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Karen Whitaker’s ‘Ring’ wins 2016 FMff ‘Audience Favorite Film’ award


Best Audience Favorite A“The audience has spoken loud and clear,” proclaimed Melissa DeHaven in announcing the winner of the 2016 Fort Myers Film Festival People’s Choice award. “And the Audience Favorite Film award goes to Ring.”

Ring is the third in a series of films that director Karen Whitaker plans to lens on the seven deadly Ringsins. “We’re slowly working our way through them. [Ring]  was envy and the one before [Miss Conception] was greed and the first [The Knife] was lust. And they include all my friends who can’t act, and all us who don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re learning something new every day,” she said with , nervous self-deprecating humor prior to the beginning of last Sunday night’s champagne dessert and awards ceremony.  All three short films premiered at the Fort Myers Film Festival.

“We try to use the same core group throughout. One of my best friends starred in the first one. My other best friend was also in it, and she was the lead in the second one. We’re doing a rotation of who gets to play Best Audience Favorite Blead and who gets bit parts.”

Written by Whitaker and her husband, J. Bert Davis, and starring Doug Spiegel (as Dr. Michael Spiegel), Stacey Stevens (as Lily), Jessica Marleaux (as Darcy), Nessa Adelson (as Granny Reed), Jacob Cordy (as Mitchell) and J. Bert Davis (as Travis), with guest appearances by popular downtown Fort Myers gallery owner Terry Tincher and artist Cesar Best Audience Favorite CAguilera and with an opening scene that takes place inside the popular downtown hang-out, Space 39, Ring played to a standing-room-only crowd that jammed the Grand Atrium of the Davis Art Center on the Festival’s third day. It was included in Short Block #8, which included other popular local films including T.L. Westgate’s Resolution, Mitch Glass’ AGAIN, Elizabeth Billings’ Sh-h-h, Best Student Film winner Jordan Axelrod’s Seven-Ten Split, and Josh Evangelista’s 4-minute short about a good pet having trouble behaving himself, Tucker.

“That block was amazing,” said Eric Raddatz at the awards ceremony. “We had to put out additional seats.”

Best Audience Favorite G“There’s nothing to say except thank you,” said Whitaker in accepting the award, her first as a filmmaker.

Unlike many of the filmmakers in attendance at this year’s Festival, Whitaker has only recently set her sights on film. As early as age five, she planned to dance classical ballet and write. And she was on track to be a prima ballerina from an early age. At the age of 15, while dancing with the Tampa Ballet, she was chosen to become a boarding student and train with legendary Russian ballerina Nathalie Krassovska of The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She went on to become the youngest principal ballerina with The Dallas Ballet, Best Audience Favorite Hdancing in lead roles of “Swan Lake,” “Giselle, “Paquita,” and “Romeo and Juliet,” among others. But after suffering a career-ending knee injury, Karen settled in Florida, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education.

Later, Whitaker served as ballet mistress for The Robin Dawn Academy of Performing Arts. She choreographed many full length classical and Best Audience Favorite Ilyrical pieces for the studio, in addition to choreographing for the competition team ‘The Showstoppers.’ Whitaker also opened and choreographed for her own dance studio, The Sanibel Ballet.

“When dance became more difficult for me due to my knee injury, I continued to seek a creative Best Audience Favorite Joutlet through writing,” says Whitaker. Her love of film eventually drew her to the Fort Myers Film Festival.”

“[My husband and I] went to a TGIM and we met a cameraman and so we decided to try to get a film made before the film festival and so we hurried up and did it.” The rest is, as the saying goes, history (or in this case, her story).

Karen is already processing ideas for the next film in the “Deadly Sins” series, “Pride, the deadliest sin of them all.”

Although Karen and her husband bought a house in New Best Audience Favorite KOrleans a little more than a year ago, the couple come back to Fort Myers on a regular basis. “My husband has a practice here, although he’s semi-retired.” So look for the same core group of friends in the sequel to Ring. Whitaker gave no timeline for completing her newest project, but if the past is any indication of the future, look for Pride to make its premiere at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center during next year’s Fort Myers Film Festival.


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