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Annie Miller

As bizarre feuds go, the long-running battle between the Bay area's two Jewish Film Festivals was one of the wackiest (and messiest), but it appears that it's now all over but the shouting. On the heels of a series of protracted problems with sponsors, funding and other financial matters, the Florida Gulf Coast Jewish Film Festival finally made the decision to throw in the towel. Annie Miller, on the other hand — FGCJFF's founder, director and chief bottle washer — is still very much with us, a fact for which the Bay area's community of movie lovers (Jewish and otherwise) should be eternally grateful. Miller is a dynamo, a one-woman committee who sought out and secured some of the best and most challenging Jewish-theme films available anywhere in the world, and then made the whole festival happen, virtually single-handedly. Don't fret too much, though, about the passing of Miller's event (by many accounts a more interesting and professionally run operation than Tampa's surviving Jewish Film Festival). Miller has been tossing around ideas with the forward-thinking folks at Channelside Cinemas, where she is currently developing any number of exciting projects that, with any luck, we'll be seeing materialize over the coming year. We can't really tell you much more at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled and prepare to be wowed.

Video Mayhem
1803 N. 22nd St.
Ybor City 813-248-4666

Video Mayhem is not just Tampa Bay's best independent video store — at this point, it's practically our only independent video store. As Blockbuster/Hollywood tightens its stranglehold on the marketplace and little mom and pop stores continue to bite the dust all over the Bay area (as with the rest of the country) Video Mayhem is looking more and more like an alternative that's as crucial as it is refreshing. Open barely half a year, owner Stephen Biro's tiny Ybor City store stocks an assortment of videos and DVDs from all over the world, with an emphasis on the rare, the unusual and, from time to time, the shocking. "Our store is rated R," explains Biro, by which he means that no one under 17 will even be allowed through the door unless accompanied by an adult. But don't assume from the "R"-rated policy that Video Mayhem carries nothing but gritty horror and verite trauma-flicks: Biro has suppliers in Europe and Asia who keep his store stocked with the very latest goodies from all over the world — everything from adrenaline-soaked Hong Kong action flicks to rare Italian giallos (sexy thrillers) to Japanese ghost stories to intriguing items that just can't be categorized. And if it's all just too exotic and overwhelming, Video Mayhem even stocks a smattering of reassuringly familiar Hollywood blockbusters, so you can always just pick up a copy of Miss Congeniality and say you had the Video Mayhem experience. Everything in the store is available for sale or for rent and, yes, they definitely do take special requests. If you don't see it, ask. Store hours are 1-10 p.m.

Channelside Cinemas
615 Channelside Drive
Tampa 813-221-0700

These are momentous times for movie lovers fortunate enough to be living in the Bay area. The recent addition of the nine-screen, non-mainstream oriented Channelside Cinemas has virtually transformed the local movie scene, magically converting sleepy little Tampa Bay into a movie mecca that, in some ways, rivals cities like Boston, Chicago and even New York. That's the good news. The bad news is that just because more fascinating films are finally available to us doesn't necessarily mean that Bay area viewers are taking full advantage of that fact. The beauty of Channelside, in theory, is that with nine, smaller screens at their disposal (as well as a kick-ass 3-D IMAX theater), they can afford to take chances by reserving at least one or two theaters for the sort of seriously adventurous exotica that has become increasingly risky for Tampa Theatre and Beach Theatre (independent, one-screen venues whose livelihoods depend upon a constant compromise between artistic integrity and commercial profitability). For the past half-year or so that's meant some healthy competition (and some heated words) between our local art film venues, and a steady flow of rare pleasures streaming into Channelside, from the Scottish masterpiece Ratcatcher to the African-American tone poem George Washington, and from the Australian splatter comedy Chopper to the Israeli slice-of-life Kadosh, to the Hong Kong gems Time and Tide and In the Mood for Love, with all sorts of intriguing American indies in between. The kink in this pretty little picture is that these incredible films are often playing to houses that are half-full, at best. Here's the irony of it all: after so much righteous whining about the lack of real choices for local moviegoers, we've finally got more choices than we know how to handle — and the sad truth is that most of us are choosing to do nothing. We can already hear the weeping and wailing that will undoubtedly ensue if and when Channelside goes down the tubes — much of it issuing from some of the worst offenders, our daily papers and other local media (almost all of whom have given sporadic and perfunctory lip service to Channelside, but who have basically ignored or actively resisted the excellent movies they continue to offer). Forgive the bluntness, movie lovers, but it's time to piss or get off the pot. If this remarkable cinematic experiment fails, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

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