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Tampa profits from educational film

A simple children's story about a young girl's search for her pet cricket has translated into thousands of dollars for the Tampa Bay area, as a low-budget educational film completes filming in Tampa and Clearwater. Based on Ezra Jack Keats' storybook Maggie and the Pirate, the low-budget film was the idea of director Gary Goldsmith of Van Nuys, Calif. But the locations and cast were selected entirely from the Tampa Bay area, as was the production crew.

Pat Hoyt, director of motion pictures and television for the city of Tampa, said even a low-budget film brings considerable revenue into the area.

"They're spending money at laundromats and lumberyards and other businesses, and paying Tampa people on the crews," she said.

Hoyt said that her office encourages film makers to come to the Tampa area to improve the city's national profile and that low-budget projects are filmed here every several years.

Jessica Sanchez, 10, said she doesn't care much about the financial ramifications of Maggie and the Pirate, but is thrilled about the chance to play the lead role.

The film is based on Maggie's search for her pet cricket, which has been stolen by a "pirate" _ a new boy in the neighborhood. The cricket is killed in the process of being retrieved. But at the film's conclusion, Maggie and her friends forgive the new boy.

"Some of the parts _ like when I have to cross the river on a raft _ are scary, but it's all really fun," said Sanchez, who also has appeared in the movie Parenthood and industrial videos for SouthCentral Bell.

Cindy Sanchez, Jessica's mother, said she is excited about her daughter's chance to work with Goldsmith, whom she calls one of the best children's directors in the business.

Goldsmith conducted three casting sessions in Los Angeles and two in the bay area, but opted entirely for area talent.

"I really didn't know what I would find here, but they were all first-rate," he said.

"I wasn't able to find anyone in L.A. who was as good as the kids here. They've been doing great. In fact, the only thing that hasn't been great is the weather."

Shooting has been interrupted twice by rain, prompting Goldsmith to remark that if he films in this area again, he will do so earlier in the year.

Heidi Meitzler, production manager for the project, said she and Goldsmith selected bay-area sites because they closely reflected illustrations in the book. Tampa's Rowlette Park was chosen for its wild-looking woods and river area. Clearwater's Boatyard Village was selected because it closely resembles a village illustration by Keats.

The 18-minute film will be distributed by Phoenix/BFA Films and Video of New York to schools and libraries across the United States and in other English-speaking countries.