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NPR Film Festival to showcase local’s work

NEW PORT RICHEY - After years of post-production work on television shows like “House”, “CSI” and “The X-Files” in Los Angeles, Andrew Fisher moved back home to Florida and took up residence in New Port Richey. Now, the video editor-turned-filmmaker is having his first film, a 15-minute short, featured at the second annual Thomas Meighan Film Festival at the Richey Suncoast Theatre on Saturday, April 19. “A Place For Lily” is about a young girl’s heated confrontation with her father that ends in gunfire. Lily and her best friend must go on the run, and the girls’ short journey ends in a way that neither of them would ever expect. “I had seen some short films since coming back to Florida and I didn’t really feel like they were films,” Fisher said. “It felt like someone grabbed a video camera and said ‘hey, let’s make a movie.’ So I wanted to give something that had more of a film look, and I really took my inspiration from 1970s family movies.”
The local film festival will be held this year alongside the 32nd Black Maria Film and Video Festival as a double feature of sorts at the historic theater. Fourteen short films will be screened, including those from local filmmakers like Fisher and Bobby Marinelli, a Hudson resident. Robert Mateja, a digital cinema production teacher at Marchman Technical Education Center, is one of the Meighan Film Festival’s co-founders. The idea grew out of Pasco County’s lack of opportunities for his students to present their work. “A lot of my students were doing productions and didn’t have an outlet,” Mateja said. “I told them to submit their work to a film festival but for a lot them, unfortunately, nothing was in proximity. I talked to Charlie Skelton at the theater, who passed away last year, and we said ‘lets try it out and see what happens.’” Although the Black Maria had been coming there for a few years, the films screened at that national touring festival are from a catalog of films that is compiled by tour organizers before the start of each year’s tour from submissions around the country. Pasco County residents weren’t able to add their films. The Thomas Meighan Film Festival changed that, Mateja said. The festival is named for “Thomas Meighan,” a silent movie star of the 1920s who took up residence in New Port Richey and aimed to bring a motion picture studio to the city. The Great Depression prevented that from happening; and age combined with the advent of talking movies diminished Meighan’s career. The Meighan Theatre opened July 1, 1926, with a showing of the movie “The New Klondike,” starring Meighan. The theater closed and reopened several times over the next 40 years. After several changes in ownership, it became a community theater, featuring live productions under the name Richey Suncoast Theatre in 1972. “The Richey Suncoast Theatre is really the only historical theater, the only one of its kind, in Pasco,” Mateja said. In addition to giving patrons the experience of viewing old films in a traditional theater, as opposed to today’s multiplexes, the Meighan Film Festival gives local filmmakers the opportunity to show off the best of Pasco. Fisher’s film was shot entirely in New Port Richey, at J.B. Starkey Park and on sets built inside his garage, living room and daughter’s room. “How perfect is this that it’s showing at New Port Richey’s film festival?” Fisher asked. “I can’t really judge how good or bad my film is but I’ve see other local films, especially the student films, and there really are some great films out there. I’m happy that mine even made it in.” Last year, the theater was packed for both the Black Maria and Thomas Meighan film festivals, Mateja said. Although putting on a multi-day film festival would be a daunting task, it may have to be considered in the future so that the festivals can continue to expand. New Port Richey doesn’t have a large film community, and despite the long-running traditions of other local festivals like Chasco Fiesta, there are fewer “alternate entertainment” festivals. It’s a tricky process to choose films that have a wide appeal to make sure there’s interest and a large turnout for the festival. Mateja said that the crowd is getting younger every year but a variety of film buffs and novices alike are attending the festivals. “In the end, I hope people come out and have a good time doing something fun in this area,” Mateja said. “Maybe don’t see a commercial film one weekend and go somewhere to open your eyes to different types of alternate entertainment.” Proceeds from the Thomas Meighan Film Festival will benefit the Richey Suncoast Theatre to help with the cost of new equipment and other updates. For more information, to buy tickets and to see a complete festival listing, visit www.tmfilm fest.com.
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