Filmmakers find their footing at IFF

Although most Tampa residents are probably not aware of it, the Bay area is rapidly developing into a major player in the film

industry. In fact, the local

filmmaking scene is stronger than ever, with several filmfestivals and other film-related events taking place in relative

proximity to campus. The Independents’ Film Festival (IFF) – sponsored by The Education Channel, National Endowment for the Arts and Florida Arts Council, among others – is one such event. In an effort to celebrate the impressive efforts of local

filmmakers, the festival will showcase its finest submissions at the seventh annual Best of the Fest event Friday at 8 p.m. at the Tampa Theatre.

Faced with 270

submissions, a panel of 21 professional judges reviewed each film for

technical quality and artistic merit. The list was trimmed down to the 10 best entries in a variety of genres. Featuring films from Kuwait, Brazil and Australia, the final slate of films will be screened locally for the first time. Several filmmakers will be in attendance to gauge

audience response to their work and will also engage in a

question-and-answer session after the screening.

“When I first came to work here at The Education Channel, there was a smattering of students interested in making films,” said Laura Tierney, one of the festival’s coordinators. “But since there’s opportunity to screen films locally, I think there are more up-and-coming filmmakers who are trying to use the technology as a means of self-expression.”

In addition, Tierney notes that young-adult filmmakers comprise a

significant portion of the festival’s

submissions. She attributes this to the increased availability of sophisticated technology which, until a few years ago, was far too expensive for widespread use.

“You have young

filmmakers who started making films maybe when they were in middle school, and

started more serious attempts when they were in high school,” Tierney said. “And now they’re in college and have more opportunity, more access, possibly, to equipment and to other like-minded students. They’re not just starting out.”

One such filmmaker is Sarah Wilson, who was inspired to try her hand at filmmaking after being exposed to television production in high school. Then in her senior year of high school, Wilson was volunteering at IFF and entered one of her films in the Junior Filmmakers division. Although that film was not featured in the festival, her most recent entry, Feet: A Story about Sole Mates, is among the films being honored at Friday night’s event.

Although Feet is a love story at heart, Wilson – a sophomore majoring in mass communications – credits her unique approach to the film’s distinctive take on the material.

“It’s your classic boy-meets-girl love story, but it’s shown entirely from the perspective of people’s feet,” she said. “That’s all you see the whole time, and that kind of concentrates the view on what’s going on in the relationship.”

This offbeat take on a universal theme impressed judges so much that Feet will be awarded the Florida Choice Award during the event.

“I’m really excited, and I feel very lucky to have it recognized at such a young age,” she said. “It just motivates me to want to work, to keep experimenting, keep trying, and pursue my love for film.”

Wilson is not alone in her

enthusiasm for the art of filmmaking. The Bay area is teeming with individuals desperately striving for acknowledgment in an industry notorious for being inaccessible to the masses. Nevertheless, Wilson – who plans to pursue a career in film upon graduation – urges her peers to keep their passion alive.

“There are lots of opportunities out there to collaborate with other filmmakers. If you just get out there and do it, you’ll come along and get experience,” she said.

Tierney seconds this sentiment, saying that IFF is an excellent opportunity to observe what young filmmakers have been able to accomplish with limited resources.

“People should attend film festivals just to see the type of things that people can do on a low budget with just some ingenuity and hard work; but basically, filmmaking is a storytelling craft,” she said.

The Best of the Fest is a fine example that storytelling is alive and well in the Bay area. In addition, the event not only provides the local community with a rare chance to explore films from around the world, but it also helps increase awareness of the Tampa Theatre, one of the city’s strongest proponents of the art of filmmaking.

-IFF’s Best of the Fest takes place Friday at 8 p.m. at Tampa Theatre.

-Tickets are $8 and are exclusively available at the door Friday.

-For more information on other IFF events, visit Indiefilmfest.us or Myspace.com/movieminded.

-The award-winning films can be seen on The Education Channel or online at EducationChannel.org.

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