Give It Your Best & No Less – Part 1

The Treasure Coast International Film, Music, and Art Festival

This October 2021 marked the 15th anniversary of the Treasure Coast International Film Festival, which began on October 13th, my 35th birthday. When I learned about the film festival this year, it beckoned me to become involved somehow. I have a deep-seated love for independent films as an art form for the expression of human emotion, connection, and storytelling. While I am not a filmmaker, I aspire to someday tell a beautiful story using the medium.

As I became more involved, I learned a great deal about why in the previous 15 years I’ve almost never heard about the festival. Like many organizations on the Treasure Coast, the TCIFF was a hidden gem, dare I even say a buried treasure.

But who buries treasure anymore?

Decades Of Community Service

October 19, 2011 – PFLAG’s Treasure Coast Youth Alliance & Equality Florida Youth Seminar

My friends and family were surprised that I would opt to spend my birthday volunteering, but I like to view it as an opportunity to remind the world that my entry onto its stage made it a better place. As Americans, we tend to view birthdays as a self-centered celebration often demanding attention and time from those close to us for a whole day to a weekend, a week, or even a whole month depending on the individual. I prefer to give attention and time to those in need of whatever my gifts may provide to them.

Ever since I was a kid, community service has been a part of my life. It connected me to people, allowed me the behind-the-scenes understanding of how organizations worked, and it instilled a feeling of team responsibility. Moreover, it allowed someone like me, a jack of all trades, to apply my varied skills to real-world tasks.

For decades I have volunteered for various community-serving organizations including Dogs & Cats Forever, The Humane Society, The Jazz and Blues Society, The Treasure Coast Food Bank, Pineapple Patti’s Antiques & Collectibles, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Common Ground Ministries, ArtMundo (now defunct), PFLAG, and A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery. I’ve also donated my talents or artwork to what I deem as worthy causes such as Pace Center for Girls (Be Boun-TEA-ful) and Lil Feet of SLC (Boot & Art Auctions).

The Underdog Champion

You’ll rarely find anyone in these organizations that knew me or knew what I did. I joke around about how I just need to be present for things to work out, but it really does kinda go that way for me. I often found myself connected to an organization in a time of crisis, helping them in some small way through it, then moving on to the next. This is the way.

TCIFF was no different, though I’m not done with helping them quite yet. On day one, I found myself caught in the middle of the proving ground between them and the St. Lucie Cultural Alliance, the organization that partnered with TCIFF to supply access to advertising resources and connect them with artists and vendors for the expansion of the festival to incorporate music and the visual and performing arts. I am not a member of the Alliance, and though I support what they do and offer to the Treasure Coast in spirit, I immediately recognized the familiar fear of failure in their partnership. Based on my observations and experiences, the Alliance was waning in faith to TCIFF’s ability to produce a 5-day festival that met expectations.

Without going into detail, let’s just say I saw an underdog in need of some attention and time and witnessed an unspoken challenge to prove TCIFF against the impressions felt and left by the Alliance. So, I dedicated my talents to the cause, because I love an underdog and a challenge.

Web Design, My Enemy

Had I known that what I’d be assigned was to help with the website, I would’ve probably walked out that night. Just kidding, not really. I hated working on websites. In my previous roles, it required knowledge of HTML, CSS, and sometimes Javascript – none of which are my forte. The stress from my HTML history nearly made me exit, but as I looked at TCIFF’s then-current website, I understood some of what they were facing in criticism and what made them appear to be more of an underdog to others.

A website is like an organization’s base of operations in the digital age. It’s a reflection of the quality provided by the organization and an example of the experience customers or patrons can expect. If the website lacks clear organization or intentional design, it may result in a loss of credibility. I believe this was partly why the TCIFF found itself in a standoff with the Alliance. The website was a poor reflection of the festival’s time-proven experience.

The Co-Founder and Executive Director of the festival, Joe Garafalo, is basically a one-man show with great support from his wife, Eva. Joe is not a web designer. He’s a screenwriter, a producer, a director, and above all else an incredibly driven man dedicated to film and providing education and opportunities to filmmakers on the Treasure Coast and abroad.

Joe built the website, and over the years modified elements of it without the experience and skill necessary to keep it consistent across pages. Though he is not a web designer, he did put together a website and keep it going for 15 years, therefore I was emboldened to put on my designer goggles and dive right in to the deep end…

WIX – Who Knew?!

TCIFF’s website homepage transformation.

Once I finally dove in, wow! The TCIFF website is built on Ascend by Wix and I must say it was such an incredible experience working on it. I’m even considering moving to it from WordPress for my self. It has so many great features for customization that are super easy to use without any coding knowledge.

Initially, I was going to just clean up the website – ya know, throw in some guides, line things up, etc. Once I started working on it though, I realized that there was no way to just clean it up. There were like 15 different typefaces, 8 font colors, and all sorts of point sizes in use across the site. Not to forget random graphic styles/effects applied to fonts and photos, random white space that scrolled for multiple screens, no SEO incorporation, and a lack of graphic hierarchy.

It was a chaotic website. Cleaning it up meant overhauling it. It wasn’t my intention to make a new website, rather I worked with what was there, applied grids, refined the color/type palette, and removed extraneous animations/effects/graphic styles. In the end, it was basically a whole new site.

It was the hero image that ultimately changed the entire feel of the website. I found a video on a website called Pexels that I fell in love with. The video featured a filmmaker of minority comically directing a flamingo prop towards action. It was a perfect summary of fun, uniqueness, and opportunity for minorities to shine.

Once Joe and Eva agreed to my selection, things started to change. Our base of operations was now an easy to navigate resource for the festival and a safe-feeling environment for patrons to buy their tickets. It was time to move on to promotion.

Video by KoolShooters on Pexels.

To Be Continued in Part 2…


  1. […] leading up to the event and for only three days of it. Read about the start of this journey in Part 1 and Part 2. I missed the two busiest, most exciting days of the festival to be with my family in […]

  2. […] just as I began volunteering for the Treasure Coast International Film, Music, & Art Festival (Give It Your Best: Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3). During the same time, I appeared on the Brooklyn Cafe TV Show and BrainFlow […]

  3. […] was entertained by my antics in developing my graphic design business, amused by my stories about volunteering for various organizations, amazed at my ingenuity of introducing the first art toy on the Treasure […]

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