Tampa Theatre screening Paper Line, a locally produced film, on Juneteenth weekend

inside an old theatre with a blue velvet curtain on stage and a pianist at the center

The Tampa Theatre in partnership with Film Tampa Bay will screen the locally produced film Paper Line on June 18. Doors to the screening open at 2pm, and the first 150 visitors will get a free bag of popcorn.

Film Tampa Bay Presents is a quarterly series designed to showcase Tampa Bay-area films, filmmakers, actors and locations through FREE community screenings at Tampa Theatre. On Saturday, June 18, the series will celebrate the Juneteenth holiday weekend with the first look at Paper Line, a locally-produced live-action short film about a secret fraternity of black martial artists at a prestigious HBCU in Florida.

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Paper Line, the new all-Black cast short film from writer-director Ryan Watson (The Ivory League: Confessions of a Black Faculty, which won Best Florida Film at the 2021 Sunscreen Film Festival), features an inside look at the intense personal bonds and proud values of Black Greek culture through the lens of explosive martial-arts action. African-American sororities and fraternities have been at the cornerstone of college life for more than 100 years.

Paper Line is locally produced, and features an emerging Tampa talent

This film tells a story of the Black Greek experience through a reimagination of the initiation process, deflating the insulting subtext of the “paper line” (a fraternity class that doesn’t undergo the potentially traumatic hazing of previous eras) evolving into a new context altogether. This secret fraternity of Black martial artists live by a strict code of discipline, truth, service to the community and non-violent conflict resolution — unless provoked.

Filming this exciting new project primarily in Tampa Bay, Watson took inspiration from a broad catalog of influences, most significantly from Civil-Rights-era Black activist groups like the Black Panthers. The Panthers and others regularly held organized martial arts training as part of their plan to inspire their community and defend their neighborhoods from the violence created by gangs and drugs from within, and violence by anti-Black aggression from the outside.

“It was important to make this film because I wanted to highlight an underutilized style of martial arts film,” Watson says. “We have seen African American martial artists perform in cinema, but it’s rare that we see a large group of them perform with each other. I trained in martial arts as a youth, and all three of my kids train as well. In college I noticed that many of the lessons that are taught in the Black Greek college experience are very similar to the lessons taught in martial arts. It provides a cool alternative to the stereotypical fraternity initiation experience.”

Tampa Theatre shines a light on Tampa Bay productions

A Tampa resident since 2003, Watson is also an Associate Professor of Instruction at the University of South Florida and is the Vū Studio at USF Teaching Fellow. “[Tampa] is the place where I grew from a college student with film and videographer aspirations to a university professor and filmmaker of the same genre,” he says. “We have some amazing locations in the city that have historical relevance to the Black community to go along with the life-long friends I’ve made, so filming here was a no-brainer.”

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“Being able to do it the day before the one-year anniversary of the first recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday makes it that much more special. It’s a chance for everyone who worked on the film to celebrate our achievement in a world class venue alongside the Tampa community, our families and friends on a weekend that celebrates the sacrifices and contributions Black Americans and our supporters and advocates have made for our country.”        

Doors open at 2:00pm, and this family-friendly (PG-13 equivalent) special event will begin with a LIVE martial arts demonstration by some of the film’s cast at 3:00pm. The first 150 patrons will also receive FREE popcorn and soda. Following the screening, Paper Line writer/director Ryan Watson and his team will discuss the making of the film and answer audience questions.

Admission is FREE, but reservations are required. The Tampa Theatre is located at 711 N Franklin Street.

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