The expression “treat yourself” may remind some people of characters played by Aziz Ansari and on Parks and Recreation
(they actually say "treat yo self," but close enough). But for Ralph Clemente’s students at Valencia College, the expression will forever be associated with him. He was a man of many catchphrases, but that was by far his most frequently deployed, and those who knew him will miss hearing it from him. Clemente died Sunday of pancreatic cancer. He was 72 years old.
Clemente wasn’t a household name in Orlando, but he had a larger impact on Central Florida than many people realized. He became the founding director of Valencia College’s film program in 1988 after Valencia lured him away from the University of Miami with a more lucrative offer.
The film program was lauded by Steven Spielberg as one of the best in the country, which sparked a tremendous amount of interest in the selective, limited-size program. Clemente used to tell stories about how even retired military generals wanted in.
Clemente loved telling stories as much as he loved movies. He was a captivating orator, and his thick Bavarian accent peppered his delivery. He was just one of those people that made the air feel different when they occupied the same room.
While most film schools place emphasis on film theory, Clemente’s program was all about film production. Students were immersed in real productions shortly after entering the program, which meant that students who graduated were adequately prepared for careers in the film industry. It also attracted production companies, which quickly realized that they could save money if they used Valencia students as their film crew, to set up shop in Central Florida.
Valencia’s film program started out at Disney-MGM Studios, where students were featured in the park’s back-lot tour and worked on productions like Superboy. The program later moved to Universal Studios before eventually calling the college’s east campus home. The program’s most well-known students are probably director Eduardo Sanchez and producer Gregg Hale, the creators of the Blair Witch Project.
Clemente was a member of both the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America. His filmography includes more than 60 producer credits and five director credits. He was also an actor in 70 nationally broadcast commercials. His honors include a 2008 Film Florida Legends Award and recognition in our annual Best of Orlando awards in 1997.
As someone who shared his love of cinema, I was elated when I received my acceptance letter for his program. I personally never made it big in the film industry, though I did get to work on some big productions like America’s Next Top Model, and I have an assistant director credit on a short film that played at Cannes. I mainly applied the production skills I learned from Clemente to other aspects of the entertainment industry, such as producing concerts and club events.
Ralph was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last month on March 17. He passed on April 5 little more than a fortnight later. His passing has left a vacuum in the hearts of those who knew him as well as the state of Florida as a whole.
Valencia is holding a candlelight service for him Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the main mall area of Valencia’s east campus. A service for close friends and family while be held in Miami on Saturday. He is survived by his wife Emily, sons Randolph and Parker, and his granddaughter, Valentina.