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Film Fest morphs to Film City Center

"I didn't want to announce this quite yet," said Owen Shapiro, artistic director of the annual Syracuse International Film Festival (SIFF), which just wound up its fifth year by expanding to ten days of 128 films and videos from here and abroad. "I wanted to be sure we were ready, but Senator DeFrancisco said we'd go ahead, that this was the right time."

Shapiro has never seen the festival as a single once-a-year blow-out event. He's concentrated instead on building a cinema-friendly region -- lots of screenings in outlying towns before and after the festival, high school mentoring and a steady stream of visiting films and their makers throughout the year. He heads Syracuse University's film studies, but Shapiro also resists campus isolation, screening films across the city. He often travels too; SIFF has liaisons with 30 partner nations. Next week he and Christine Fawcett Shapiro, SIFF's managing director, leave for Prague with a handful of SU film students, part of the exchange program with FAMU, the Czech Republic's renowned national film school. SIFF has a bit of an inside track with FAMU -- one of its faculty, Mary Angiolillo, grew up here -- and FAMU's new head, Pavel Jech, was just here last week with the Czech contingent.

Year-long process or not, State Senator John DeFrancisco's Saturday morning press conference at SIFF's downtown Warren Street office -- three TV networks and WAER-FM covered it. It did address the critical mass of all those people, filmmakers and audiences alike, in town at one time from around the world for this year's festival.

"The arts don't just happen by chance," DeFrancisco declared into the TV lights, announcing the Film Tax Credit Expansion that is part of the new state budget and includes a specific grant of $1.5 million to initiate construction of the festival's outgrowth, the Film City Center production complex.

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