Film festival revisits Florida cinematic history [NEW PORT RICHEY, FL]

[article via THS Director Dennis Wilhelm, Miami Beach, FL]

By KLINT LOWRY | The Suncoast News
Published: November 09, 2011

For the past few years, Hollywood has been in love with reboots, taking veteran movie franchises and starting them all over again with a new perspective.

In a sense, a group of film buffs is hoping to do just that with downtown New Port Richey by reviving its long-dormant cinematic identity.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, The Thomas Meighan Group will debut the Thomas Meighan Film Festival, a collection of film, video and animation shorts at the Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd. The hope is to make the event an annual affair as part of a bigger plan to establish an identity for the area as a center for cinematic art.

Two years ago, Robert Mateja, Deborah Pentivolpi and Charlie and Marie Skelton formed the Thomas Meighan Group, named for the silent film star who once envisioned making New Port Richey into an East Coast rival to Hollywood as a moviemaking mecca.

Remnants of Meighan’s dream still give downtown much of its character. There’s the long-vacant Hacienda Hotel. There are the large murals depicting the Roaring ’20s, when Meighan infected the city with the showbiz bug, introducing many of his showbiz friends to the area. And there’s the theater, originally named after Meighan when it opened in 1926.

The Great Depression derailed plans to build a movie studio in New Port Richey, and the advent of talking movies derailed most silent film stars’ careers, including Meighan’s. Since then, the dream has faded into local mythology.

The goal of the Thomas Meighan Group is to re-establish the historic old theater into a fully functional movie house, conduct educational programs in digital art and filmmaking, and make the arts in general a key component in the revitalization of downtown.

One of the group’s first steps was to bring the Black Maria Film Festival, a national tour featuring short independent films, to the theater the past two years.

The Thomas Meighan Film Festival is the next step — a homegrown festival intended to showcase local filmmakers and boost appreciation of independent film and digital art. It also is meant to celebrate an aspect of the city’s heritage and promote the preservation of downtown landmarks.

The festival will open with a history of Meighan and his time in New Port Richey …

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and available at the theater box office.

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