There are larger festivals, but the annual Independents’ Film Festival in Tampa, FL proves that intimacy and support are central aspects to any festival, and the 2012 festival is no exception. The 19th iteration of the festival was executed with aplomb and compassion, and featured a diverse set feature-length and short films. It is the smaller festivals like these where the one can truly see some untouched talent come to light.


The feature-length documentary Side by Side opened the festival with its comprehensive look at the rise of digital at the expense of film in cinema. The film kicks off a soft theme that continues throughout the festival, looking at the future and preserving the past. Produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves, the film includes interviews from several dozen filmmakers and industry professionals providing examples of their successes with digital and analog mediums.

Fifteen years ago, digital was not an option for Adam Ciolfi who began pre-production on his stop-motion animated feature The Lady of Names. On a shoestring-budget, Adam shot the film on 16mm for a few hours a day while working a full time job. By 2011, the film was completed entirely by Adam, including photography, editing, and scoring. Capturing the nostalgia that goes with the magical world of fairy tales the film is an achievement in perseverance; certainly a lesson for aspiring filmmakers.

Digital filmmaking has arisen in a time where social consciousness has become an important aspect in the agriculture industry. Nothing Like Chocolate explores Mott Green, the Willy Wonka of Granada, and his quest to produce gourmet chocolate using high ethical standards while working directly with a cocoa farmer co-operative. The documentary, narrated by Susan Sarandon, explores Mott’s continuous struggle to provide one of the world’s most cherished delicacies and do so without the aid of child exploitation and slave labor.

Christopher Mihm’s House of Ghosts is a fun ode to the B-films of yesteryear, specifically those of William Castle. Despite the genre’s camp nature in the 50s, Mihm and his team are fully aware of what they are doing; making the film more enjoyable, especially since the cast is in on the joke. Mihm knows his target genre well, using post-WWII anxieties and government conspiracies—central aspects to the B-movies of the time—to augment the film’s camp nature.

Short Films

The festival also included several short films from Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology sprinkled throughout the festival’s short programs. A Saturday afternoon screening also focused around local, Tampa, FL, based filmmakers to showcase talent within the area.

Among some of the more memorable short films is Speed of Fencing which uses cameras with frame rates as high as 1000fps. Holly Bruechel’s short film explores the minute actions taken in a split second during a match. Watching the épée flex and bend as anonymous fencers defend and attack in the same movements is a pleasure to watch.

Odokuro is a lovely animated short that brings antiquated items and technologies to life, another film that continues the theme of antiquities. Objects that have been forgotten by time become animated a la Fantasia. The film features fluid stop-motion animation that places objects that have been forgotten by time due to newer and improved models, and is excellently narrated and scored by Gary Numan.

Nawneet Ranjan’s Dharavi Diary explores how developers are destroying slums in India, where impoverished children make a petty living by dismantling a variety of items for recycling. They are forced to relocate to shelters during the construction of high-rises, but they are never provided with living situations any better than they had before. Watching children dismantle syringes without protective gear and in harsh working conditions will turn the stomach.

Color would end up being the utmost perfect way to close out the festival, especially one launched with a feature-length documentary about the disparity between digital and film. Mark Davis takes his romantic experimental film beyond the screen with an expertly choreographed light display to match his film’s atmosphere and story. Scenes with a specific color palate would be matched with a light display with the same color. The light display augments the dialogue-less film, which almost eradicates the digital/film debate.

The festival included several workshops, many of which dedicated to empowering local filmmakers with the knowledge and tools to excel past the challenges that come with filmmaking. Stated earlier, large film festivals are so large they can make the common spectator feel insignificant. IFF is quite the opposite. Those who work and volunteer for the festival and friendly and warm, not shy about linking up filmmakers with interested parties, and they always have a smile that is often absent from time-pressed festivals.

That’s a Wrap

Sundance, Cannes, South by Southwest, and the like are almost always the prime targets for aspiring filmmakers. Landing there guarantees a certain amount of attention. Long lines, hype, and impatience are aspects of these festivals that can make any spectator feel small. What is missing from those festivals is the compassion for the central aspect of exhibiting films in a festival atmosphere; bringing together ideas and stories. IFF, like many regional festivals, guarantees that an intimate and passionate base of film spectators will see and react to your film.

You will also see something rather different at IFF. Festival coordinators are eager to connect visiting filmmakers with each other and the audience. Rather than running around solving crisis after crisis–as I have witnessed and experienced at other festivals–they have constant smiles and a genuine interest in each and every spectator, filmmaker, and panelist that comes to the festival.

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Aaron Weiss founded CinemaFunk in September 2009 after recieving his degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Central Florida. In 2012, he received his Master's in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He works full-time as a Senior Web Strategist at Tampa SEO Training Academy. When not doing either, Aaron is watching Indycar races, taking a hike, or riding his bike in Tampa, FL.