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The first ever Wholesome Film Festival took place in person and online on November 7. Photo by Paul Oh.

UMBC graduate delivers the warm-fuzzies through his Wholesome Film Festival

In tough times, movies can be a great way to escape from worries — in theory. Some movies aren’t meant to be an escape; rather, their creators use them to confront viewers with harsh reflections of the real world. Personally, I have found it difficult to watch movies in the last several months, given the political commentary and real-world issues that I cannot help but notice in the films I watch. Thankfully for people like me, Paul Oh, a 2017 graduate from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Cinematic Arts program, created the Wholesome Film Festival, an event which features exclusively heartwarming short films that focus on the hopeful things in life.

The idea for the festival was a confluence of many things in Oh’s life. First and foremost, Oh works as a grip on film and television sets. Like many others in the film and TV industry, he was out of work for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing him to create an outlet for positivity to help himself and others like him cope. Further, Oh often works on short films in the genre of what he calls “WTF films,” or films that are intentionally shocking and disturbing. While researching and attending film festivals for his “WTF” short film “Lukewarm Liquids,” Oh saw “a lot of short films that were fueled by conflict and anger and irony.” 

“I thought, ‘what if you go in the opposite direction and have movies filled with curiosity and a willingness to connect?’” Oh explained. “It’s something I have always wanted to do in my own work and haven’t been able to, but I wanted to find voices that together in a compilation describe what I want to relay to an audience.”

In addition to his history with “WTF” films, Oh also has experience in the wholesome genre. As a UMBC student, he worked with his friends on a Kickstarter project that would eventually become Oh’s recent short film, “Down On Our Luck.” Initially, the project was meant to be a web series, but, when that did not pan out, Oh eventually switched gears and instead created a 13-minute film about the original project’s failure. During and after working on “Down On Our Luck,” Oh described feeling “this urge to push this non-conflicting sensibility in short films,” which contributed to his drive in creating the Wholesome Film Festival.

Clearly, Oh is not the only who felt that urge, as he received 82 submissions — an astounding number for a debuting festival. In curating which submissions would make it into the festival, Oh selected films based on two metrics: artistic merit and “wholesomeness.” The latter Oh described as a “feeling of humanity;” they had to convey “a sense of compassion” and “non-transgressive hope.” As subjective as that sounds, it really does encapsulate the films featured in the Wholesome Film Festival. They express a sense of hopefulness and authenticity, and the love that their creators put into these productions shines through from start to finish.

Though the 2020 Wholesome Film Festival is over, if the popularity of this year’s event is any indicator, this is far from the end of the Wholesome Film Festival. Oh hopes to continue the festival as an annual or biennial event, each year providing a platform for new wholesome films and bringing smiles to more faces. If you are interested in learning more about the Wholesome Film Festival, check out its website here.