How odd that the first Florida Filmmakers Showcase should be held in the den of movie-marketing madness, the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando. It's a safe bet that the pristine Dailies Theater hasn't screened many flicks as provocative and uncommercial as the 14 shorts shown there Friday night.
Take the four student and independent category prize winners, for example.
The evening's most stunning film was a tough black-and-white film about teen suicide, From Across This Gray Land. More astounding than its visual power was the fact that it was produced by two Lake Mary High School seniors, Dave Norman and Brad Frost. The film, which already won a nationwide contest sponsored by Sony and Universal Studios, grabbed the Critics Choice award for student films.
Valencia Community College's Best Two Out of Three was the People's Choice winner in the student film category. This absurdly humorous account of an armed robbery boasted a professional look, for good reason. Its director was Oscar winner Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story), who now teaches at VCC. Wise has been urged to enter his film in major festivals, but the director refused. He'd rather have his students get the credit they're due.
A split vote among judges awarded the Critics Choice award for independent films to Storm, a dark, slow-paced glimpse inside a disturbed mind.
My sole dissenting vote among the panelists went to David Stovall's The Refrigerator, a one-camera marvel that earned more laughs than any other film. This loving look at our favorite kitchen appliance did win the People's Choice prize. If this ingenious film is ever offered for viewing, don't miss it.
Chances are slim that many (if any) of these films will be seen in the Tampa Bay area, unless some ambitious cinema entrepreneur arranges it. Stanley Kmet of the hosting Florida Film Institute for Film Education (FIFE) said Friday that his organization is willing to go anywhere in the state to present a similar collection of student and independent productions, in conjunction with an established festival.
"We come in and complement whatever is going on," Kmet said. "If someone had the interest and solid support, we can bring in any kind of student films you need."
Tampa Bay's annual festivals should take note. The adventurous Chinsegut Film Festival could easily devote a portion of its run to such films again, as it has in the past. One film from Friday's event, the sensual Black and Blue by Alyson M. Stephan, would nicely fit into the annual Pride Film Festival in Tampa.
Interested in new adventures in cinema? Call Kmet at (904) 488-3193 for information about a collaboration with FIFE, one hopes coming soon to a theater near us.
MORE INDY FILMS _ Of course, we have quite a few talented filmmakers in our own midst. The fifth annual Independent Filmmakers Night will be held at 7 p.m. March 30 at the Tampa Museum of Art. Last year's event attracted more than 100 experimental or narrative works.
Entries for the one-night festival are now being accepted. Films should be short subjects, live or animated, in 16mm or video format. For information, call the museum's Education Department at 274-8130. While you're at it, call Kmet and ask to be included in FIFE's program.
Admission to Independent Filmmakers Night is $5, or $3 for students with valid identification.
TELL A TALE _ HBO Home Video is conducting a contest to honor community heroes in conjunction with the April 6 videocassette release of A Bronx Tale, Robert DeNiro's highly-praised mean streets drama from 1993. DeNiro directed and starred as a hard-working father trying to shelter his son from crooked temptations.
The contest is simple. Write an essay (100 words or less) describing a Tampa Bay citizen who, like DeNiro's character, sticks to his or her values and contributes to the community. Essays should be typed and double-spaced. The best local entry will be forwarded to HBO Video for a national drawing. That essayist wins an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City.
Five local entries will win either a video of A Bronx Tale, a sound track CD or a hat.
Send your entries to: Steve Persall, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Entries must be postmarked by March 18 to be eligible.