Family, friends and colleagues of Erin Kitzinger gathered in Miller Auditorium on Friday, Oct. 5, to watch and celebrate Kitzinger’s filmic works, including her award-winning feature film “Hope For a Thorn” (2009). 

“She had so many different groups of friends,” Kitzinger’s mother Linda Zweifel said. “The cool thing, now, is that they’re all coming together.” 

Kitzinger, 36, who worked in Eckerd’s Office of Advancement as director of annual givings, died of cancer on Aug. 14 after a year-long battle. As a UCF graduate with an MFA in Film and Digital Media, Kitzinger directed, produced, wrote and edited a large number of film projects prior to her passing. 

Associate Professor of Film Studies Christina Petersen organized Friday’s event as a way of recognizing Kitzinger’s dedication to cinema through her life’s work. 

Petersen, who was introduced to Kitzinger due to their mutual interest in film, detailed Kitzinger’s knack for influencing others through her unique productions. 

“Erin’s talent in film production was never far from her work in annual giving,” Petersen said. “Both involve a keen eye for detail, an ability to inspire others and a talent for convincing folks to invest in her vision.” 

The screening of “Hope For a Thorn” wrapped up Friday evening’s events. Kitzinger’s feature premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2009, and was later screened at the Gasparilla, Delray Beach and Sunscreen Film Festivals, winning two awards along the way. 

The film follows the plight of a young girl who, after the sudden death of her mother, must live with her estranged grandmother in rural Florida. It examines grief, generational mental illness and the complicated nature of love. 

According to Petersen, “Hope For a Thorn” is a representation of Kitzinger’s auteurist style and the meaningful symbolism she embedded in her work. 

“[Her film] suggests that there are more options than what has been prescripted by the past and present, and that there’s always potential for a new beginning,” Petersen said. 

Personal vlogs were also screened amongst her professional works, including a short film entitled “One Second A Day” (2018) which highlights the highs and lows of Kitzinger’s last moments with her friends and family — quiet moments watching TV, chemotherapy sessions, karaoke bars and dinner dates. 

“You just couldn’t help loving her,” Kitzinger’s cousin Mike Kazimar said. 

According to Associate Vice President for Development Tom Schneider, Kitzinger contributed to bringing in many of the scholarships that students have today. To him, that same sort of passion was exhibited in her work. 

“I think you can tell by her film that she was extremely creative and caring,” Schneider said. “She made a difference.” 

In remembrance of all of her life’s work, the Office of Advancement created the Erin Kitzinger Memorial Scholarship for Film for Eckerd students majoring in film studies or digital film and media production. Contributions to support the scholarship can be made at eckerd.edu/erinkitzinger. 

“The fact that the film community at Eckerd went through all the work and trouble to put this together just fills my heart. It just shows how loved she was,” Zweifel said. 

A celebration of life was held for Kitzinger at First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, 1900 Gandy Blvd. on Sunday, Oct. 7. 

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