USF student’s documentary shows history of Tampa Theatre

Last semester, while most USF students were sleeping through lectures and taking tests, Kristin Arnold’s electronic field production class was busy filming a documentary about one of Tampa’s most notable buildings.

The film, titled Tampa Theatre: The Reel Experience, presents Tampa Theatre’s history through interviews with people whose lives were impacted by the movie house.

Located at 711 N. Franklin St. in downtown Tampa, the theater is a Tampa city landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rich with history and architectural beauty, it is iconic of the city’s magnificent past.

It first opened its doors on October 15, 1926, showing a silent film called The Ace of Cads.

Led by Patrick Kluge, a USF student and senior producer for the project, students researched, filmed and edited the 30-minute documentary. The project had no outside funding and took the entire semester to complete.

The film premieres Thursday night at the featured venue and will air on WUSF channel 16 in early June.

“To have something that’s really of high quality and something that’s aired is really nice to leave a university with, because not every student gets that opportunity,” Arnold said.

She said the production equipment used for the project, which was shot with JVC DVC pro cameras, is similar to that used in the production field outside of the classroom.

The documentary offers a glimpse of the landmark’s life since 1926 and its impact on the community.

Beginning with the history of the initial funding to build the theater, the film celebrates the rise of the Tampa Theatre, goes through its downfall in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and shows how the city worked to breathe life back into the failing venture in the late ’70s.

Arnold said while working on the film, the class learned some surprising things about the old movie house.

“Apparently at one time it was an X-rated theater, which we had no idea about,” she said.

She said it was great to work with the theater’s staff, which is happy with the final product and will likely use it for future promotions.

Tara Schroeder, community relations director at Tampa Theatre, helped students with the research.

She said some of the documentary’s highlights are interviews with patrons and people who were instrumental in saving the theater. (The students) did a very good job of researching the history of the theater. They used a lot of our archival photographs and footage,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said she was impressed with how quickly students who had never been to the theater grasped its importance within the Tampa community.

“I believe this documentary is very evocative of Tampa Theatre and it doesn’t just spit out the facts, but tells the story of the people who grew up with Tampa Theatre,” she said.

After 78 years, it is still a lively place. It features classic and current specialty films, live shows and musical performances and hosts several other events throughout the year.