Held close together, several major Florida film festivals compete for sponsors

Springtime in Florida brings the aroma of orange blossoms, the sight of beaches in bathing suit bloom, and the sound of movie projectors whirring at film festivals statewide.

This weekend alone, movie buffs are convening at film festivals in Sarasota, Ybor City and Maitland — if they didn't get their fill at Tampa's recent Gasparilla event, or are awaiting next weekend's Sunscreen festival in St. Petersburg.

Five major festivals in four weeks leading to one question:

Is this clumping of showcases what Florida's film industry needs?

One proponent of the state's cinematic future doesn't think so.

"At some point I would hope the game of chicken would end," said Graham Winick, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Film Florida, "and some of these festivals would give credence to the concept that it's better to separate out, to serve a need, to find breathing room."

Attendance isn't an issue since these festivals are distanced from each other and diverse enough to sell out tickets. Instead, the glut makes it tougher to find sponsors willing to participate.

"It's great for indie filmmakers because there's more opportunity to show their films," Gasparilla Film Festival president Chad Moore said in a telephone interview. "But there's only so much in financial resources to go around.

"If there's a drawback to so many festivals within a short time frame . . . it's that we're all competing for the same (sponsorship) dollars."

A schedule adjustment doesn't seem likely, after interviewing leaders of those five colliding festivals. Springtime offers a comfy hammock between Hollywood's award season and summer blockbusters drowning out everything else. Each festival is content with its timing, since they've cultivated singular identities that lessen the competition for attention.

"Each one has a niche or a tenor that fits a certain need that the community supports," said Winick, who also serves as Miami Beach's film commissioner. "When we look at what they could do to best help our industry, we have to figure out what they do best."

The Ybor Festival of the Moving Image concluding today in Ybor City is a scruffy, avant-garde cousin to the swankier, star-studded Sarasota Film Festival continuing through April 18. The Orlando area's Florida Film Festival shares the same dates with Sarasota, with few stars and a homegrown vibe, similar to the Gasparilla fest. Next weekend's Sunscreen festival in St. Petersburg focuses on filmmaker education more than any other, with 16 hands-on workshops and a film buyer's market planned.

Which identity best serves the future of Florida's film industry depends upon which festival's official is talking.

"Obviously, we feel like we're kind of doing it the right way," Tony Armer, co-founder of Sunscreen, said by telephone. "There are a lot of talented filmmakers in Florida, and a lot of them don't get the opportunity to meet the people they need to meet, which we provide — buyers, producers, that sort of thing.

"If we had a budget on the level of Sarasota's, we could do that on an even larger scale."

Sarasota Film Festival touts visiting stars like Oscar winner Kevin Kline and its inaugural Investors Lab as better lures for in-state production. The Investors Lab features entertainment lawyers and bankers to teach potential movie investors, and stars like Steve Buscemi and Patricia Clarkson pitching new projects seeking financing.

"Sarasota is smart about it," Winick said. "They recognize that they have a lot of private wealth, and the entertainment industry — though risky — has a lot of perks and advantages. If it hits, it hits big, a My Big Fat Greek Wedding type of approach.

"If we can have enough producers to pitch projects in the state of Florida, get private wealth as the primary investment and shoot here . . . it becomes contagious."

The diversity of Florida's spring glut of film festivals raises the question: If they all boost Florida filmmaking in unique ways, why not pool those talents in a statewide effort? Festivals share films and visiting artists when opportunities arise, but a concerted, cooperative effort statewide hasn't been attempted.

"I'm with you on that, a million percent," Sarasota Film Festival president Mark Famiglio said. "It's easy to get cloistered into your own little region.

"We've already had conversations with some of the (west coast) festivals about sharing resources, and perhaps trying to expand into a Gulf Coast regional (festival). It makes sense to organize in an interesting fashion. We need to meet more often and just check our egos at the door."

The last part of that proposal is the toughest, according to Armer:

"You have these separate nonprofit organizations, each with their own agenda and board of directors, and it's really tough to get that to mesh with somebody else; just to get those personalities to come together and make something fit."

Moore agreed: "Down the road there's room for a little consolidation. It just makes sense for us to work together."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Mark Famiglio is president of the Sarasota Film Festival. A story April 11 noted another festival.

The Ybor Festival of the Moving Image concludes today at the Hillsborough Community College-Ybor City campus, showcasing underground film and video artists. Tickets are $7 per event. Visit www.yborfilm

festival.com for information.

The Sarasota Film Festival continues through April 18, with screenings held at Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20. Tickets are $10 for evening shows and $8 for matinees. Remaining celebrity events include on-stage conversations at Florida Studio Theater with Disney animator Don Hahn (1 p.m. today) and actors Patricia Clarkson (1 p.m. Saturday) and Vincent D'Onofrio (1 p.m. April 18, moderated by Times film critic Steve Persall), and a career tribute to director John Landis (6 p.m. Saturday) at Sarasota Opera House. Visit www.sarasota

filmfestival.com for information.

The Florida Film Festival continues through April 18, with movies and filmmaker panels at Enzian Theater, 1300 S Orlando Ave., Maitland, plus screenings at three Regal Cinemas multiplexes. This year's festival includes a tribute to filmmaker John Cassavetes

with his widow, Gena Rowlands, and collaborator Seymour Cassel (Enzian, 7:30 p.m. Friday). Visit www.floridafilmfestival.com for information, ticket availability and directions.

The Sunscreen Film Festival runs Wednesday through April 18 at Muvico BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg. Celebrity guests include actors Patrick Wilson (Watchmen), Billy Dee Williams (the Star Wars saga) and Bill Cobbs (Night at the Museum). In addition to movies and parties, 16 hands-on workshops in filmmaking arts are planned. Visit www.sunscreenfilm

festival.com for tickets and information.

Held close together, several major Florida film festivals compete for sponsors 04/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 12:19pm]

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