If you listen closely while floating down the peaceful Silver River in scenic Silver Springs State Park, you just might hear the distant, piercing yell of Tarzan the Ape Man, and you would be best advised to not dangle your feet in the water or you just might feel the slimy grasp of the Creature from the Black Lagoon around your bare ankle.
For almost a century, Silver Springs State Park and the Ocala area have been home to silver screen classics such as the Tarzan series starring Olympic gold medal winner Johnny Weissmuller, Rebel Without a Cause showcasing heartthrob James Dean, two James Bond films and assorted underwater films, among many others. Having such a rich film history, it’s only natural that Ocala should be the site for the country’s newest international film festival.
The inaugural Silver Springs International Film Festival, which will take place April 3 through 6, is spearheaded by Laurie Zink and Greg Thompson. Zink is the executive director of the Ocala Film Foundation and owner of the Z-Group, a project development and media relations firm located in Ocala. Thompson is the festival director. He is an award-winning theater and film artist who has directed several highly lauded plays at the Ocala Civic Theatre. He lives in Los Angeles and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Actor’s Equity Association.
“Knowing the local filmmaking history, our goal is to initiate a revival of interest in film in the Silver Springs area, Ocala and throughout Marion County,” says Zink. “At one time it was a thriving industry here, and we want to not only bring back some of the magic from the past, we want to create a brand-new magic for the future. This area has so much to offer filmmakers from around the world: We have a mix of natural beauty, urban excitement, a flourishing horse industry and thousands of acres of peaceful rural countryside. We really do believe we offer a bit of whatever a filmmaker might need to produce a successful film in practically any genre.”
But this event is not designed to just showcase filmmaking talent—it’s also meant to foster local talent as well. As organizers developed the idea of an international festival, they began to look for ways to tie it in closely to the local community, especially young people interested in a career in the film industry. This led to the formation of the Ocala Film Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization designed to provide scholarships, classroom equipment and supplies, and educational opportunities for Marion County students.
“As awareness of the festival increases over time and it is embraced locally, nationally and internationally, the foundation will use a portion of the proceeds to make available educational materials and opportunities in the film industry for many of our area students,” says Zink. “We are very excited to have this chance to expand education for our young people while fostering an appreciation of the visual arts throughout the county.”
The Ocala Film Foundation is not only the presenting partner of the Silver Springs International Film Festival but will also produce a “Fantastical Film Festival” to be held over Halloween weekend later this year. This is the first year for both festivals, and organizers have a three-to-five-year business plan in place to help insure these will be events future generations will also be able to enjoy.
The Silver Springs festival is planned to coincide with April’s First Friday Artwalk in Downtown Ocala and features an art walk and pub crawl following the April 4 screenings. According to Zink, organizers designed the festival to incorporate many aspects of the arts throughout Marion County, such as the Artwalk, the Brick City Center for the Arts and the Horse Fever project.
Behind The Scenes
Thompson says he is extremely pleased with the attention festival organizers have garnered from filmmakers around the world.
“We have had an amazing response from filmmakers, considering this is our first festival,” he says. “We have submissions from 37 countries, 12 states and every continent on Earth except Antarctica. Many of the submissions have won esteemed awards at various other prestigious festivals, and their participation is a prime example of the incredible level of talent we have attracted to our festival. One of the entries won an Oscar, and several films are making debuts onto the world stage. This is a juried festival, and a panel of film industry veterans will judge all the entries to determine winners in each category of film.”
According to Thompson, the event has a lot to offer everyone, including established filmmakers, aspiring filmmakers, those who love to watch movies and even those who are just curious as to what an international film festival has to offer.
“Besides elevating awareness of the area and bringing the ambiance of big-time international filmmaking to a local audience, we hope to foster the growth of area filmmakers at all levels,” he says. “Following the opening night festivities and the screening of the first feature film at the theater on Thursday evening, we will start the day Friday morning with our first “Filmmaker Seminar” at 9am. This first seminar, which is to be held at the Brick City Center for the Arts in downtown Ocala, is a seminar highlighting what goes on behind the scenes in film production. It will be taught by several big-name veterans of the film industry, and admission is limited to all current students and anyone with a festival ticket stub or pass.
“On Saturday morning from 10 to 11am, we will present our second seminar, also at the Brick City Center for the Arts, and this one will be performance-based. For this session, we will have seasoned actors and agents on hand to deliver expert advice on the performance aspect of filmmaking. These two seminars should provide excellent educational opportunities for locals who want to enter the film production and direction arena. It gives all involved a chance to mingle and share their experiences and knowledge.”
The Silver Screen
All film screenings will be held at the historic Marion Theatre in downtown Ocala. The theater has two screens, one viewed from the ground floor and one viewed from the balcony, allowing festival organizers to present two separate screenings simultaneously. Ground floor seating accommodates 316 patrons, while the balcony seats 94. Thompson says that, almost primarily, features will be screened on the main ground floor, and short films will be screened in the balcony, but there will be exceptions. Screenings will take place in scheduled two-hour blocks with the vast majority taking place on Friday and Saturday.
Although most film submissions are considered “general submissions,” the festival is showcasing three “Special Interest Blocks” that are theme-specific to Ocala and the surrounding area.
The “Horse Fever” block of films ties in to the Horse Fever project that presently displays more than 80 artfully decorated life-size horses in Ocala. The project is an iconic fundraising tool that has raised more than $1 million for the Marion Cultural Alliance and other local charitable agencies.
“The films submitted for this block are equine-themed, and the subject matter highlights horses and horse lovers,” says Thompson. “Since this area is known as ‘The Horse Capital of the World,’ we wanted to honor this local heritage that is so much a part of community life here in Marion County.”
The “Cinemagic” block, which will be held Saturday from 11am to 3pm, is comprised of family-friendly films the entire family will enjoy. Knowing that many films worthy of international attention usually address serious or adult matters, festival organizers wanted to provide a genre of film that parents and grandparents would be able to enjoy with children of all ages.
The “Green Screen” block is designed to celebrate a love and care for the Earth’s environment. Films presented in this block will reflect the natural beauty inherent in Ocala, Silver Springs and Marion County. It will be screened at the same time as the Cinemagic block. One screening will take place on the ground floor while the other will be a balcony screening.
“Since the area is well-known for its rivers, lakes, woodlands and natural surroundings, we thought it was important to focus a block of films on what really drew the film industry here almost a century ago,” says Thompson. “We feel this is one of the strengths that the industry can utilize locally now and in the future, and it is one that all county residents treasure. We also feel the films presented in this block will help raise awareness for environmental concerns worldwide.”
And The Winner Is…
Recently, festival organizers began the search for an award design that would be unique to the Silver Springs International Film Festival. In an effort to utilize home-grown talent, the call went out to resident sculptors and artists to create an award that has a distinct local flavor, yet also maintains an international feel. Local artisans have been hard at work creating the design they hope will be chosen to represent the festival for many years to come. According to Thompson, organizers will soon choose the design they feel meets the high standards of the festival.
Awards will be presented Saturday evening to the festival winners in seven categories: feature, short, documentary feature, documentary short, student, audience choice feature and audience choice short.
“We have a beautiful awards banquet planned that will take place on the street in front of the Marion Theatre,” says Thompson. “Following a unique evening of dining and décor and the presentation of the awards, we will host a festive street party replete with live music, dancing and a chance to mingle and get your photo taken with the award winners. It should be an evening filled with fun and great entertainment. The dinner and street party are ticketed events, but we want to invite the public out to be a part of the festivities throughout the downtown area that evening. There will be plenty of room behind the barricades where visitors can come and be a part of the energy and excitement of the festival.”
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…”
With such a storied history of filmmaking for almost a century, the Ocala and Silver Springs areas are not new to the magic of the silver screen—although, admittedly, interest has waned in the last few decades. The annual Silver Springs International Film Festival could be the spark that rekindles the fires of interest, not only throughout film centers around the world but here at home where aspiring directors, actors and actresses can be inspired by film talent from afar.
If you hear the distant yell of Tarzan or see a strange creature swimming about in the Silver River, don’t be alarmed—it simply means the Ocala Film Foundation and the Silver Springs International Film Festival have done their job—and Hollywood has come back home to stay.
Downtown Dinner Tour, Opening Festivities and Screening (6-11pm)
Ocala’s downtown eateries and retailers welcome festivalgoers with eclectic food choices and unique beverages. Follow this delectable path for several blocks to the Historic Marion Theatre and help open the festival with a champagne toast and chocolate treats. The featured opening screening will take you on a trip down memory lane to a different film-making era while celebrating Marion County’s unique film history. There will be a screening of a feature film whose title will be announced soon.
Filmmaker Production Seminar (9-10am)
Screenings of the Festival’s “Official Selections” begin at the Marion Theatre (10am-10pm)
Downtown Art Walk and Pub Crawl (6pm-until the fun ends)
This event is not a ticketed event and is open to the public. Fifteen city blocks come alive with open air spaces hosting visual and performing artists. Experience Ocala’s amazing pool of creative talent while enjoying the ambiance of the city’s historic downtown district, a host of outstanding restaurants and distinctive boutique shops. For your listening pleasure, Tampa jazz-funk band Seratonic will be performing at the downtown square. For late-night libations, patrons may visit local bars and nightclubs as they celebrate the creativity of visiting filmmakers.
Filmmaker Performance Seminar (10-11am)
Cinemagic for the Entire Family (11am-3pm)
Parents, grandparents and kids of all ages can enjoy an entire block of family-friendly films. The event will take place the Marion Theatre.
Screenings of the Festival’s “Official Selections” begin at the Marion Theatre (11am-7pm)
Festival Awards Ceremony and Closing Festivities (7:30–11pm)
Following our final screening, we will announce our inaugural festival award winners! Festivalgoers can congratulate the winners, celebrate the fun and join the paparazzi for photos with the filmmakers and their crews. Then, sit down to a unique evening of food design and table décor, and dance the night away under the stars with our stars of the Silver Springs International Film Festival ‘14.
Best of the Fest Encore Screening(1-5pm)
Screenings of all award-winning films at the Marion Theatre located at 50 South Magnolia Avenue in Ocala.
Seating is limited. First come, first served.