Sanford isn't skimping on shorts this year. In fact, there are more to love than ever before, as the Love Your Shorts Film Festival screens 80 films (nine more than last year, mostly thanks to a larger number of animated micro-shorts).
Scheduled for Feb. 8-11, the festival begins with Thursday's Education Day, sponsored by the University of Central Florida's College of Arts and Humanities. Two morning discussion panels at the Greater Sanford Regional Chamber of Commerce address how to make a scary movie, and 15 short movies by University of Central Florida film students screen at 7 p.m. at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center. (If you count those student films, the festival's total is actually 95.)
The festival's main portion follows over the next three days at the Wayne Densch. Movies (all less than 30 minutes) are divided into nine blocks: opening night (mix of genres), E for Everyone, animation, documentary, comedy, sci-fi/horror, drama, Florida Flavor and Best of the Fest. That last block features the top films from the previous blocks, as voted on by audience members. (Judges then select the overall winner from that final block.) And a discussion panel on Saturday at 5 p.m. addresses the art of filmmaking.
Though the festival shows films from 10 countries and many U.S. states, it has long been a friend to local filmmakers. That tradition continues this year with movies by Fred Zara, Dale Metz, TL Westgate, Christina Carmona, Sarah Holland, Dimitri Pantchev and David Witwer.
Now in its eighth year, the event has retained its small-town charm while growing into one of the top five film festivals in the Orlando area, with an annual attendance of more than 2,000. It's been a tall order, but the Shorts haven't let Sanford down.
"The biggest challenge is putting on a growing and engaging festival with all volunteers," says festival co-founder and board member Gene Kruckemyer. "We're a nonprofit organization, and we've pretty much been able to do everything for eight years on a shoestring. Everyone involved is a volunteer – our board members and others in the community who help – and I think it has been a remarkable team effort."
If coordinating the 2018 festival sounds like a difficult job, consider the event's first year.
"In the beginning, we had a core group of people that did everything," says co-founder and festival director Nelson Beverly. "At our inaugural film festival in 2011, we created a theater from the ground up at our Chamber of Commerce. We had to rent a screen, borrow a projector, bring in chairs and even bring our own popcorn machine.
"The transition from a startup film festival to an established film festival has been challenging. ... Fast forward to now and we are blessed to have a great partnership with the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, where our festival has occurred every year since 2012. This takes a huge burden off our shoulders, as a movie-theater environment is always ready to go. As such, we have been able to focus our efforts on growing the festival by providing a free education day of films and activities, along with offering filmmaker grants."
Just like many other festival directors, Beverly says he has grown to appreciate the value of teamwork.
"One thing I have learned during my time with LYSFF is the importance of collaboration, both in making films and in running a film festival," he says. "As the festival has grown, more people have gotten involved, and this has required us to develop new systems, focus on leadership, have planning meetings, and make sure we are managing our resources effectively."
Despite overcoming most of its challenges, the event has had its share of surprises. But fortunately for Kruckemyer, his most significant surprise has been a positive one.
"The biggest surprise is that filmmakers and film fans from all over the United States and the world have come to Sanford for the festival: China, Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and elsewhere. For most of them it was a first visit, and some of them have returned," Kruckemyer says. "It's always rewarding to be part of the impromptu weekend film community of filmmakers, fans, sponsors and volunteers that pops up in downtown Sanford."