This piece is the result of several intense conversations I've had over the past few months or so with my esteemed colleagues here at PCR, most notably Lisa Ciurro and Terence Nuzum, about what I -- and we -- have observed and come to know regarding the Tampa film scene over the past eight years or so. Along with Paul Guzzo and Chris Woods, these are the folks with whom I've most frequently shared the mission of exploring and exposing the talent Tampa Bay has to offer the world. I am not attempting to speak for them, I am only sharing my conclusions based on my own personal experiences and what I've gleaned from theirs.
There's good news, great news, and well, if not bad news, not-so-great news.
The Good News
The good news is there has never been a time where the local film scene has been so interconnected and thoroughly networked as it is now. There are way more websites, message boards, forums and organizations devoted strictly to filmmaking and promotion than there were years ago. There are more avenues of exhibition than there has ever been before.
When I started covering local independent film, there were basically only The Saints & Sinners Film Fest (formerly Renegade) and the venerable 4-day TamBay Film Fest, which started in the late '90s. Both fests were exemplary events and were a blast to attend. Both closed by 2004. These festivals played both out-of-town and local films. (I know there were others; the Tampa International Film Festival comes to mind, and the Gay & Lesbian is still operating, but I don't know if they played local indie stuff). Around this time, David Audett began the Ybor City Festival of the Moving Image, an impressive film fest showcasing films from all over the world, including here. [UPDATE: Since this piece first ran, I have been reminded that the Independents Film Festval was also a mover and shaker of the day. Mea Culpa for the omission.--Nolan]
At the start of 2004, barely a month after the last Saints & Sinners, Peter and Paul Guzzo started The Tampa Film Review, a bare-bones monthly showcase for any and all local indie film, the only one of its kind for many years. Despite being dogged by technical problems and shifting venues, the nearly 5-year-old TFR remains the best ongoing exhibition of local and mid-Central Florida indie film, and a must-visit for anyone interested in educating themselves on the Tampa film scene.
Two years ago, a few movers and shakers saw what was happening, banded together with the local government together with several investors, and created the Gasparilla Film Fest, now a ten-day showcase of the best films from around the world, including the Tampa Bay area. Together with St. Pete's SunScreen Film Festival (itself only two or three years old), the Sarasota Film Festival and the Melbourne Film Festival, Florida is truly on the map as a world-class stop for indie film exhibition.
About a year ago, the Pinellas Filmmakers Society debuted, itself a monthly event that combines local film exhibition and networking. I haven't attended myself yet, but I've heard lots of positive feedback about it. And I would be remiss if I overlooked Art After Dark, put on by the Tampa Museum.
(For completeness, I'd like to salute The Globe Coffeehouse and the late Covivant Art Gallery for their film nights -- they showed hard-to-find foreign films and lots of independents, I'm sure at least some of them were local films.)
So, as you can see, there is no shortage of places to exhibit films, and most of these burst upon the scene only within the last few years.
The Great News
Talent. Oh my god, does this area have talent. When I started my multimedia "career" (in its present form, around ten years ago), my mission was to (among other things) discover and expose the arts scene I just knew was here, but had been undercovered by the news media. I'm happy to report there is no shortage of talented filmmakers, artists and musicians at least as good as any in the major cities residing right here in the Bay area. I've made no secret of the fact that it has been my honor and privilege to cover the local film festivals to the best of my limited abilities over the past several years, in particular, The Tampa Film Review. The TFR has been an extremely educational and eye-opening experience -- even I didn't know how amazing and weird it could get.
Now For the Bad, or at Least, Not-So-Great News.
Tampa has never been the friendliest town when it comes to supporting film. Luckily, that started to change slightly a few years ago when the Film Commissioners began to take more interest, and the Gasparilla Film Fest was instituted. But much more needs to happen before we can be called an "arts town" and before we lose too many more artists and filmmakers to larger cities.
Networking has had a rockier history than exhibition. It has been, at best, a hit-or-miss until fairly recently. More on that in a bit.
For years, the only networking organization I was aware of was the FMPTA, or the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association. This was a dues-paying club that met once a month to exchange tips and leads on getting film work. Noble in its cause, it tended to stay limited to small groups of regulars, mostly at or near retirement age. I attended many of these in the late '90s, and was discouraged by the stats, seeing it more as theraputic than networking, others may have had better experiences. However, the FMPTA still exists, still holds meetings, and still produces the occasional movie. I give 'em credit for staying power.
Shortly after the inaugural TFR, Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton started the Florida Indie Film Group on Yahoo, seeing it as a way to help jump-start the networking community online (he had approached me about it first, but I declined the offer; the Crazed Fanboy message board started about a month later, and film networking was a part of it but never intended as a goal. I digress...). The Yahoo Group is probably the most successful film networking message board/email list in existence regarding local film.
The Tampa Film Network, began by Joe Davison and Chris Woods had the loftiest goals but the messiest management. After several very successful meetings, it peaked somewhere around mid-2006. Arguments over work assigments, website updates, contact lists, irregularly-scheduled meetings, and missing board members doomed this and it finally closed altogether. However, the Yahoo Group it founded continues on.
Unfortunately, both the Yahoo Indie Florida Film Group and the Yahoo Tampa Film Network Group have been overtaken by spammers. Since no one seems to be moderating either group, it may be only a matter of time before they go dark.
Which leaves the two more encouraging enterprises, Rod Grant's ThatsAWrapActorsForum.com (message board) and Dan Brienza's Weekend Film School and Tampa Film Networking monthly meet-ups that precede the TFR at the Romeo Coffeehouse location. These are regularly maintained and moderated. It appears to be these outlets (and probably a dozen others I'm not even aware of) that filmmakers have gone to for serious networking. In fact, the pilgrimage to these sites has been so thorough, the parts of the Crazed Fanboy message board I had devoted to indie film will likely be discontinued next year, due to inactivity. No sweat, go to where the action is people, we're pop culture nerds here anyway.
Due to the current economic downturn, there had been a decrease in filmmaking activity as filmmakers struggle simply to make ends meet and investors for larger projects are harder to find. I imagine that's the situation in just about any town these days. Still, the knowledge that so many talented artists are still here and still able to create wonders is all the inspiration I need to continue the mission.
Bettie Page, Dead at 85
The iconic pin-up girl who made S&M dress-up an acceptable part of magazine covers in the '50s and '60s, Bettie Page, has died at the age of 85 due to complications from pneumonia following a heart attack.
Most known for her good girl/bad girl poses in magazines of the 'late '50s, she was a bit naive when it came to appreciating her impact on the sexploitation scene. She regarded her nude posing as "modeling" and "acting". Pictures taken by one of her two most noted photographers, Bunny Yeager, wound up in the pages of Playboy magazine.
Her work with the other, Irving Klaw, precipitated a raid followed by a subpeona. Shocked that her posing could be construed as "pornography" she never appeared in print again (a later religious conversion reinforced that situation).
Rediscovery by fanboys in the '80s stoked a comeback of sorts, but she never came out of hiding. Rocketeer comic artist Dave Stevens, his work obviously influenced by Page, interviewed her once on video, but only if he agreed to leave her in shadow.