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A River Runs Through UT

Published: July 14, 2009
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When Dana Plays decided to document life along the Hillsborough River, she knew the river was important. After all, it would be hard to imagine The University of Tampa without the river.

But what started as a fairly simple project to capture the river on video — a documentary of 32 shorts called “The Hillsborough River Runs Through It” — has turned into something much bigger for Plays, a UT associate professor of communication. Now, she is focusing on the river’s environmental aspects.

Her goal: educate Tampa residents about the fragile state of the river, telling them why they should care and what they can do about it. Plays has posted a number of videos on to build awareness of the issues.

“The river is one of Tampa’s treasures,” said Plays, who teaches film and production courses at UT. “I am excited to do anything I can to show how important it is.”

Plays interviewed local environmentalists like Phil Compton, the Florida representative for the Sierra Club and part of an environmental advocacy group called Friends of the River, and Brian Schatz, a Tampa landscape professional who advocates the use of native plants.

Her shorts also include a close-up of the old Tampa Museum of Art building being knocked down, interviews from a tour of the river taken by Tampa city and corporate officials, and footage showing both the urban fabric of the river to the south and its scenic, peaceful nature to the north.

“I’ve always had an interest in rivers, so the Hillsborough River project is a natural extension of that,” she said.

This work is part of a wide-ranging career for Plays, who has taught at UT since 2005. At Occidental College in Los Angeles, she produced a video called “River Madness” about the Los Angeles River, another waterway in an urban setting that faces environmental issues. She has also taught at Syracuse University, and has produced a variety of documentary films. Her films have been showcased at the Whitney Museum of American Art and at more than 50 international film festivals.