In 1926, Tampa Theatre opened its doors as the city’s most majestic movie palace, entertaining audiences with Paramount Pictures’ latest releases. The films themselves were silent, and while the Theatre did employ a 21-piece orchestra to accompany the biggest shows, many screenings were scored by a single musician calling forth the sounds of an entire symphony on the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.
The silent film era soon ended, and by 1929, Tampa Theatre’s Wurlitzer Organ had been made obsolete by the advent of “talkies.” After a few decades of collecting dust, it was dismantled, sold to the Bayshore Baptist Church across town, and forgotten.
Or was it? In 1981, the Central Florida Theatre Organ Society – a regional chapter of the national American Theatre Organ Society – helped reacquire the aging instrument and reinstall it at Tampa Theatre. To this day, CFTOS musicians and technicians maintain, play and love The Mighty Wurlitzer, which remains one of only a handful of theatre organs of the silent film era to remain in its original home.
In 2008, that passion, prestige and pedigree attracted the attention of Marcos Craveiro, a Brazilian filmmaker and travel writer visiting Tampa, who began making plans for a return trip and a documentary short that would capture the heart and soul of the Wurlitzer, the Tampa Theatre, and the people who keep both alive and thriving.
The result, A Mighty Overture, has already been accepted into the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences archive, the collection at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna archive. And in celebration of Tampa Theatre’s 91st birthday, the 21-minute documentary will make its world premiere at 1:00pm Sunday, Oct. 15, with a special preshow on the Mighty Wurlitzer and an introduction by the filmmaker himself.
This screening is free and open to the public. Doors & bar open at 12:30pm