Film students bring home the bacon

The life of a film student holds few tangible rewards. When you're not hitting up the proprietor of the corner sports bar to allow a gratis location shoot for your next shot-on-video statement, you're lining up for your seventh viewing of Crouching Tiger and scanning the crowd for anyone who looks capable of supporting a friendly debate about the great tracking shots of history.

No, it's no fun waiting around to be a genius. But if you play your cards right, at least you might get on TV.

This weekend, the University of Central Florida takes its cinematic crusade to the airwaves in "The UCF Student Film Showcase: The Tenth Anniversary." To be telecast at noon Sunday, April 22, on WMFE-TV Channel 24 (and rerun 11 p.m. Tuesday, April 24), the one-hour program presents nine short subjects produced by film-department undergrads during the 2000-01 scholastic year.

"Documentaries, comedies, fantasy, action, love stories -- you name it, they're all here," says professor of film Charles Harpole, who started the UCF film program in 1990 and hosts the TV special. Some of the films shown are the result of class assignments, Harpole says, while others are "capstone" senior-thesis submissions. And true to his promise, the rough cut I've seen makes room for everything from somber elegies for dead family members (gotta fit in that emulsified self-healing before you're on the industry's dime) to a cornpone action-comedy about a pig with a badge. Yes, I mean the animal.

Harpole's interviews with the student filmmakers are interspersed throughout the show, giving him the opportunity to play James Lipton as he lobs such probing queries as, "How did you get this pig to appear that he was talking?" (Kids, practice answering that one if you ever plan to work with Antonio Banderas.) There's even a rapid-fire montage of highlights from the film program's first decade, a clever tapestry of similar shots and concepts that's reminiscent of an Oscar-night retrospective -- except that it's not filled with dead people.

WMFE aired its first UCF film spotlight in 1992, Harpole recalls. Its feature segment was a screening of "Resurrection," the senior film of one Eduardo Sanchez. Alumnus Sanchez figures in the 10th-anniversary showcase as well, but this time as one-fifth of the Haxan Films team who return in triumph to testify that their UCF education was a turning point on their way to indie prosperity.

"I'm not sure which way it was turning," Robin Cowie playfully amends. If the Blair Witch boys are the Beatles of Central Florida film (and they certainly are), then every one of them is Ringo.

They're also anomalous in having turned their film diplomas into financial solvency, as Harpole agreed when I caught up with him between editing sessions for the WMFE hour.

"'Blair Witch' was a culmination of the theory of the program," he said. "The guys were producers, raised their own money, cast the film, shot it, edited it and then tried to sell it."

The securing of local financing is the element of Orlando filmmaking that's Harpole feels "has never really developed to any significant degree." As the school's program grows, he hopes, film production -- budget-setting, investor-courting production in its most literal sense -- will become part and parcel of the curriculum.

"You can turn out 100 scriptwriters `whose scripts` stay on someone's shelf," he says. "But if you turn out producers, they may become viable projects."

In other words, why give a kid a fish-eye lens when teaching him to fish for coins will feed him for life?

Just ax nicely

And the next odd couple in local theater is -- Michael Wanzie and Andrea McArdle? Though no sightings of the former "Annie" brat were reported when Wanzie's musical drama, Lizzie, was performed as a staged reading last Saturday at the Orlando Science Center's Darden Adventure Theatre, the creative marriage is clearly on playwright Wanzie's wish list. Co-producer Kenny Howard confirms that McArdle has been mentioned throughout the show's many years of development as a strong contender to assume the lead role of murderess Lizzie Borden.

Further, contact made a few weeks ago with McArdle's manager revealed that she's "always looking for material like `"Lizzie"`," and that she "hasn't been in the development stage of a new musical for quite a while," Howard says. Still, the arrangement is "not anywhere close to a done deal," he stresses, understandably wary of raising false hopes should Operation: Redhead not work out.

Split the difference? Carrot Top?

Painting himself out of a corner

It's going to be a relatively quiet summer at the Back Booth, at least behind the bar. Creative partner Ryan Marshall is off in St. George Island, working as prop master on the next Victor Nuñez film, leaving allies Andy Gurjian and Pat Fatica to mind the store. And though Fatica's own filmmaking jones seems to have receded into the distance (his short, "Five Miles From Heaven," was screened during the 1999 Brouhaha Film & Video Showcase at Maitland's Enzian Theater), he still has plenty of artistic impulses to satisfy.

Sunday, April 29, Fatica will have a one-man showing of his oil paintings at Sapphire, with music provided by Orlando prank-rockers Precious and South Florida power-pop combo Humbert. (Both are Back Booth regulars.) Even without melodic enhancement, Fatica's art show would seem to have a ready-made audience: It overlaps with both the final day of the Orlando International Fringe Festival and the mammoth "WJRR's Earthday Birthday" outdoor/indoor concert. How downtown will handle the crush of spectators attracted by those disparate extravaganzas is anybody's guess. Personally, I'm anticipating sheer bedlam. And loving every minute of it.

Land of the Lost

While we're on the subject of anarchy, cross your fingers that underground-media mogul Scott Beibin will bring his Lost Film Fest back to town this June for another night of friendly counterprogramming to Enzian's Florida Film Festival. At this point, the Philadelphia-based Beibin says that his June travel plans will either deposit him here or take him to California. (Yeah, like no one's ever had to make that decision before.) In the meantime, "Godass" -- the dramatic portrait of a punk princess that Beibin and director Esther Bell screened last year at the Kit Kat Club -- has been sold to both Showtime and the Sundance Channel. The pair are now collaborating on another feature, and I'm hoping they return to Orlando before casting is finalized. There's this talking pig I'd love for them to meet.


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