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Save the Arts Film Festival impresses audiences

The Save the Arts Film Festival on Saturday definitely lived up to its name. The event was held at Channelside Cinemas in south Tampa – a picturesque courtyard nestled up against Tampa Bay. The atmosphere was refreshingly artsy and bohemian, complete with live music, street performers and art vendors. Admission was an optional $5 donation, and minutes after their arrival attendees were offered a free bottle of spring water by an altruistic event worker.

The festival featured more than a dozen films, many of them shorter than 20 minutes. Like the short story, the short film is just as valid a medium as its lengthier counterpart, but unfortunately short films have severely limited chances for distribution in today’s cinematic atmosphere.

That’s where Save the Arts comes in. Local actress Rachael Lee appeared in two of the short films that ran this weekend. She praised the festival for the opportunities it affords fledgling actors and directors.

“Not a lot of people even know about films like this,” she said. “You get a lot of exposure.”

USF student Stefan Vino-Figueroa screened his short film Gunn Highway. The cinematography was minimal but the story was raw and powerful – two qualities that film lovers relish after being inundated with the explosions, one-liners and fake boobs of the latest Hollywood blockbusters. It was about a man on death row for avenging the death of his brother, and the moral message was ambiguous, leaving audiences a chance to do some actual thinking and draw their

own conclusions.

When asked about his contribution to the festival, Vino-Figueroa said he was grateful for the freedom.

“I was able to do exactly what I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t have to answer to anyone.”

He also admitted that existing in opposition to the Hollywood mainstream doesn’t necessarily guarantee good work.

“Even in independent films the quality and the integrity depend on the individuals involved,” Vino-Figueroa said.

Producers Mike Compton and Joe Davison spoke at length about two extraordinary organizations that are making huge strides in promoting independent films in Tampa. They are the Tampa Film Network and the Tampa Film Review.

“It (The Tampa Film Network) is an organization of about 180 local filmmakers just trying to facilitate each other’s projects. If someone comes to us needing to shoot in a warehouse in two weeks, the rest of us look around and call whoever we know to try to find them a warehouse.”

The Tampa Film Review is an organization with similar goals. It screens local movies the second Friday of every month at the International Bazaar on 8th street in Ybor City.

The noble, selfless goal of the festival and all the screenings, organizations, actors, directors and producers is to entertain the audience. It sounds like a simple ideal, but while perusing the odious trash that defiles the shelves of the local Blockbuster, one might be tempted to think that nobody is making good movies anywhere. The beauty of independent film is that it gives the consumer a chance to fight back against the soulless corporate monsters responsible for all that cinematic excrement. It also gives artists with actual integrity opportunities to express themselves.

“I prefer to play roles that are a little more intense,” Lee said. “You get to show real emotion.”

So instead of renting Snakes On A Plane, consider going out to Ybor and catching the next Tampa Film Review. In the immortal words of The Critic, Jay Sherman:

“If you stop going to bad movies, they’ll have to stop making them!”

For more information on the independent film scene in Tampa Bay, you can check out the following websites: