Hybrid horror-LGBTQ film shot in Danbury accepted to 20 festivals

It’s only 16 minutes long, but those 16 minutes were enough to get a short film shot in Danbury accepted into film festivals around the U.S. and abroad.

Set on Candlewood Lake, the hybrid horror-LGBTQ film “Family History” tells the story of Sam, who brings his new boyfriend Evan home on the anniversary of his mother’s death to meet his stoic and standoffish father. The uncomfortable lunch meeting takes a turn when Sam’s dad brings up his late-wife’s death, Evan goes missing and Sam is once again forced to confront the circumstances of his mother’s passing.

The film, which will be screening at the Bridgeport Film Festival on July 23, has been accepted to 20 film festivals so far, according to co-producer Tom Ciuba, who used his own home on Candlewood Lake for the set. Ciuba has seen his film (and his kitchen) place in film festivals as far away as London at the SoHo Horror Film Festival and Greece at the Thessaloniki Free Short Festival, as well as in domestic film festivals such as the Durango Film Festival in Colorado and the Austin After Dark Film Festival in Austin, Texas. 

The film has also won awards, including one for Best Screenplay for a Narrative Short at the Queens World Film Festival in Queens, N.Y. For Ciuba, the whole experience has been a gratifying one.

“It’s wild to see a place you live in and call home on film and on a big screen every day, or even on a computer screen,” he said. “We were really blessed to have an incredibly talented cinematographer named Brendan Banks, and he chose to shoot our home and the lake with fantastic lenses that gave a lot of character to the house and purposely made it feel creepy.”

Equally gratifying was seeing a quick conversation with friend Mark J. Parker — who ended up serving as the director, writer and fellow co-producer on the project — transform from an idea to a completed short film. Ciuba and his husband Jeff invited Parker and his husband over to their Danbury home one weekend in the summer of 2018, and were commenting on their Candlewood Lake surroundings when they hatched an idea.

“We started joking around with the idea of shooting a film, and we’re both diehard horror fans,” he said. “So we said right off the bat, ‘OK, it’s going to be a horror movie.’ And since we’re both gay, we were like, ‘Hey, let’s get some representation in there for our community and let’s make the two lead characters LGBT.’”

Within two days, Ciuba said Parker wrote a concept and a full script followed “a month or two” later. While Ciuba said the “curse” in the film’s plot is open to viewer interpretation, he and Parker find the message to lie in “the dangers of homophobia…and how it can follow you for the rest of your life.”

Eventually, the film was shot in October 2019 over a single weekend — something that Ciuba is thankful for, given the COVID-19 pandemic followed just months later. 

“I don’t know how we would have done this during the pandemic in such close quarters in our condo and have to mask up,” he said. “The plus side is because we had all this time on our hands during the early days of the pandemic and really didn’t leave our house, we really scrutinized the post-production stage of this and made sure that what ended up being the final product was really truly what we wanted.”

After “Family History” makes a stop at the Bridgeport Film Festival on Friday, Ciuba said it will head to a few other film festivals before “hopefully” becoming available on streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video or Vimeo. 

As for what’s next for Ciuba, who works in public relations by day, he hopes to dedicate some time to another film project, this time a feature-length drama in the LGBTQ subgenre. For now, Ciuba is content with seeing “Family History” make the rounds at film festivals both near and far. 

“It’s surreal,” he said. “That’s the best word I can use. I can remember from when I was 8 years old just burying myself in issues of Entertainment Weekly magazine…So seeing this on a big screen is really a dream come true.”