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By Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times
March 22, 2010

Sunday night, the Gasparilla International Film Festival — after three years of sharp growing pains — matured into everything a regional cinema showcase hopes to be.

You want good movies? The closing film, Warren Skeels’ Glee-ful documentary Thespians, may have been the best of the festival's strongest lineup ever. Awards were presented to appreciative indie filmmakers in a Tampa Theatre setting that had visitors from as far away as Brazil swooning at its old world elegance.

All of them deserving winners but the evening belonged to Thespians, a captivating documentary following four high school acting troupes preparing for Florida's state competition held annually in Tampa. Watching these talented teenagers tackling tough scenes with veteran gusto — backed by marvelously devoted teachers — was an extraordinary experience. The last time I recall leaving a festival feeling this good about a previously unknown documentary was Murderball a few years ago in Sarasota, and that one got nominated for an Oscar. Thespians isn't likely to match that feat but Skeels’ movie absolutely deserves a distribution deal to try.


By Mark Hinson, Tallahasse Democrat
April 9, 2010

It's really difficult not to reduce the heartfelt, engaging and smart documentary "Thespians" to an easy sound-bite: "It's the real-life version of 'High School Musical,' " or, " 'Glee' without the glib edge," or, "It's 'Spellbound' for the stage-bound." So, let's just throw them all out there and see what sticks in blurb-world.

"Thespians" — which had an enthusiastic audience at an advance screening outdoors on Alys Beach earlier in the week, thanks to FSU's Torchlight Program — follows several high-school theater troupes from dear ol' Florida as they prepare to compete in a high-stakes, statewide competition in Tampa. Yeah, the premise sounds like the doc is going to be filled with hormones, hissy-fits and hams, but it's actually a touching tribute to teachers who give a damn and some very bright students who follow their own calling.

Director Warren Skeels (who is in town to talk about "Thespians" after the screening) went through the same acting trials and butterflies when he was a student, so he approaches the material with a true insider's knowledge. Skeels is also smart enough to stand back and let the story tell itself. He doesn't need to explicitly tell the viewer that endangered drama/arts programs are crucial to young minds because the proof is all up there on the screen. And the stage. Prepare to be moved. "Thespians" is showing at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at the FSU Student Life Cinema.