Florida Film Festival 2017

Well, the Florida Film Festival is underway in Orlando for the 26th year and there is a lot to look forward to. Like all film festivals, there is an eclectic mix that ranges from dramas to comedies, midnight horror flicks to experimental art house pieces, documentaries on music, food and social issues and all kinds of surprises.

Celebrity watchers always have a field day at the Festival and this year will be no exception; lovely Lea Thompson will come Back to the Future to the Enzian Sunday evening along with the aforementioned beloved classic. Tickets are sold out for this event but you can always head out to the Enzian and get yourself a standby ticket and hope for the best. Friday night will bring the talented Billy Crudup and cult favorite Jesus’ Son. Finally Saturday afternoon the 29th one of the funniest comedies ever made, Airplane! will be presented with star Robert Hays and director David Zucker on hand.

Beyond the star-watching there are some great events, such as the Locally Fresh! Farmer’s Market and cooking demo on Sunday, a wine tasting night at the Eden Bar on Wednesday, the annual Awards Bash on Saturday the 29th and panel discussions, brunch buffets and other nifty items throughout.

It is the movies however that make a film festival. To be sure not everything is going to appeal to everyone and some of the films here may not be movies you’ll champion to your friends; for example, there are several friends of mine who think Rat Film is one of the highlights of this year’s festival; I disagree (see my review upcoming this week) but that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage you to go see it and make up your own mind. There’s also Dave Made a Maze which I thought was brilliant but several people walked out of during the press/passholder screening a few weeks ago. The point is that you never know how you’re going to react to a movie until you see it and even if every single person on the planet hates the movie but it creates a connection with you, then it’s a successful film.

But there are several movies that I think are worth making an effort to see, including the aforementioned Dave Made a Maze but also the brilliant Winter Sun which details the collision of the traditional with the modern in Nepal set to the backdrop of a father’s funeral. There’s also Colossal, a new take on the giant monster (or kaiju) movie that is fresh and beautifully acted by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. I’m not a particular fan of country music but Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke just about changes my mind as it displays the story of one of the last authentic Texas dance halls. Unrest is a documentary with an Orlando connection – the filmmaker and and also subject of the movie about people who are affected by what used to be known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; it’s intensely moving and with the filmmaker/star in attendance worth a look.

Woman on Fire from acclaimed documentarian Julie Sokolow profiles the first (and so far only) transgender firefighter in the New York City Fire Department. For Ahkeem is going to be the face of at-risk youth and a primer on why Black Lives truly do Matter. New Chefs on the Block examines just how hard it is to open a restaurant – and how much harder it is to keep it open. Ain’t Nothing Like Being Free takes a look at some extraordinary Central Floridians. Patti Cake$ is about an ambitious wanna-be rap superstar in this film that took Sundance by storm. My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea is a irreverent animated feature that kills of a ton of teenagers and was one of my favorite from the pre-Festival screenings. Finally of the films I haven’t seen the ones that looked the most intriguing were Menashe, Buster’s Mal Heart, 8 Borders 8 Days, Manifesto, Camera Obscura, Dean, The Commune and Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape.

In addition, there are literally dozens of short films – some preceding feature films, others grouped together in shorts programs – that will confound, astonish, endear, terrify, amuse and perhaps enlighten. Shorts are always a highlight of the Florida Film Festival and given its status as an Oscar qualifying festival they usually get the best of the best. Finally, don’t forget the Festival’s closing night film Sunday the 30th with the legendary Russ Meyer masterpiece Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring the incomparable Tura Santana. When they say they don’t make ’em like this anymore, this film is precisely what they’re talking about.

One of the great joys of the Festival is hanging out between movies either at the Eden Bar at the Enzian or at Pizza Valdiano or the Firefly Bar at Winter Park Village. You will find filmmakers, film buffs, casual moviegoers and maybe even Henry Maldonado, Tim Anderson, Matthew Simon or Adam J. Kelley from the Enzian talking about the movies they love most. It’s one of the most low-key, friendliest and unpretentious film festivals in the country and once you go, you’ll be hooked. Tickets are on sale at the Enzian box office or at http://www.floridafilmfestival.com although some of the big ticket items are if not sold out may do so any day now so don’t delay. Hope I see you there. I’ll be the guy with the ball cap and the Press credentials taking it all in.

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