An Idiot’s Guide to Film Festivals


Enzian Theatre, Home of the Not-To-Be-Missed Florida Film Festival

I love movies. I mean, I REALLY love movies. 

If you love movies, don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t wait until your life is half over before you attend your first film festival. 

Approximately eight years ago I attended my first Florida Film Festival movie. Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of film festival movies.  Last week I sat down with Chris Blanc, General Manager of the Florida Film Festival.  He seemed a little surprised by my first question; so obvious, yet not easy to answer: 

LanceAround:  What, exactly, is a Film Festival? 

Chris Blanc:  [pause, then slight laughter] Well…that’s a good question.  Let’s see…

…A collection and exhibition of great films
……A celebration of the community that supports filmmaking
………The ability to touch, feel and interact with the artists.

Chris went on to explain that most movies that play at your local multiplex are made by one of the major studios–Universal, MGM, Warner Brothers and so forth. These movies are made under the “guidance” of the studio. (guidance generally means complete control, including creative control.) 

Chris Blanc LOVES film

Yet there are many, many people who love to make movies, but will never be part of the studio system. These range from teenagers with a home video camera to huge, bankable stars who just want complete creative control on a project.  Sometimes these filmmakers finance their own film. Sometimes they beg, borrow or finagle the money–some of them mortgaging their future to make their film. Some of them are wealthy enough to make the movie on their own. In any case, these are filmmakers who are passionate about making the movie they want to make. 

Where do you find these movies? 

Usually NOT at the local Cineplex. You might find them at the local arthouse theatre. More and more of them are making their way onto the internet. But the best place to find them is at a film festival. 

Personally, I used to think that film festivals were only for the elite. I thought you needed an invitation, or it was expensive or you had to be in the industry. 

Instead, I discovered that film festivals are for everyone. Just pick a movie, buy a ticket and enjoy.  As a bonus, if you are watching one of the Florida Film Festival films playing at the Enzian Theatre, you can also order dinner while you watch the movie.  It’s a blast! 

But are the movies any good? 

YES….and….NO….and VERY MUCH IN-BETWEEN!  You will find some of the best movies you have ever seen. You may see some of the worst movies ever made. Most film festivals go through a selection process, so a really bad movie is unlikely.  Over 1500 movies were submitted to the Florida Film Festival this year, but less than 170 will be shown. However, I am always reminded of the words of Shakespeare from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” where the king is warned against seeing a play by the local troupe and responds, “I will hear that play. For never anything can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender it.” The king goes on to explain that even if the product is bad, one can always be gracious and appreciate the effort and energy that went into making it. 

The Iconic Theme of this Year's Festival is "Film Sweet Film"

Still, film festivals are something even deeper than that. Chris Blanc became animated as he explained the extra element that makes it truly special. It is the pleasure of watching a movie in a theatre packed with people who, like you, love movies. These are people who can tell whether it is the directing or acting or cinematography that is making the difference. They watch the credits to the end to find all the players who toiled to bring the film to life. 

Another plus about film festivals is the variety of film types. In addition to feature narratives–the kind of film you’d most likely see at your Cineplex–there are documentaries, short films, animated films and experimental films. I personally love watching a selection of short films; lasting from two to twenty minutes a film. If I don’t like a particular short film, I merely need to wait a few minutes until the next one. Usually there are anywhere from six to twelve short films played during any one showing. 

If that’s not enough, there is one more priceless perk–at a film festival it is not uncommon for the actual filmmakers and actors to be present. Often, there are Q & A sessions after the movie. These conversations tend to continue out into the foyer and over to the Eden Bar. It’s great! 

Chris Blanc ended our talk by stating that it is not uncommon for someone who has never been to a film festival to feel intimidated by the prospect of attending their first festival, but once they do they find it friendly and inviting. 

He points out that it’s the “community engagement” that makes film festivals so special. 

At a film festival, there are several different screens that play the movies.  For the Florida Film Festival, movies are played at the Enzian Theatre (where you can have dinner during your movie) as well as at some screens at the Winter Park Village theatre and, new for this year, some films will be shown at the beautiful, new Plaza Cinema Cafe in downtown Orlando.  During the 10 day festival you can go to as many of the movies as you like or simply pick a single movie to attend.  You can find the schedule and movie descriptions at

This year, the Florida Film Festival is held from April 9 to 18 at the Enzian Theatre in Maitland, just north of Orlando. If you are going to be in the area and you have never been to a film festival, please make an effort to attend one of the films. If you would like some company, just write in the comments which film you are going to see and I will plan to meet you there.  I will describe what I will be wearing so you can recognize me and we can enjoy your first film festival movie together. I guarantee it won’t be your last!

Here’s a short video that beautifully encapsulates what it means to attend a film at a film festival…

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