The Lyceum Theater at Santa Fe College, pictured before the Saturday screening of the SciFi Gainesville Short Film Festival. (Ryan Haley/WUFT News)

SciFi Gainesville Short Film Festival’s first in-person screening amplifies local and global filmmakers


The overhead lights in the newly renovated Lyceum Theater dimmed, painting the wide walls a darker shade of gray and further illuminating the screen at the front of the room.

Suddenly, the display, which previously bore the SciFi Gainesville logo, went black. A hooded figure appeared, dramatically lowering his cowl to reveal the face of Marc Shahboz, the director of Film Gainesville.

“I’m Marc Shahboz,” he said, “and this is SciFi Gainesville.”

The 2nd annual SciFi Gainesville Short Film Festival, which screened in person for the first time this year at Santa Fe College, showcased 23 films Friday and Saturday. The festival, which Shahboz created, amplified small filmmakers from Florida and beyond as Shahboz hoped to provide opportunities otherwise less available in the industry.

Shahboz, a professor of digital media at Santa Fe College, started Film Gainesville with a 48-hour film competition 11 years ago, which became a hit with students. He saw science fiction as a logical progression to continue bringing films to Gainesville, thinking it would be a more appealing genre for the masses than the melodrama of other festivals. The international competition drew submissions from all over the continental United States as well as Australia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

When Shahboz studied for his master’s degree in digital art at the University of Florida from 1996-1999, film festivals weren’t nearly as abundant as they are today.

“There wasn’t this type of opportunity (when I was in college),” Shahboz said. “I mean, film festivals have really exploded. The online space for showing film wasn’t there. The amount of festival and opportunity wasn’t there.”

One of the films which followed Shahboz’s intense introduction, “Betrayed,” was directed by Dale Metz, who has worked in photography and filmmaking since he retired from the fire service in 2009.

Metz, 62, currently resides in DeBary, Florida, but couldn’t attend the SciFi Gainesville festival in person, much to his chagrin. He adores the festival atmosphere.

“There’s nothing better as a filmmaker,” Metz said. “I mean, it’s kind of why you make films, right? It’s just great to be able to sit in a theater and hear an audience reaction, and then get direct feedback from people.”

Smaller filmmakers like Metz can’t afford to be picky about what screens and festivals they watch their work play out on. The most prestigious festivals in the world annually reject thousands of submissions. Slamdance Film Festival showed 114 total films out of over 8,000 total submissions in 2022. A programmer from the Sundance Film Festival told Film Independent in 2016 that less than 1% of all submissions are chosen.

“You’re not getting into Sundance,” Metz said. “I mean, you’re just not.”

So where do the remaining 99 percent, the aspiring stars and post-retirement hobbyists, turn? They bring their work to smaller film festivals like SciFi Gainesville.

Metz said he loves working in Florida because of the talent within the state, and he felt Shahboz’s dedication to in-state and local talent is evident from the festival’s construction.

“I could tell by his lineup and some of his awards and so forth, it’s clear that he wants to put some emphasis on the local filmmakers and getting people in the door and providing an outlet for that,” Metz said

Nicole Young, who graduated from the University of Central Florida in May 2021, also had her film featured at SciFi Gainesville. Young, along with several UCF classmates, created “Worlds of Matter,” an educational short film which explained the states of matter.

Young, 25, said she and her team wanted to create a unique-looking film with experimental animation methods. While some festivals rejected “Worlds of Matter” for its educational nature and lack of narrative base, Young said other shows, like Sci-Fi Gainesville, relished the visual aspect.

Smaller film festivals like Sci-Fi Gainesville also promote creativity within the film industry, Young said, as opposed to massive mainstream projects with hundred-million-dollar budgets riding on their success.

“You have all this freedom to kind of explore things that may have not been explored before or make something that is risky but is very personal to you,” Young said. “I think that, if film festivals did not exist, it’d be very hard for new ideas to gain traction and for film festivals, or the film industry in general, to grow creatively.”

Shahboz didn’t simply create SciFi Gainesville to give directors a place to share films into the void, however. He wanted to give the people of Gainesville, like Sara Barnes and Alejandro Aguirre, a chance to view novel creations they would never find in a theatre.

Barnes, 20, and Aguirre, 21, attended Sci-Fi Gainesville’s Saturday showing. Barnes, a senior anthropology major at UF who said she likes watching and writing science-fiction, appreciated the experience.

“I honestly really enjoyed the event,” Barnes said. “I thought it was cool. There were some films that were a little funky, but I guess everyone has their own taste and the way that they experiment with what they want to do with their stories is really interesting.”

Aguirre and Barnes both said they’d like to see more events like SciFi Gainesville within the community. Aguirre, a UF junior studying English and history, wished he could share the experience with more people in the theatre, as the crowd barely pushed a dozen people each night.

“One of the better things (about an event like this) is to be able to discuss afterwards,” Aguirre said. “So I would love, you know, more of an audience to have to talk to, maybe like during an intermission.”

While the in-person turnout for the first live screening of SciFi Gainesville may not have been overwhelming, Shahboz also offered a free online streaming option from the Film Gainesville website. The website traffic the past two years impressed him, as the festival amassed over 1000 views in 2021 and over 400 people through the first day of 2022.

The people of Gainesville may not see Metz or Young advertising their films on a late-night talk show or accepting an Oscar on primetime television. However, thanks to Shahboz and Film Gainesville, their work can be shared to new communities.

“The good stories, they stand out,” Shahboz said. “The originality…if you can write a good story and you have good actors, it really does stand out.”

About Ryan Haley

Ryan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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