The SciFi Gainesville Short Film Festival’s first in-person screening amplifies local and global filmmakers

Ceiling lights in the newly refurbished Lyceum Theater have dimmed, painting the wide walls a darker shade of gray and brightening the screen at the front of the room more.

Suddenly, the screen, which previously bore the SciFi Gainesville logo, went black. A hooded figure appeared, lowering its hood considerably to reveal the face of Marc Shahboz, the director of Film Gainesville.

“I’m Marc Shahboz,” he said, “and this is SciFi Gainesville.”

The 2nd annual SciFi Gainesville Short Film Festival, which was screened in person for the first time this year at Santa Fe College, featured 23 films on Friday and Saturday. The festival, created by Shahboz, amplified small filmmakers from Florida and beyond as Shahboz hoped to provide opportunities otherwise less available in the industry.

Shahboz, a professor of digital media at Santa Fe College, started Film Gainesville with a 48-hour film competition 11 years ago, which has become a hit with students. He viewed science fiction as a logical progression to continue bringing films to Gainesville, believing it would be a more appealing genre to the masses than the melodrama of other festivals. The international competition attracted submissions from across the Americas as well as Australia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

When Shahboz studied for his master’s degree in digital art at the University of Florida from 1996 to 1999, film festivals weren’t as plentiful as they are today.

“There wasn’t this type of opportunity (when I was in college),” Shahboz said. “I mean, film festivals have really exploded. The online space to show the film was not there. The amount of festival and opportunity was not there.

One of the films that followed Shahboz’s intense introduction, “Betrayed,” was directed by Dale Metz, who has worked in photography and film since retiring from fire service in 2009.

Metz, 62, currently resides in DeBary, Florida, but was unable to attend the SciFi Festival Gainesville in person, much to her chagrin. He loves the festival atmosphere.

“There’s nothing better as a filmmaker,” Metz said. “I mean, that’s kind of why you make movies, isn’t it? It’s just great to be able to sit in a theater and hear the reaction of the audience and then get direct feedback from people. »

Small filmmakers like Metz cannot afford to be picky about the screens and festivals at which they watch their work. The most prestigious festivals in the world reject thousands of applications each year. The Slamdance Film Festival showed 114 films in total out of more than 8,000 total submissions in 2022. A Sundance Film Festival programmer told Film Independent in 2016 that less than 1% of all submissions were chosen.

“You don’t walk into Sundance,” Metz said. “I mean, you just aren’t.”

So where do the remaining 99%, budding stars and post-retirement enthusiasts, turn? They bring their work to smaller film festivals like SciFi Gainesville.

Metz said he enjoyed working in Florida because of the talent within the state, and he felt Shahboz’s dedication to state and local talent was evident from the construction of the festival.

“I could tell by his programming and some of his awards and so on, it’s clear he wants to focus on local filmmakers and bring people to the door and provide an outlet for that,” Metz said. .

Nicole Young, who graduated from the University of Central Florida in May 2021, also presented her film at SciFi Gainesville. Young, along with several UCF classmates, created “Worlds of Matter”, an educational short that explained the states of matter.

Young, 25, said she and her team wanted to create a unique-looking film with experimental animation methods. While some festivals dismissed “Worlds of Matter” for its educational nature and lack of narrative basis, Young said other shows, like Sci-Fi Gainesville, relished the visual aspect.

Smaller film festivals like Sci-Fi Gainesville also promote creativity within the film industry, Young said, as opposed to massive mainstream projects with hundred million dollar budgets that depend on their success.

“You have all this freedom to kind of explore things that maybe haven’t been explored before or do something risky but very personal to you,” Young said. “I think if film festivals didn’t exist, it would be very difficult for new ideas to gain traction and for film festivals, or the film industry in general, to grow creatively.”

However, Shahboz didn’t just create SciFi Gainesville to give directors a place to share movies in a vacuum. He wanted to give Gainesville residents like Sara Barnes and Alejandro Aguirre a chance to see new creations they would never find in a theater.

Barnes, 20, and Aguirre, 21, attended the Sci-Fi Gainesville screening on Saturday. Barnes, a UF anthropology major who said she enjoys watching and writing science fiction, enjoyed the experience.

“Honestly, I really enjoyed the event,” Barnes said. “I thought that was cool. There were some funky movies, but I guess everyone has their own tastes and how they experiment with what they want to do with their stories is really interesting.

Both Aguirre and Barnes said they would like to see more events like SciFi Gainesville in the community. Aguirre, a UF junior studying English and history, wished he could share the experience with more people in the theater, as the crowds barely pushed a dozen people each night.

“One of the best things (about an event like this) is being able to chat afterwards,” Aguirre said. “So I would like to, you know, have more of an audience to talk to, maybe like during an intermission.”

While the in-person attendance at the first live-action SciFi Gainesville screening might not have been overwhelming, Shahboz also offered a free online streaming option on the Film Gainesville website. The website traffic over the past two years has impressed him, as the festival has amassed over 1,000 views in 2021 and over 400 people through the first day of 2022.

Gainesville residents may not see Metz or Young advertising their movies on a late-night talk show or accepting an Oscar on prime-time television. However, thanks to Shahboz and Film Gainesville, their work can be shared with new communities.

“Good stories, they stand out,” Shahboz said. “Originality…if you can write a good story and you have good actors, it really stands out.”

Darcy J. Skinner