The Charles in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore is an eclectic arthouse theater that spotlights thoughtfully curated and independent films—which don’t often draw teenagers.
Earlier this month though, The Charles was taken over by the 14 to 18 set. They weren’t just there to watch, either. They were there to see the movies that they and their peers directed for the Baltimore High School Film Festival (BHFF).
“I’ve been working with youth for over a decade on video,” says Beatriz Bufrahi, BHFF founder and high school film teacher at Baltimore School for the Arts. “I really saw so much great work, but no big venue to view that work.”
In 2012, Bufrahi hosted the first annual BHFF, and it’s been held at The Charles each year since then. “I wanted stadium seating, I wanted popcorn and Coke, I wanted a big screen,” she says with a laugh. For most participants, it was the “first time they saw their film on a big screen with a sound system.” The festival has featured judges (and Baltimore natives) Lee Gardner, former long-time editor of City Paper, and Matt Porterfield, award-winning independent filmmaker.
This year, the winners of “The Mix” category, a selection of films that don’t quite fit into a mainstream genre, were Friends School of Baltimore students Eli Henslee and Samby Barber. Their short film, “A Life Well Spent,” shows the journey of a man as he walks through the six stages of death.
“I was thinking about how a lot of horror movies focus on death, but they never go into what it’s like to die,” Henslee tells Style. “A Life Well Spent” certainly contains elements of horror, but Henslee and Barber wanted to “put some meaning behind it, to make something that is comforting for people who are going through that,” Henslee explains. “Our teacher’s father just died and it was on our minds.”
“At the end (the character) just kind of comes to terms with it,” explains Henslee, whose work has been influenced by the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. This fall, Henslee will attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland to pursue a degree in film.
As for the festival, Bufrahi has plans for major growth. “There’s so much potential. We could branch out so much more,” she says. The School of Visual Arts in New York, as well as Johns Hopkins University and Stevenson University, have already come on board as sponsors.
“It’s nice to see so many young people at the theater,” Bufrahi says, “and it’s so cool, because I feel like Baltimore is having a very positive event and people from out of town [i.e. participants from places like Baltimore County, Montgomery County, and D.C.] are seeing a part of the city they’ve never seen before.”
Check out photos of this year’s Baltimore High School Film Festival at bhff.org