Vania Smrkovski on the First Project from SAFTA Films (Part 1/6)

It’s August 24th, 2013, and I’m standing in downtown Knoxville’s Krutch Park. Behind me on a park bench are several armloads of camera equipment, a Rubbermaid tub filled with plastic swords, forty dollars in gold coins and a dog dressed up in a fetching pirate-style shirt with a bandanna tied around her neck. I meet up with a six-and-a-half foot man in a t-shirt, his face made up in clown-white makeup, eyebrows drawn in dramatic curves, and lips red as a rose.

And I am waiting on a man in full pirate regalia, as he adjusts his peg leg and picks up his bottle of rum.

Actually, the bottle is filled with iced tea.

As we stand there, the man in white face (looking like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show, sans the corset), turns to me and conspiratorially says “You didn’t see me, and I didn’t see you.” With that he leaves, his own camera and entourage in tow.


It’s that time of year in Knoxville when a load of crazy people are out making movies. We at the Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) have decided to step up and contribute one of our own. As Director of Performing Arts, I have the honor and the privilege of leading the first effort with our entry in the Knoxville Film Festival’s 7-Day Shootout.

SAFTA has, until now, been largely focused on providing creative support in the form of workshops and other services for the written word. That is how I got involved. With a robust variety of activities, each workshop tackles some aspect of writing — poetry, revisions, page layout and performance pieces have been among the topics covered so far — but SAFTA’s mission is not just about writing. It’s about all of the creative arts.

In June, I was invited to join the board to head up the focus on performing arts, to bring my world of stage and film into the SAFTA fold and help the organization expand.

And my first task: enter a film competition.


Knoxville and the surrounding community have an unusual number of film festivals for a city its size. According to 2011 reports, the population of Knoxville is just over 180,000. Include the surrounding suburbs and the neighboring cities of Maryville and Oak Ridge, and you get closer to 200,000. Locals like to refer to this scruffy little city as a “big small town.” It has a thriving downtown life with a mix of older and newer buildings, great restaurants, bars and an energetic music scene — but nothing about the city cries out film.

Sure, we have the headquarters for the massive theater chain Regal Cinemas. And yes, Scripps Networks is based here, too. However, neither of these organizations actually do much film production here. Except for a few Investigation Discovery crime reenactment shows and the occasional Heartland Series episode, Knoxville’s presence on the world or national stage of film simply doesn’t exist.

And yet in the past ten years, there have been film festivals in Gatlinburg (the Gateway to the Smokies), Maryville, Oak Ridge and several in Knoxville.

Currently, active film competitions include the 54 Hour Film Festival, the Knoxville Horror Festival (currently hosting the annual Grindhouse festival), and Knoxville Films, which has hosted the 24 Hour Film Festival since 2006 and, until recently, was well known as the Secret City Film Festival, active for over ten years.

To be continued…