surprisingly strong performance that is raw and exposing in more ways than one, exposing both emotionally and physically. If the festival had an acting award, Strassner would be a nominee and most likely the winner.
1. INSIDE THE LINES WITH THE DOVER SENATORS by José Cuevas. This film follows the Delaware boys basketball team for Dover High School during the 2019-2020 season. The reason is because the previous season for Dover High was a near perfect season, so anticipation and anxiety surrounded the team’s ability to repeat or at least return to the championships. It shows the week-by-week games, but also invites us into the locker rooms and into the personal lives of the players and the coaches. It’s as much an achievement of editing as it is cinematography. In full disclosure, Cuevas and I are co-workers, both employed by Draper Media.