Students highlight the Independents' Film Festival, plus Sarasota's Cine-World

It used to be that film festivals in the Tampa Bay area were a rarity. No longer. Totaling up all the fundraisers, workshops and side programming that go along with the ever-expanding number of festivals, it's clear that fest-hopping has become a year-round sport. And that's great, because we can all stand to broaden our horizons beyond the standard Hollywood pulp that fills the multiplex each Friday. In the next few weeks, there are two festivals of note: one with lots of local appeal, and one a bit farther south that attracts filmmakers (and filmgoers) from all over the world.

Independents' Film Festival

Hosted by Tampa's The Education Channel, the 16th annual Independents' Film Festival promises an intimate look at locally produced films, including a strong program of student films out of USF. I say intimate because all screenings will be held at The Education Channel's beautiful, newly upgraded screening room with seating for about 65 people. Festival organizers also promise ample opportunity to hob-nob with filmmakers and other fest attendees, as each themed evening begins with a food and drink reception and ends with coffee and dessert. (All included in the $15 ticket price.)

The festival kicks off with Nov. 5's "Gangsters and Groove" theme night, which highlights Florida-centric documentaries including Ghosts of Ybor: Charlie Wall, a look at the early days of organized crime in Tampa Bay produced by Tampa's Peter and Paul Guzzo, and The Tempo of Tampa Bay, a production of the USF School of Mass Communications that highlights the faces and places that comprise the blues and jazz tradition in the Bay area. Nov. 6 is "Emerging Directors" night, sponsored by the University of Tampa, and featuring films created by college and graduate students, many of whom will be in attendance.

I was able to screen two films from "Emerging Director" night, and both are winners. The first, Cinq, was created at USF by filmmaker Dan Bakst and is a darkly beautiful look at addiction. Not a traditional story, per se, Cinq more than makes up for a lack of plot with some well-composed photography. The other film I caught, Rhapsody by USF filmmaker (and Campus MovieFest award-winner) Sarah Howard, is a colorful and energetic tale of a high school freshman who falls in love with a girl after he hits her in the head with a soccer ball. Set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue," the film's images match the soaring music and even include some cool lo-fi animation.

Other evenings include Nov. 7's "Junior Showcase," highlighting films by kids in grades K-12 and including a "Young Producers" panel discussion with some current college filmmakers; Nov. 11 is "Going to Extremes" night, featuring a movie called Frag about kids who dream of making it as professional video game players; Nov. 12 showcases "Art of Film" with films that promise to be visually arresting (Radiance: the Experience of Light) and special guests Dorothy Fadiman, an Emmy winner and Oscar nominee, and Todd Thompson, an award-winning filmmaker from Celebration, Fl.; and Nov. 13 is "Florida Short Film Focus," which lives up to its billing with eight short films and a chance to meet their creators.

Fadiman and Thompson stick around for morning workshops on Nov. 14, and the fest wraps up that evening with more screenings (don't miss Relationship Card, a very funny short about the battle of the sexes) and a Best of the Festival presentation and awards ceremony.

Cine-World 2009

The Cine-World Film Festival, a presentation of the Sarasota Film Society, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. In contrast to IFF's lineup of locally produced indies, Cine-World programs both domestic and international films, including entries from Spain, Israel, France, Germany, India, Sweden and Argentina, among others.

Meant to represent the best of world cinema, many of the films carry the A-List talent to match. Leading the pack in this area is Everybody's Fine, which stars Robert DeNiro in a remake of Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore's 1991 film Stanno Tutti Bene. Another big film for the fest is Precious, based on the 1996 Sapphire novel Push. The film, about an abused Harlem girl who enters a private school in search of a new lease on life, has buzz behind it and some big supporting turns from Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.

Other highlights of Cine-World include The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt, The Yes Men Save The World, the latest documentary following hilarious corporate pranksters The Yes Men, and dogme-95 director Lone Scherfig's latest, An Education. No matter which film you choose, it's bound to be worthy of a short road trip down I-75.

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