Silver Springs International Film Festival 2016

Growth. It’s how we measure progress, whether it’s an infant, a town’s population or a stock portfolio.

For the Silver Springs International Film Festival, an event just in its third year, growth is occurring by the proverbial “leaps and bounds.” At the inaugural event in 2014, 3,000 tickets were sold for the three-day festival. A year later, the 2015 event was extended to five days and nearly 5,000 tickets were purchased. Now in 2016, response and film entries have grown the festival to seven days, from April 4 to 10.

“That’s astounding growth in just three years,” notes Laurie Zink, executive director of the Ocala Film Foundation. “In our first year, we had 11 filmmakers. The second year we had 67 filmmakers from 17 countries, including Africa, Italy, Great Britain and Spain, plus 14 U.S. states. This tells us they left here talking about how well the festival went and how well received they were in Ocala. For our 2016 festival, we have even more submissions, including some from countries we’ve never had before, such as Russia and China. Plus, our American submissions doubled, which is a testament to the festival. We’re pretty excited about this increase in submissions!”

The festival takes its name from the long-time local attraction, Silver Springs, the location for numerous feature films and television shows over the past 100 years. Festival activities will take place in the historic restored Marion Theatre and downtown Ocala, with the City of Ocala excited to be the festival’s premier sponsor.

“People ask why it’s called the Silver Springs International Film Festival,” says Greg Thompson, festival director.

“It’s because Silver Springs has had an important role in filmmaking history in Marion County since the early 1900s. We are championing the call to promote, restore and maintain the Springs.”

A popular tourist attraction since before the Civil War, Silver Springs is now a state park. The pristine natural beauty of the 350-acre site is what first drew film crews to the area a century ago when the silent movie The Seven Swans,starring Richard Barthelmess and Marguerite Clark, was shot there in 1916. Since then, many movies, television shows, commercials and even military training films have been filmed in and around the main spring area of Silver Springs. 

“Many towns have tried to launch a film festival and not succeeded, so it’s a big deal that the SSIFF has been a success,” observes Thompson.

“In addition to the art component, the festival contributes to downtown revitalization and tourism,” adds Zink. “For example, the festival played a key part in upgrading the Marion Theatre’s now state-of-the-art sound system. We also contribute to the community by supporting local students and teachers through scholarships and classroom grants.”

“Once we wrap up this year’s festival, we’ll have gifted nearly $50,000 back to the community through our scholarships, classroom grants and awards incentives for Florida filmmakers,” Thompson notes. “This county produces some of the most award-winning media arts students in the country. Supporting them is one reason we wanted to create the film festival, and no student pays a fee to submit films. In our ‘Dream2Screen’ program, we offer two scholarships to Marion County students involved in media arts. Any video production teacher in Marion County can apply for the $2,500 classroom grant for supplies and equipment. This keeps the majority of the money raised by the festival in our county. In addition, because of the enthusiastic support of the Manhattan Film Festival (MFF), they are partnering with the Ocala Film Foundation to give a $1,000 scholarship to a Marion County student who applies and is accepted to attend the 2016 MFF summer session.”

New this year are incentive awards for the best Florida-made short, best Florida-made feature and best student film.

We want to encourage filmmaking in our state,” says Thompson, “and are building incentives to attract filmmakers to come to Marion County.”

What’s It All About?

So, you’ve never been to the festival? Here’s why that needs to change this year.

“Music festivals tend to be genre-oriented; if it’s a jazz festival, it tends to be only jazz fans coming. Films cross all borders in ways no other art form does,” says Thompson. “It’s storytelling that involves everything; it’s the most collaborative of the arts.

“One of the most beautiful things about a film festival is that you are telling your own story, literally,” he adds. “You get to come and choose and experience things from all over the world from so many different perspectives. When you walk out of the theater you may find yourself in Starbucks later chatting with a filmmaker from New Zealand. People come, build their own experience and walk away talking about it.”

All in all, nearly 100 films will be shown over the duration of the festival. These include everything from shorts that run less than 20 minutes to documentaries and feature-length presentations.

Frequently, a short film will be paired with a feature film for one 90-minute block of time. There are Q&A sessions between screenings, and a highlight of these Q&As will be a visit with veteran actor and filmmaker Joe Pantoliano, who will be in attendance for his films Canvas and No Kidding! Me 2! (Read more about Pantoliano’s work and cause in this month’s issue of Healthy Living Magazine.)

Organizers have made it a point to keep pricing affordable, and tickets start at just $10 with discounts for seniors and students. You can buy a full-day pass, purchase a ticket for an individual screening or buy a “Dive In” all-access pass, which offers entry to all screenings and festival events. You’ll find a complete schedule, descriptions of events and pricing information on the SSIFF website. You can also purchase tickets online through the site.

Lest you think all film festival offerings are “edgy and dark,” you’ll be pleased to know SSIFF is one of the only film festivals to feature an entire day of screenings that are guaranteed 100 percent family friendly. (Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 9!) Other films are non-rated, but all you have to do is read the program, which tells you the exact content of each film, making it easy to pick what you want to watch.

Seminars representing all aspects of filmmaking are also held throughout the festival, typically two per day. It’s your chance to dialogue with filmmakers, share ideas, network and interact with professionals in the industry.

“Some people come just for the films, some come just for the seminars and some come just for the parties,” notes Zink. “Others come for a combination of everything; you really can create your own experience.”

An interesting facet of the SSIFF is the fact that organizers strive to incorporate the festival into the community in a truly hands-on way. For example, the filmmakers behind Polyfaces are scheduled to talk with area farmers who are interested in learning more about the practices shown in the documentary. Also, the Appleton Museum of Art, in affiliation with the festival, is currently running Journey into Imagimation: 100 Years of Animation Art From Around the World. This exhibit features works by animation legend Tim Walker, whose work has graced countless animated movies during his 50-year career. Brotherhood Of The Popcorn, a documentary featuring Walker, will also be screened at the Appleton during the festival. There will be two screenings and a celebration of Tim and his work at the Appleton on Wednesday, April 6.

Amazingly, the festival is organized and manned entirely by an all-volunteer force, totaling nearly 200 people.

“A group of dedicated volunteers have come together and created this,” says Thompson. “We’ve been working diligently on the festival since May of last year and want everyone to come out and experience it.”

Every effort of those volunteers is geared toward creating a one-of-a-kind event for both attendees and participating filmmakers. Monday evening, April 4, is the opening of the festival, a great time to meet and greet and gear up for the fabulous week ahead. Don’t forget to join the kickoff party downtown.

You won’t want to miss Tuesday evening, April 5, when downtown Ocala rolls out a lavish welcome to the film festival. Buy your wristband ahead of time and you’ll be ready to celebrate. The downtown merchants have come together and created a host of great opportunities. Walk into any of the many participating shops and restaurants, show your wristband and they’ll have a special menu item, beverage or treat just for you. You’ll have the run of downtown as you walk from place to place, sampling different items and taking in the sights. Music on the square will turn downtown into one giant sock hop, including a classic car show and Elvis impersonators. Come prepared to dance… or at least to cheer on those who do. Then head to the Marion Theatre for the 9pm screening of the Elvis movie, Follow That Dream, which was filmed largely in Ocala.

“We’re thrilled to have all our downtown merchants on board,” says Thompson. “They’ve been planning well in advance to bring you an evening you won’t forget.”

Now Playing

This year’s festival carries the tag line “See the world from the edge of your seat,” and that’s exactly what attendees will experience.

“That says it all. You can get transported to another place in the world entirely without leaving your seat,” says Zink. “I don’t know how we could have done any better to offer such a variety to so many different audiences this year. One of our slogans is ‘Watch·Learn·Do.’ This festival has something for everyone.”

Festival officials have made it a point to select films with topics that pertain directly to our community. For example, there’s a strong contingent of films related to agriculture and the equine world.

“This year we’ve added more equestrian films,” says Zink. “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Manhattan’s acclaimed Equus Film Festival, which brings us some of the world’s best equine films for our ‘Horse Fever’ series. We’ll be screening Unbranded, a feature-length documentary about four cowboys who rode mustangs from Mexico to Canada.”

Once Wednesday rolls around, you’re in for a treat with four full days of screenings. (Check out the sidebar for details about a few of the featured films.)

But just how are those films chosen? The selection process is determined by an independent group of judges or program directors. They view every single film submission sent to the festival, which is no small undertaking. From this extensive group they narrow it down, selecting a specified number of films they feel best meet the festival’s requirements, which determines which entries will be submitted to the jury panel. This jury, which is made up of film professionals from across the country, ultimately decides the winning films. No festival staff or board member has any say in choosing the winners. But here’s the good part: You do!

“We have two levels of film awards at the festival: juried and by popular vote,” says Thompson. “A juried award is like an Oscar because it’s determined by a professional panel. The Audience Choice Awards are like the People’s Choice Awards. People like feeling like they’re part of the decision, and they are.”


Saturday, April 9, is the grand finale and, with it, the much-anticipated closing party and signature event known as Ocala’s Longest Dinner Table.

“Seating for this event is extremely limited, and it sells out quickly, so get your tickets as soon as they go on sale,” urges Thompson. “The street in front of the Marion Theatre comes alive when 10 of the best chefs from area restaurants pair with some of the area’s best designers. Together, they create a table that is a feast for all. Each chef serves only their section of the table, and the only rules are that it must be a minimum of a four-course meal and a fanciful departure from anything offered in their restaurants.

When dinner is over, the evening is just getting started. Diners move into the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Fort King Street where there are cocktail tables and dancing in the street until midnight. It can be as elegant an evening as you want, and most people do dress up. It’s the party of the year. There’s nothing else like it in town.”

A stage will also be set up in front of the Marion Theatre, and awards are presented to the winning filmmakers of the festival, which means you might just find yourself sharing a table or enjoying a libation with one of the winners.

Wrap Up

Sunday, April 10, is an encore screening of the Best of the Fest. Every film that won in its category will be screened, for a total of seven films. In addition, festival-goers can also catch any of the films they might have missed during the week by visiting the Deep Dive Cinema Lounge in the Filmmakers’ Salon at The Brick, which is the event’s headquarters.

Make 2016 the year you put the SSIFF on your “can’t-miss” list. Once you do, it’s sure to become an annual event.

Silver Springs International Film Festival

Program, ticket prices and details on website 433-1933

A Sneak Peek

Space prevents us from describing every film that will be screened during the festival, but here are a couple highlights. Check out the festival website for more details on all of the featured films.


It doesn’t get much more adventurous than this. Four young cowboys hatch the ambitious plan to adopt and train a string of wild mustangs, riding them 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada through some of the American West’s most challenging terrain. Ben Masters, the mastermind behind Unbranded, wanted to bring attention to the plight of the American mustang, and this film, directed by Phillip Baribeau, does just that. Masters recruited Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover and Ben Thamer to ride with him. Their epic journey of self-discovery and friendship included peril, sickness, injury and death, not to mention runaway horses and a sassy donkey. Unbranded won the Audience Award at Telluride Mountainfilm and Hot Docs Film Festival.


One of the most highly anticipated films in the “green screen” block is Polyfaces, a documentary that has already won multiple awards. Filmmakers Darren Doherty, Lisa Heenan and Isabella Doherty (their daughter) did more than make a movie. The Australian family spent their life savings ($100,000 they’d managed to save to build a home) and devoted four years to living on Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where farm owner Joel Salatin, hailed by Time Magazine as “the world’s most innovative farmer,” approaches farming in a totally nontraditional way. The filmmakers hope the documentary will inspire change, teaching people that it’s possible to produce healthy, high-quality food in a way that works with nature—not against it.

And The Winner Is…

Prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

The Bruce Mozert Lifetime Achievement Award

The “Fresh Squeezed” Award for Best Florida-Made Feature (includes cash prize of $7,000)

The “Fresh Squeezed” Award for Best Florida-Made Short (includes cash prize of $1,000)

Best Student Short (includes cash prize of $1,000)

Best Feature Film

Best Feature Documentary

Best Short Film

Best Documentary Short

Audience Choice—Best Feature

Audience Choice—Best Short

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