by Max Marbut
It began five years ago as a way for cinema buffs in the community to get together once a year and see some movies they would never find on the screen at the local multiplex. Since then it has grown into an anticipated event among the international independent film community and an economic development driver for North Florida.
It’s also still a great way for cinema buffs in the community to get together once a year and see some movies they would never find on the screen at the local multiplex.
May 17, when the projector flickers to life and the first few frames light up the screen at the 2007 Jacksonville Film Festival, Marlo Zarka will be standing in the back of the house for the beginning of her first festival as its executive director.
For three consecutive years, she was a festival volunteer when she wasn’t running her own business.
“After I got my master’s degree in public administration, I started a consulting firm that worked with small non-profit organizations and helped them get to the next level,” said Zarka.
Last year, when the festival’s board was looking for an executive director, Zarka said she thought she would be a perfect fit for the job.
“It was exactly what I know how to do and since I had been a volunteer for years, I had watched the festival transition from a fledgling effort to a maturing organization.”
She is quick to point out she neither has nor wants to have any input as far as the selection of films is concerned. Zarka depends on a staff of professional programmers to handle that part of the festival.
“I handle the business side of it like networking, budget and sponsorships. My job is to make sure people know what’s going on, that they should be involved and ensure this organization is a permanent part of Jacksonville’s cultural fabric,” she said.
May 17-20 more than 50 independent films will be screened, some of which will have their world-premiere in Jacksonville. Zarka said a new record was set when more than 400 films were submitted for consideration this year. She added the programming staff had a new set of rules to go for 2007.
“We raised the bar this year. We wanted to bring Jacksonville’s level of excellence up to the standard met by the other film festivals.”
The festival has also developed into quite an asset for the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.
“It’s an opportunity to capitalize on visiting filmmakers, directors and producers who have never been to Jacksonville,” said Todd Roobin, chief of the Jacksonville Film & Television office, a division of the JEDC.
“These people are always looking for a location for their next project. Each year during the festival, we take a group of filmmakers on a Saturday morning tour of many of the locations here that have been used for films in the past. We also distribute marketing materials that include testimonials from people in the industry who have made films and commercials in Jacksonville. We know after they leave and go home to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, not only have they seen personally what we have here to offer their industry, but they tell their peers.
“It’s economic development in the truest sense because we’re selling the city to the industry,” added Roobin.
The festival will also make a 6.5 CLE contribution to continuing education available to the legal community this year. The Third Annual “Independent Film Making and the Law” seminar will be held from 9:15 a.m.-4:45 p.m. May 18 at the Hyatt. For information, visit www.EASL.info