BALTIMORE — In filmmaker Tyler C. Peterson’s short film “Summer Hill,” the eponymous town simmers in the summer heat as a beauty pageant is underway and the film’s characters each grapple with the uncertainty and anxiety of what life will look like for them after high school.
Peterson, a Rising Sun native who moved to the Baltimore area for college, drew from his Cecil County roots to craft the setting of the fictional small town, Summer Hill, where the story takes place.
“When I was growing up in Cecil County, it’s in its own place in time,” he said. “It’s like a time capsule in itself where the world feels just a little bit different there, a little slower in pace than when you’re in the big city life.”
As he pulled from his experiences of living in Rising Sun, Peterson said the story he wanted to tell about the town of Summer Hill flowed out fairly seamlessly.
“I wrote the first draft in one sitting in about half and hour over a glass of cheap rosé one afternoon in the summertime,” he said.
The hot and humid weather that is often characteristic of summers along the Eastern Shore provided the backdrop for “Summer Hill,” according to Peterson.
“That’s such a tangible feeling that summers in Maryland are just so unique … They’re humid and sticky and there’s bugs everywhere. I tried to weave that into the script and build that world, making people really feel like they were here in Maryland in the height of summer.”
Peterson attended Rising Sun elementary, middle and high schools. After graduating from Rising Sun High School in 2013, Peterson studied at Cecil College for one year before attending Towson University, graduating from there in 2017.
One of the “Summer Hill” characters, Bailey, is preparing to move from her town to the suburbs of Baltimore County to attend college. While several of the characters confront issues relating to staying or leaving their hometown for college, Peterson said Bailey’s story most closely reflects his own experience.
“I had my time where I grew up, but I needed to branch out and I needed to try more things in the world,” he said. “She was on that cusp where she was so used to where she grew up that she felt like it was time to spread her wings.”
The filmmaking bug bit Peterson early on when he and his friends would make short films as kids.
“[I got my start] making really awful skits with my friends in elementary school, my mom holding a camcorder and us acting out these really stupid scenes,” he said.
Peterson entered local media festivals with documentaries about topics like the Amish lifestyle and life in Cecil County, and by high school he decided to pursue filmmaking professionally.
While at Rising Sun High School, Peterson created his own YouTube series starring classmates and teachers. He said that newly named 2019 Cecil County Teacher of the Year Josie Perry, a social studies teacher at RSHS, even played a small role in the series, though he added that since then everyone involved has “moved on to bigger and better things.”
Peterson founded his Baltimore-based indie film company, Lux Daze Media, in 2015 while at Towson University simply because he needed a name to release his films under.
To date, Peterson has written and directed all of LDM’s films. But later this year, the company will bring to life the first film that Peterson did not write: Laura Gede’s film, “Portraits,” which will highlight a college student’s search for body acceptance. In addition to writing and directing “Portraits,” Gede also serves as a producer, designer and actor for LDM.
Peterson said he hadn’t expected LDM to grow as big it has, but that providing a platform for artists to create and showcase their work has been a dream come true.
“It kind of took a bigger life of its own … Building this film community, it’s bigger than just one artist or one person; it is truly a whole community,” he said.
In building LDM into what it is today — and what it will become — Peterson said it was important for the company to create a safe and inclusive space for artists to tell stories and challenge industry norms by highlighting underrepresented subjects and creators in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes.
“We’re living in a time that can be quite volatile and stressful and uncomfortable for many people to live in if they’re a minority,” he said. “For me as a filmmaker, at the end of the day that’s just storytelling and making people feel empathy … Over half of our crew members are female or gender nonconforming. It’s just something that’s important to me. I recognized that I am a white, cisgender person, but I am a queer artist.”Peterson was the writer, director, editor and executive producer for “Summer Hill;” Mei Lin Lau Mann was the producer; and Amanda Ferrarese was the director of photography.
LDM hosted a film showcase to screen “Summer Hill” and several films by other artists Sunday, April 7, at the Motor House, a nonprofit arts hub, gallery and performance space in Baltimore’s art district.
After the film screening, some of the creators participated in a panel discussion, answering questions from audience members and panel moderator Lynn Tomlinson. During the showcase, Tomlinson also showed a film that she directed called “The Elephant’s Song,” which used clay-on-glass animation to tell the story of Old Bet, the first circus elephant in America, through a song sung by a farm dog.
Peterson said he chose to tell “Summer Hill” in a few, longer scenes to mimic the storytelling structure of a theater piece made for the stage rather than the many, shorter scenes that are often found on the screen.
“As a writer, I always gravitate toward writing pieces that are more ensemble-based and have a lot of characters, which doesn’t always translate well for short films but I tried to make it work the best I could which ended up being this odd structure,” he said, adding that the scenes allow each character to have their own moment in the spotlight.
Also on the panel was Nick Gorey, the producer and cinematographer for the music video for the song “Pretn’d” by Rovo Monty featuring DDM, which was screened during the showcase.
Gorey said in collaborating with other artists, he has to strike a middle ground between what the other person wants and what can be feasibly accomplished.
“With this particular video, Rovo had a lot of big ideas,” he said. “Rovo wants a Beyonce look with about 1 percent of a Beyonce budget, so it’s always fun trying to figure that out … It’s a lot of back and forth. I kind of just take what they give me and try to morph it into something I can work with.”
Ben Palmer screened the film he directed, “Dancing for One,” which focused on how dancer Keith LaMelle Thomas found God and used dance to break away from a life of substance abuse.
The film is told with a voiceover by Thomas telling his story over clips of him dancing. Palmer said he had Thomas perform a faster dance to symbolize parts of his life in which he was dancing for other people, whereas a slower, more poetic dance symbolized the present as he has learned to dance for himself.
Now that he is teaching ballet to kids at a conservatory school, Thomas said he aims to encourage them to be themselves rather than tearing them down to be who others think they should be.
“You forget who you are because you want to be what’s next, especially if you’re a performer, but really whatever kind of artist,” he said. “You’re always pushing to be what’s hot, what’s next … When I moved back to Baltimore, I started to realize as I started to spiral that I didn’t know who I was. The one thing that I’m hoping that this makes sense about is it’s great to find out who we are as people. Once you find out and become OK with who you are, then life makes sense as you move forward.”
Mateo Vargas directed and starred in the film “Una Separación,” which features the sounds of crying children who were separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, played on top of visuals of Vargas cutting his hair and window blind shadows on a wall slowly falling as the sun sets.
“I wanted to do a personal mourning ritual almost,” he said.
Jena Richardson directed her film “Dear Country,” with four women from diverse backgrounds reading a letter to the United States, calling for unity, kindness and justice for all.
“Dear Country, what I mean to say is I have hope for us despite the space in our ideas, an aspiration for going high in what feels like so much low … I just have one simple request: to be gentle with your hearts, to be brave with your minds, and above all to be honest and accountable for your actions,” the film’s subjects say.
Richardson, an instructor at Towson University, said she wanted to create a film that reflected the nation’s diversity and to send a message of hope for the country. She added that the film was brought to life by all female cast and crew.
“I wanted to do something that would bring people together and would be more about perseverance … You can call me forever the optimist, but I also think optimism is needed in art and cinema,” she said.
In addition to Gede’s “Portraits,” LDM will also be helping to produce Richardson’s film “Mom and M.”
People can stay up to date about Lux Daze Media’s projects and events at https://www.luxdazemedia.com/ and on social media.