Skip to main content
Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 8 years ago

Keep it short and sweet

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Paul Gruber isn’t a filmmaker, nor does he claim to be one.

Gruber, a life coach and motivational speaker, simply enjoys inspirational movies and social networking.

Drawing on both of these strengths, he created The Backroom Short Film Festival, a community of filmmakers and film-lovers that connects people and supports new talent through online networking and short-film screenings.

Motivated by the success of video-uploading Web sites such as YouTube, Gruber, 49, founded a similar site earlier this year. is Gruber’s answer to audiences’ shrinking attention spans and the film industry’s demand for high-caliber online media.

“The film industry as we know it is changing,” Gruber says. “I see the future of the short-film industry growing to the point where we’ll all be watching videos on hand-held devices. I already have a direct link to YouTube on my phone.”

True to his day job, Gruber divided his one-day film festival into three “family-friendly” categories — inspiration/motivation, comedy and animation — under the tagline, “affecting people in a positive way.”

Through film mixers held at Whole Foods and online chatter generated by social networking, Gruber acquired 13 videos, including one by an aspiring filmmaker from Hungary, who learned about the short-film fest via Facebook.

“The whole idea behind the festival was to create something simple in tough economic times,” Gruber says. “I also wanted to bring online networking to a physical location. Doing it through short films seemed like a good idea.”

Volunteers underestimated the number of people who would turn out for Gruber’s inaugural screening, which was held Feb. 7, at Hotel Indigo, and drew a crowd almost too large for the hotel to accommodate.

“We ran out of oxygen,” Gruber says. “We literally had people standing in the halls.”

Currently, The Backroom is preparing for its second film festival Sept. 9, at NOVA 535, a modern art lounge, in St. Petersburg.

“Eventually, the big-picture goal is to start a charter school based on filmmaking and television production,” says Gruber, who already has a third film festival tentatively scheduled for November, in Miami. “The film festival is just a venue to get positive videos out there. It’s an opportunity for people to be inspired.”
I’d like to take it all over North America.”

Gruber says he’s currently in discussions with Ringling College of Art and Design president Larry Thompson regarding Ringling’s collaboration on future festivals.


The Backroom Short Film Festival will host its second screening from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, at NOVA 535 art lounge, in St. Petersburg. Film submissions must be family-friendly and between two and seven minutes long. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. For more information, call 234-3553 or visit

Related Stories