Archive for April, 2010

FFF Day 5 Shorts and Docs

April 14, 2010

Did I Offend the "Con Artist" Filmmaker by Saying Disingenuous?

4:45pm Three Powerful Documentaries
I’m delighted that Mrs. LanceAround and Number One Daughter have agreed to accompany me to the festival tonight.  The evening begins with documentary shorts, including the documentary short that won the Academy Award this year and is now infamous because the ex-producer of the film shoved her way onto the stage to grab the spotlight from the filmmaker.

“Documentary Shorts 3 X Real”
“Born Sweet” a beautifully filmed short reminiscent of “The Killing Fields” only in this village ancient deposits of naturally occurring arsenic were tapped in newly drilled wells by well meaning relief organizations, poisoning some village members.  Visually stunning, emotionally draining.  This is what documentary filmmaking is all about–great story, wonderful visuals, educational and emotional.  One of the best films at this year’s FFF.

“The Fence” is an informative and thought provoking documentary about the foibles of building a 700 mile fence on the 2000 mile Mexican border. Humorous and disquieting all at once.  It is clear what the filmmaker’s point of view is, yet the case made is quite compelling.  I wouldn’t mind hearing the other side of the story.

“Music By Prudence” is a powerful story of how disabled children are discarded in Zimbabwe. One child fights back with a beautiful singing voice. Made even more poignant with the knowledge that she would later appear at the Academy Awards. Heart rendering and beautifully filmed.  This is the movie that became notorious for the wrong reasons at the Academy Awards.  But, hey, if that had not happened, I probably would not have sought out this film.  So perhaps there is no such thing as bad publicity.

6:30pm Reactions From the Audience
As people file out of the theatre I ask for comments

“Outstanding, all three,” shares Kyle Snavely

“I can’t think. That’s a good thing” says one anonymous movie goer who was visibly touched by the films

“These were great shorts. I hope they do it again next year” remarks Debra Scott

“I thought Prudence was fabulous.” what made it fabulous I ask this anonymous patron. “Prudence,” is the adequate response. 

Anticipation for the Second Round of Shorts
Soon after all the patrons have left the theatre, a new set of movie goers file in for the narrative shorts program about to play. I ask them about their FFF experiences.

“A friend of mine from Texas went online, then decided to call me back and say ‘hey they’re filming in front of the theatre, can you walk out so I can see you,” relates Lynn Warnicke who goes on to say that she was already in the theatre watching a movie so she hung up on him.

Alex Boyle wants to talk about another FFF movie he saw, “‘Bomber,’ amazing movie, like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ minus the drugs and the kid.”

Scott, who refuses to give me his last name, saw me clacking away on the computer and quips, “I’ll have the steak, medium rare and the baked potato.” Obviously he thought he was at the Enzian ordering dinner?  Too bad!  He missed his opportunity to offer intelligent and authentic insight into the FFF.  Scott, if you are reading, feel free to make a comment and correct this oversight!

7pm Next Shorts Program
“Shorts Program 4: Extinguish”

Filmmakers Scott & Maggie

“Some Boys Don’t Leave” is a funny, quirky fable of determination and rejection. Jilted boyfriend decides to live in ex’s hallway inside her apartment–regardless of what transpires around him. Fabulous acting and great directorial pacing make this a cut above the rest!

“Laredo, Texas” well acted and directed short examining racism. Unfortunately it ends abruptly and seems a little pointless.

“Herbert White” grotesque tale of serial killer made more annoying by the use of handheld cameras. (I’m not a big fan of handhelds.)

“Make Up” a humorous, well acted dark short with amusing filming techniques and predictable, yet enjoyable ending twist.

“Quietly” a dark drama of drugs and death. Difficult to follow and seemingly pointless despite competent filming techniques.

“Meth” effectively uses creative filmmaking techniques to convey the realities of meth addiction in a soberly dramatic yet somewhat amusing short. Creative, engrossing and entertaining all the way up to the last revelation which, unfortunately, changes one’s entire perception of this short.

9pm Q & A with Filmmakers
Q & A with Scott from “Make Up” and Maggie from “Some Boys Don’t Leave”

Maggie talks about how she was the “doer” in a break up which provided the inspiration for this short. She intentionally co-wrote the script with a guy. She wanted something that would present both sides. She also tried to create a movie that works in the moment but leaves room for wider interpretations.

Scott was inspired by watching a woman in a department store getting make up. He wanted to make a short that was different. He picked the early 60’s because it was an innocent time. His inspirations include Hitchcock and melodrama. He used Good Housekeeping magazine to get the color schemes for his film. His cinematographer used tricks in color correction to create the effect stylized effects for the film.

Comments as people left the theatre

“I want to make big movies, like Kathryn Bigelow,” says Maggie Kiley, director of “Some Boys Don’t Leave.” “I’m excited to tell great stories.” What was it like to watch people reacting to your film, I ask. “Pretty thrilling. You spend so much time with the film, to finally feel people laughing and reacting was really wonderful.” Did they react as expected? “I screened it once for a room full of women and they laughed a lot more,”admits Maggie.  Hmm, given that the story was about trying to get rid of a peskily persistent man, I’m not surprised.

9:15pm Drive to the Enzian for Two More Movies

Short Filmmaker Michael at Q&A

“Meet Me at Geronimo’s” shows a slice of daily life in a Bronx delicatessen, complete with attitude.  It transports you to New York and finds you scratching your head while trying to figure out how someone can be so caring and so rude all at once.  Like I said, it comes complete with attitude–New York style!

“Con Artist”is a feature documentary that chronicles the exploits of New York artist Kostabi.  Very interesting film. This movie generally succeeds despite the filmmaker’s obvious inability to move beyond his preconceptions. The subject of this movie is a commercially highly successful artist who achieves much of his fame from his persona, including previous PR attempts to gain attention by proclaiming that he is a con artist.  His popularity wanes and waxes throughout his career and reaches an apex when he is commissioned to create a statue of the pope. The directorial choice to juxtapose the unveiling of the statue to the pope with scenes of the artist during a wacky interview moment says much more about the filmmaker than the artist.

Q & A notes

"Con Artist" Filmmaker at Q&A

During this session, I create a contentious moment with the filmmaker. I confront him about that moment in the film where I felt he made a directorial choice that was disingenuous towards his protagonist. As the conversation continues, it is clear that the filmmaker has a very low opinion of his subject.

For myself, I had an unexpected reaction. I came into this film expecting to really despise the protagonist. By the end of it, I felt differently. I don’t know if I came to like the artist, or his work, but I found myself finding an appreciation for where the artist was coming from.

The filmmaker just now reveals that when he first showed the film to the artist, the artist was pissed. He felt cheated. Over time, however, the artist has come to appreciate the PR value of the film and, according to the filmmaker, he loves to attend festival screenings of the movie. “He’s a brilliant guy,” says Michael, the filmmaker, “he knows an incredible amount about the world of art.”

In the end, I discover that I find myself disliking the filmmaker more while disliking the artist less. I did not expect this reaction.

After the Q & A I track down the filmmaker at the Eden Bar to continue the conversation.  It is clear to both Mrs. LanceAround and I that the filmmaker seems to have little empathy for the artist.  During the Q & A, he was comfortable referring to him as “an asshole.”  As I speak privately with him, it becomes clear that one issue is the artist’s focus on his financial success.  The filmmaker laments that the artist chooses to seek publicity rather than focus on his obvious artistic talent.  One point that was made during the movie is the artist uses employees and interns–to a much large degree than other professional artists–to create his works for him.

12:15am The Long Ride Home
During the hour long drive home from the Enzian, Mrs. LanceAround and I have a very meaningful conversation about the films we saw tonight.  I was pleased to discover that she had the identical negative reaction to the “Con Artist”‘s filmmaker’s directorial choices and that she was just as moved by Vihn, the 15 year old with arsenic poisoning in “Born Sweet,” the ludicrousness of “The Fence” and the tenderness that was “Music by Prudence.”  Our vacation rental home business just concluded the busy Easter Season, so we have not been able to spend much time together.

Although getting home at 1am was way too late for Mrs. LanceAround, the deep conversation and tenderness we shared made the entire evening worthwhile.  Too bad I won’t be able to join her for a good night’s sleep until I have finished editing this post for the next two hours or so…Goodnight!

PS:  Tomorrow we’ll be skipping the FFF to attend a benefit concert for Noah.  We’ll tell you all about it tomorrow night.

FFF Day 4: Best of the Best AND of the Worst

April 13, 2010

Approx. 1/4 of the Audience had seen "Troll 2" the Best Worst Movie

6:15pm Lisa’s Here
On the way into “Lost Sparrow” I spot Lisa the filmmaker sitting near the ticket booth.  She chaperones her UCF classroom at this movie.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to have both a film in the festival and supervise a college classroom.  What an interesting life.  I ask her if she read my posts about her and she says no.  So I say to her that this explains why she did not throw something at me when she saw me.  If that doesn’t get her to read my blog, nothing will.  Number One Son and I hurry into the theatre.

“My Life is Cherry” this mixed media short seemed like an entertaining exercise for a film class.  The filmmaker has some talent and storytelling ability but has some work to do. Mildly amusing.

This is the Movie You Don’t Want to Miss
“Lost Sparrow” a powerful, extremely powerful, documentary.  The sounds of sniffling all around me are saying that I was not the only one in tears.  Usually, when there are no filmmakers present, some members of the audience begin to exit when the credits start rolling.  Tonight, only two people walked out at this point.  Those of us remaining sit, spellbound, unable to speak.  This film moves us.

In the Crow Nation, when a child is taken away by social services and given to a white family, they are referred to as a “lost sparrow.”  This documentary tells the story of a family in New York who adopted six such children in addition to their own four. Two of the young “lost sparrows” run away one night and are run over by a train.

The filmmaker, who is one of the other four children, decides to make a documentary that explores the death of his adopted siblings. Along the way, he inadvertently uncovers family secrets that are shocking.  Some questions are answered, some questions are unanticipated and some are just downright painful.  If someone had scripted this documentary, it would have been rejected as too unbelievable.  In the theatre, the inability of the audience to move afterwards is evidence that the unbelievable had become undeniable.  I would have loved to have spoken with this filmmaker.

Reactions From the Audience
“Extremely moving,” proclaimed Nils Taranger, a student in Lisa‘s film class who was here for the movie.

Andrew Cadieus, another student, chimes in, “It was good, I think it could be shorter.”

There was an audible reaction from the movie watchers around me. “I didn’t agree,” retorts Susan, “I have not seen a movie that portrayed the total range of human emotion like this one.  You go from judgment to empathy to total understanding.  It was hard to talk afterwards, it was so moving.”

“I think she said it all,” agreed Debra Martin.”

“It was very sad,” lamented Noreen Weller, an FFF volunteer who was watching the movie, “they dealt very well with a dark family secret.”

If you can only see one movie at this year’s FFF, this is the one.  It plays again on Friday the 16th 1:30pm at Regal Cinema B.

FFF Buzz
Between movies, I chat with people about their FFF experience as they enter “Best Worst Movie.”

“Exciting, I liked all the docs,” proclaims Jim DeSantis, who promises he will get rowdy during this film.  (He does a little, but not too much!  Mostly, he was just rolling on the floor laughing.)

“This is my third film. I was at the opening night and “Coco” I really enjoyed both films. I really liked the southern style food [at the opening night party]” says Whitney Boan who is here with her boyfriend.

“I’m very excited to see my first FFF this year. I’ve been to two or three festivals before this,” says Brooke Morton. “My friend Becky choose this movie. I am interested in many films.”

For a Monday night, it’s a healthy sized crowd. There’s been a lot of buzz about this movie and the producer, Brad, is here. He does a brief intro apologizing that the star and director are not here and promises to come back for a Q & A afterwards. The lights begin to dim and the short starts…

Two Great Films
“The S From Hell” is a near perfect short film. What a pleasure to watch. It was a simple exploration of the chilling effect the Screen Gems logo and theme sound had on young kids. This was a yellow and red logo for the Screen Gems brand (a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures) that would appear at the end of TV shows such as “The Flintstones” and “Bewitched” in the 70’s. Funny with a splendidly creative use of background footage and sound editing.

“Best Worst Movie” lives up to the hype. It is hysterical. I have not laughed so much at a movie in a long time.  I am amazed at how well this documentary has captured the reality behind the horribly wonderful movie “Troll 2.” When “Troll 2” was made, almost 20 years ago, a group of sincere filmmakers were obviously trying to make the best film they could. And they obviously failed. Yet, there must have been something about their passion that shone through because there are many people who can’t get enough of this movie.

Like a group of clandestine Trekkers, they gradually discover one another and underground screenings are scheduled. When the actors from this straight-to-video dog find out that people have been searching out their movie, they attend some of these events and the buzz continues to grow.

The lead actor, George Hardy, has become a dentist in a small town in Alabama. Although he clearly lacks the ability to act (Brad, the producer, confirms this emphatically during a private interview after the movie) he is loaded with an unmistakable charisma. While his personality might be enough to carry this movie on its own, discovering the quirks and even mental illnesses of the other principles from “Troll 2” make this romp an almost unbelievable tour de force. One film goer behind me kept asking if some of the characters were intentionally scripting themselves as they seemed too unreal. No, I don’t believe you could make this stuff up!

Generally filmmakers make a documentary because they are very passionate about their subject. It is not uncommon for the resulting film to become too long and detailed as the filmmaker finds it difficult to delete scenes. “Best Worst Movie” manages to avoid this pitfall. The film is well paced. It’s clear that there is a ton of footage left on the cutting room floor. Enough was included in the film, however, to adeptly convey the story.

Brad During Q&A

During the Q & A I ask the moderator to ask the audience how many of them have actually seen the movie “Troll 2”–the subject of this documentary. About a quarter of the audience raises their hand.

As the audience files out, I capture some comments.

“Very Entertaining”

“I thought it was very good.”

“Grade A,” says Jesse Ringness, “I will definitely be at the premier of Troll 2 on Friday.”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing Troll 2 now,” chimed in Alan and Delores, almost in unison.

“This is my first time seeing the movie and I’ve known Brad for eight years, he’s the producer. It was really awesome to see all the work he’s been putting into it for the past couple years,” says Katiel Gray. I ask her why she hasn’t seen the movie before now. “I’ve heard him talk and talk and talk about it. I had to wait and wait and wait and now he flew here (I live in Florida) so I got to see it.”

After being surrounding by fans at the end of the Q & A, Brad is finally free and I ask him if he has anything to say for the blog. “I’m really enjoying the FFF. This is my first time as a producer. I only got involved because I’m from Alexander City [where the star of “Troll 2” is a dentist.] The movie’s finally going to the theatres. It’s the real deal now.” I ask him what his worst fear is. “I’m really not that scared, I guess my worst fear is promoting in NY.” I ask him for his wildest dream. “I would love to see George Hardy [the dentist/star of “Troll 2″] on Dancing With The Stars.” There’s nothing better than watching George dance.”

“Best Worst Movie” will play again on Wednesday 9pm at Regal B.  Then, on Friday at midnight, the original “Troll 2” in 35mm format  premiers at the Plaza Cinema in downtown Orlando.  It will be shown again on Saturday 11:30pm at Regal A.

This is a Dilemma
How in the world can you compare “Lost Sparrow” to “Best Worst Movie?” Both of them are brilliant movies. Both deserve attention. One makes you cry. One makes you laugh. And they are both in the competition for documentary feature.

They both need to win.

If you trap me in a corner and force me to choose, I’m going to choose “Lost Sparrow.” I think “Best Worst Movie” is, technically, the better made film. However, I think the deeply poignant nature of “Lost Sparrow” tips the balance in its favor. What I can’t understand–will NEVER be able to understand–is why these two movies will only be seen by those of us movie goers who seek them out while movies like “Couples Retreat” earn over 100 million dollars in general release.

I don’t know who will win the documentary contest this year. But I already know who has lost–movie goers who never get a chance to see these two movies are the real losers.

FFF Ruminations From Day 3

April 12, 2010

My biggest frustration with real time blogging is the subsequent thoughts of, “I wish I’d have said…”  So here is my list of things I should have mentioned yesterday… (my second biggest frustration are all the spelling and grammatical errors I make–for example, in this sentence I should have said “is all the” instead of “are all the!”)

Must See
“Winner, Best Short Film” is a very short movie that features a very, very short film.  The very, very short film is entitled “Blowout” and it lasts for only five.  Five minutes?  No, five seconds.  Out of all the films I have seen at FFF this year, I have been thinking about that five second film ever since.  Oh, and the actual film was really only a half a second.  The other 4.5 seconds were the credits.  Intrigued?  Then don’t miss the “Shorts 1: Ignite” program at 4pm on April 14 at the Regal Cinema.

Thanks, Peter, for taking the time to read my blog and post a comment.  Peter is the writer, director and co producer of this movie.  He was also almost the star!  (read this post to find out more) The more I think about this short, the better I like it.  Don’t miss it.

The Other Side of Kells
My friend Linda is of Norwegian ancestry.  After watching “The Secret of Kells” I asked her what she thought of it.  She really liked it, but then commented that she wasn’t too thrilled about how her ancestors were portrayed.  Interesting point that would have never occured to me.

Three Remarkable Teens are Bigger than the Movie
I just read the Orlando Weekly’s review of “The Young Composer’s Challenge.”  They gave it two stars and called it “agonizingly dull.”  I feel sorry for Lisa, the filmmaker.  They’re not entirely wrong.  However, as a local paper that focuses on the arts, they could have chosen to spend more time speaking about how fantastic the young composers program is and less time dishing the movie.  Even if the movie isn’t the greatest I encourage you to see it; if only to watch the young composers featured in the film who will be sitting with you in the theatre.  They deserve your attention and are a joy to meet.

Small World
At the Eden Bar last night I overheard FFF President Henry Maldonado talking about how his wife was from Harleysville, PA.  That’s only one mile from where I grew up in Souderton, PA.  This fact created a delightful, impromptu conversation–such conversations are the genesis of what makes FFF so very special.

Speaking of growing up in the Mennonite stronghold of SE PA, the Enzian has added artichoke fritters to their menu.  When our Norwegian friend, Linda, asked what a “fritter” was, I realized that not everyone has had the wonderful experience that are fritters.  What are they?  Please see an FFF movie at the film festival and try one.  Tell you what, if you read this post and see me inside the Enzian Theatre during one of this year’s FFF films, I will buy you an order of artichoke fritters.  Only catch–you have to give me your “review” of them to add to this blog.

Yesterday Henry, FFF President, was playing cameraman and happened to catch me sitting at a table outside the Enzian working on my blog. He filmed me for about five seconds. I don’t know where that film might show up, but wherever it does it’s now guaranteed to not win any awards! If you see it somewhere, please let me know.

See You Tonight
Two films tonight I am really looking forward to seeing:  “Lost Sparrow” and “Best Worst Movie.”   The Orlando Weekly gave them both high ratings.  Tonight, I will add my review.  They are both playing at the Regal starting at 6:30pm.  If you are going, please stop by and say hi to me.  I’ll be wearing a blue shirt and carrying a laptop.

FFF “The Young Composers Challenge”

April 11, 2010

Three Very Young, Very Talented Composers


3:45pm Lisa is Bouncing Off the Walls
Keeping my promise from Day 1 to Lisa, I decide see her film, “The Young Composers Challenge.”  I run into Lisa just before the start of the film.  She’s very nervous.  She knows they’ll be a Q & A afterwards.  I shout over to her that she doesn’t have to worry, I’ll be sure to take down her every word.  The tension breaks a little.  When I go into the theatre, I decide to sit in the front on the edge by the stage so I can watch the audience and movie at the same time. The program begins with a short.  

“Yamasong” a novice filmmaker experimenting with mixed media, primarily puppetry, creates some stunning visuals in this choppy but passionate work of art.  

“The Young Composers Challenge” exciting, local documentary that chronicles five high school teens who submit a full orchestral score to a music competition where the winning selection will be played by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.  

By now I honestly can’t tell if this feature documentary is too long or I am too exhausted.  For only her second movie, Lisa has done a competent job, producing a consistent work that tells a compelling story.  The experience is enhanced by the presence of three of the five principle musicians in the audience.  I enjoy my vantage point where I can occasionally glance at Lisa and the audience and watch them enjoy the movie.  

As Lisa Fields Q & A Questions Two of the Young Composers Can be Seen in the Background


During the Q & A afterwards, I ask for the three young musicians to speak of their experience watching this documentary that features them.  One of them is quick to jump on stage.  He’s not shy.  He admits that he is arrogant and loved seeing himself on the screen.  The other two sit quietly and are not invited to the stage.  I wonder how this experience is for them.  Perhaps they’ll read this blog and leave a comment.  

I run into Lisa afterwards and she asked me how it went.  “How do you think it went?”, I respond.  “I thought it was good!”, she replies.  “That’s all that counts,” I tell her, “and if you want to know what I think, you’ll have to read my blog!”, I laugh and she joins in.  She promises read it and leave a comment, so be on the lookout for that.  

In the meantime I draw together the three young composers for a photo.  I wish I had the time to get their names and bios, but I have committed to quick updates for the rest of the festival.  I hand the youngsters my business card and ask them to take a moment to leave a comment.  Perhaps they will and I hope they take the time to tell us a little about themselves.

FFF “Shorts 1: Ignite”

April 11, 2010

Peter (from "Winner: Best Short Film") and other filmmakers


3:30pm Mingling Outside the Enzian
For the second day in a row we got to enjoy a shorts program packed with great films. This time, four of the films had filmmakers available for Q & A. 

“Winner: Best Short Film” lives up to its title. Well, maybe not, but it’s up there.  Peter will be pleased to discover that I was not disappointed.  It was a short, short.  It was also a lot of fun. 

“Charlie and the Rabbit” it’s disappointing when a short film is too long.  This charmer would have worked great in half the time.  And it was pretty short. 

“The Anatagonist” tired of the kiddie party at your boyfriend’s friend’s house with his anal wife?  Try some of these antics. 

“Jitensha” Japanese with English subtitles.  If God were to steal a bicycle, would he do it bit by bit?  To teach you a lesson?  Think about it. 

“Me Time”  a Sienfeld episode rip off, complete with the phrase, “yada, yada…” but it’s taken to a comedic extreme. 

“La Viuda” Serious, beautifully filmed short.  A little slow, but worth a look 

“The New Tenants” a comedic thriller bolstered by the excellent acting and timing of the principles.  Dark humor, crafty comedy.

FFF “Winner Best Short Film”

April 11, 2010

12:30pm Between “Kells” and “Shorts 1: Ignite”
“The Secret of Kells” lives up to its hype. A fantastical, hand drawn animation that tells the mythical tale of the olde Irish Book of Ionia (did I spell that right) that becomes the Book of Kells. It was beautiful to watch. Contrary to the expectations of the Orlando Hurling Club, the sport was not alluded to in any way. Unfortunately, the contents of the Book of Kells were also not revealed. There were beautiful, intricate book pages displayed that I can only assume were renditions of the actual book. Someone next to us in line earlier said the actual book was in Trinity.

Normally, I would research all this to give you the full scoop, but today I am a new blogger, trying to give real time updates. How am I doing?

I run into Peter Meech, writer, director and co-producer of “Winner Best Short Film.”  It’s about a guy who claimed to have won an award at Sundance.  It stars Kevin and John Farley, brothers of Chris.  I ask him to tell me something about the film you can’t find on Google.  “We shot it in one day.  We had eight beautiful women so it was difficult to get the actors to take their places.  John kept having his shooting on TV productions, we didn’t know if he would make the shoot.  I couldn’t get hold of him for two days.  Finally, the night before, at 11:05pm [he checks his phone to confirm the text] I email him ‘see you tomorrow producer’ to which John replied ‘bullshit, I’ll see you in hell.  –kidding see you at 1030.'”  [Peter shows me the actual text on his phone and reveals that he would have had to play the lead if John did not show up.]

Peter confesses that the title of the short was chosen intentionally to create more buzz for the film.  He’s a very likable person and I’m anxious to see his short.  I’ll be back with an update on the shorts program in just a few hours.

FFF Day 3 A New Approach

April 11, 2010

The Orlando Hurling Club

10:30am Arrival at Enzian
Our friend Linda joins us today for “The Secret of Kells.”  The line is long, so I purchase tickets for fear it will be sold out and my press pass won’t get me in. In the meantime I interview some people in line 

Marty Crean is here for his first FFF and Enzian movie.  It’s because he’s Irish by descent and some years ago he saw the actual Book of Kells in Dublin.  Although he lived in Orlando for 13 years, he does not know why he has never been to the Enzian. 

Mike Hull is a fellow Hokie lover.  He is attending his first FFF.  His neighbor, Chris Moeller, has been to at least 6 or 7 and brought Mike along.  He saw “Shorts 2” yesterday and enjoyed them.  He’s been to the Enzian many times and is really looking forward to his first FFF inside the Enzian.  Chris has lived in Orlando for 45 years and is a big fan of the Enzian. 

Erica Cox has been to many festivals at Enzian.  “I’m excited that FFF is here.  We’re exposed to some culture that we wouldn’t normally be.  It’s kind of a hidden gem.  Most people don’t know it’s here.”   She feels that people who have never experienced the FFF are “missing out,” as she excitedly flags down the other members of her party who are just now entering the theatre. 

In a surprise revelation, Erica discloses that she is a member of the New World Celts, which is an organization that promotes the Celtic culture in Orlando.  Her friend, Mick Dunlap, is on the Orlando Hurling Club.  

Erica calls over George Houston and Michael O’Neil the vice president and president of the club.  Michael explains that hurling is like a combination of lacrosse, baseball, hockey, rugby–by now several club members are suggesting analogies and Salinda, who does not appear to be of Irish descent, whips out a brochure and business card.  

 They are clearly enjoying the attention.  “We get it everywhere we go,” proudly proclaims Erica.  She shouts over at Scott Graves to “show me your ash.”  (She is quick to point out that she said “ash” and not some other word.)  An ash, or Hurley, appears like a flattened, hockey stick that has been amputated.  By now, the entire group has surrounded me, wielding this stick, and I am wondering if I should end this interview quickly. 

George says hurling is elegant, not violent.  The sport itself is older than The Book of Kells and the country of Ireland.  “You’ll see in the movie,” he says. 

The lights dim and I prepare for “The Secret of Kells.” 

FFF Day Two: 15 Films

April 11, 2010

The Watermelon Man Gives # 1 Daughter Some Sage Advice

Wow!  Today was one of the best FFF days I ever had!   

Number One Daughter and I got to the festival around noon.  We saw 15 films, sat through four Q & A sessions, interviewed one filmmaker, shopped at an organic farmer’s market, interviewed some FFF  patrons and managed to find Enzian General Manager Chris Blanc to let him know what a wonderful job his team was doing.   

I’m exhausted!  It is clear that this pace is not working for my readers and I.  My intention was to do several live posts all day from the festival.  It’s just not my style.  I like to write long, well researched and detailed posts.  I’m not used to reducing the sum of my observations to Twitteresque statements of pithyness.  I’m used to re-reading and editing my writing many times prior to posting.  

So here it is, past 4am and I am just now finishing my blog for the day.  I didn’t even stay for the midnight shorts.  I’m determined to teach this old dog a new trick.  Tomorrow will be different! 

First, let’s review all that happened today.  

11am Arrive at Regal Cinema
The logistics of running something as large as the Florida Film Festival fascinates me. Every year I am impressed with how smoothly it flows. It’s not without its hitches. This morning a computer at the Regal Cinema broke down causing “The Secret of Kells” to start late. I watched as festival crews immediately dispatched someone to bring a computer wire to solve the problem. Then, there was a projection issue that caused the showing of “How to Fold a Flag to be delayed.  As with most FFF glitches, a hard working crew jumped in and most patrons were unaware of any issues. 

My hats off to this organization. 

“Thomson” today got of to a slow start as this short had me wondering what other choices the selection committee had that forced them to select this dud. I saw nothing in this movie to warrant its inclusion in the festival. Just a bunch of random scenes of teenagers hanging out. 

“How to Fold a Flag” wasn’t much better. At least this feature documentary had good editing, filming and score which made it engaging for a short time. It followed four soldiers from Iraq confronting the challenges they faced upon returning home. It was the kind of film that helps to raise public awareness of what it is like to deal with PTSD and the strains of returning to civilian life. I did not find enough substance to warrant a full length movie.  Perhaps it would have worked as a short film.   

From here, the rest of the day was film festival at its very best.   

Normally a shorts program contains a mixture of excellent, very good, good and then, well, not-so-good films. “Shorts Program #2: Burn” contained only very good and excellent films.   

Usually when I write reviews, I do an in depth analysis with a lot of research. I can’t do that when reviewing over 15 films in one day! So, here is my attempt to capture the essence of each movie in a review that is shorter than this paragraph:   

“My Mom Smokes Weed” a fun frolic where the title says it all.  

“Adelaide” a quirky romantic comedy about a hypochondriac who intentionally puts herself in danger to win the love of her EMT wannabe.   

“Touch” Whimsical tale of loneliness and connection on a subway platform. Touch was touching.  This was Number One Daughter’s favorite of this shorts program.   

“The Last Cigarette” a dad and daughter reconnect during a five minute smoke break. Engaging. 

NCFOY Filmmakers During Q & A

“No Country for Old Yeller”a humorous yarn of a producer’s PA who does daily chores, you know, pick up the laundry, shop, euthanize the family dog…typical Hollywood fare and good for some hearty laughs. 

“Down in Number 5” a well told, depressing story of a single father with black lung running out of options to care for his developmentally disable adult son. In the wake of the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years, this one was particularly emotional. 

“On the Road to Tel-Aviv” an explosive exploration of confronting the every day reality of terrorism in war torn countries. 

3pm Drive the 1.5 Miles From Regal to Enzian
“The Bake Shop Ghost”  This was it. The first movie that brought tears to my eyes. This short jewel stars Kathryn Joosten whom many of you know from her work as Mrs. Landingham on the TV show “The West Wing”.  This movie has her as the owner of a bake shop who has a hard time letting go of her passion–even after she dies!   

“What’s Organic About Organic” This feature documentary takes a look at the benefits of supporting organic agriculture and local farmers. It’s filled with useful information and showcases an extensive and eclectic group of farmers who strive to produce food in the fairest and healthiest way possible.   

As someone who is very supportive of the organic and local movement, it is difficult for me to be completely objective about this movie. During the last moments of the film a string of “what can you do” suggestions were displayed that seemed to cross a line between a documentary and proselytization. I wondered if such tactics are helpful in changing our national mindset or did the movie just preach to the choir.   

The film’s producer, Shelly Rogers, and Marty Mesh, one of the film’s featured farmers from Archer, FL was present for a Q & A afterwards. It was clear from the questions that a large portion of the audience was well educated and invested in the subject matter. Marty was passionate about his industry. He was sincere. I got the impression that if he were in charge of organic regulation and enforcement, agriculture in this country would be better off. But both presenters acknowledged the challenges of being able to trust every label or business who wants a piece of the ever growing organic market.   

5:30 Outside the Theatre
After the Q & A I tracked down Shelly & Marty and spoke with them for about 15 minutes.   

Shelly and Marty Love Organic

I asked them point blank about the possibility that their film could be seen as one-sided and unbalanced. Shelly acknowledged that every filmmaker has a point of view. The goal of filming, she says, should be to encourage growth and change. “I changed during the making of this film,” she pointed out. When I asked for a specific example of how she changed it was difficult for me to understand her response.   

Number One Daughter was snapping photos. As we discussed the interview, she noted that Shelly would often get this look in her eye like it was important for her to sell what it was that she believed in so strongly. Number One Daughter tried to capture that look in a photo.   

Shelly wanted me to mention Florida Organic Growers and encourage everyone to learn about the organic choices available to them. I joked with her that she was continuing to proselytize. She seemed a little offended by my tongue-in-cheek comment and explained that she thinks of that word as something that refers to a religious belief.  Hmmm, somehow I think that was my point.  

Marty reminds us that we eat everyday and each day what we put in our mouth is a choice. Where we spend our dollars and our marketplace choices have an effect. We have the power to have an impact.   

Shelly handed me a packet of basil seeds and encouraged me to not just sit on the sidelines and watch, but to go out and do something. Plant some seeds. Basically she was saying that we can grow as a society by making conscious choices about what we grow.   

Debbie Morse, a Film Festival volunteer, saw the movie several weeks ago. “It was excellent!” she proclaimed.  Despite her wariness of documentaries, she felt this one was easy to follow. When I asked her if this documentary was balanced, she said, “it felt like they were trying to give a portrait…and not take a side.”   

Erica Laspada, an FFF patron, thought the movie did a good job of providing excellent information–more than she expected given that she works for an environmental organizational and is quite knowledgable of the issues.  She especially liked the Q & A where she appreciated Marty’s information about the Florida Organic Growers organization. “Go organic farming,” was her closing remark.  

To compliment the movie a small, organic farmer’s market was set up just outside the Enzian. (Isn’t this a phenomenal film festival!)  I bought some farm fresh eggs, homemade hummus, biscotti and asked Matt if I could buy a bottle of his Organic Uncle Matt’s Orange Juice. He didn’t bring bottles to sell, but he gave me a full one that he brought along to pour samples.  He wouldn’t accept my offer of payment. It was delicious O.J.   

6:30pm Back Inside the Theatre
“Devolution” a wordless short consisting of five exquisitely filmed vignettes. With nothing but music and images, the filmmaker skillfully creates an emotional romp through several diverse scenes. Number One Daughter was bored and slept through this one. I was mesmerized.   

“The Tiger Next Door” was a fascinating feature documentary about Dennis Hill, a breeder of rare, exotic animals, mostly tigers, and his fight with the DNR to retain his permit to keep animals. Although it was a feature length film I felt like it was missing huge chunks of information that kept me from having enough information to determine if Dennis deserved to keep his permit.   

By the end of the film I had formed an opinion about whether or not Dennis should be allowed to keep his large cats. In speaking with others who saw the film, I found many of them also had their points of view. But they were not always the same.  I think that’s the sign of a well done documentary.  I’ll let you watch the movie and draw your own conclusions.   

8:15pm Back Outside the Theatre to Interview Some Patrons
Dianne & Kevin Sentner just saw “Winter’s Bone” It was a dark movie about Ozark hillbillies. Very well acted, well written and very violent. It dealt with a code of silence of the hills. They found the writing and story to be quite good and thought the acting was excellent. They’ve been going to the film festival for a few years and go to about three or four films a year.   

Jeff H. saw “Homewrecker” “Loved it. I’m trying to think of some ’film critique’ thing to say, you know, tour de force. A solid movie,” he stammered.  He went on to say that a wide range of people would like this movie. 

Jeff, maybe this was your 15 minutes. Leave a comment and let me know how it felt.  I think your review was great. 

9:15pm Inside the Enzian for Two Last Films
Our day ended with the screening of two documentaries   

Watermelon Man & His Director

“Watermelon Man” what a great short powered solely by the personality of its one and only character–a colorful black farmer touting the benefits of using his God given talent; growing great watermelons and other crops.  This charismatic guy was filled with simple, homespun wisdom and a dramatic flair for making his points.  The film was well crafted; short, funny and quite engaging.  Our second serendipitous movie for the day! 

 “Cleanflix” wow! What a movie. This feature documentary explores the legal battle concerning companies, primarily in Morman areas of Utah, that edit objectionable content out of movies to rent or sell them. A real life “Cinema Paradiso”. All serious movie lovers will be fascinated by the implications of this well made feature documentary film. 

After these two movies, filmmakers from both films participated in a Q & A.  I asked the Watermelon Man if he could clarify whether or not the delectable melon he speaks of in his movie is seeded or seedless.  He acknowledges that the seeded ones are best but to the laughter of the audience he concedes that you can’t get the kids of today to even think about eating a melon where they have to spit out the seeds. 

Cleanflix Filmmaker at Q & A

The filmmaker of “Cleanflix” gave even more detailed information on the business of editing movies for content and the legal and moral battles that ensue.  He noted that his project began as a short, but kept growing year after year.  Just when he thought he had an ending, his Mormon Cleanflix protagonist was arrested on a charge of a child sex crime and the documentary got even longer. 

11:30pm The End of the Day
On the way to our car Number One Daughter casually remarks, “wow, that was fun!”  After a day of young teenage angst begging to go home after every movie I begin to think I might have a convert.  Bless her!  She, too, is exhausted from hauling around our blogging bag with two cameras, water bottles, notepads, computer, disks and FFF guides and info.  She’s my personal assistant, sherpa and creative guide all at once.  I could not have gotten through the day without her. 

It was precious to watch her interact with the Watermelon Man while he personally signed one of his books for her.  She asked him to choose the book she was to purchase and he chose, “Hard Heads Make Soft Bottoms.”  Turns out it’s a book about the wisdom of respecting one’s parents. 

Tomorrow I will set a goal to abandon my normal posting style and bring you short, informative updates throughout the day.  In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the FFF, even if it is only through these posts. 

Please leave a comment and join the conversation. 

Please Join the Conversation by Leaving a Comment

FFF Day One: “Paper Man” and Emma Stone

April 10, 2010

Emma Stone Meets Number One Daughter

Day One
6:51pm “Paper Man” 19 Minutes Late  

Emma Stone was . . . Brilliant!  

Today was the first day of the Florida Film Festival.  I was frustrated.  Traffic was bad.  Number One Daughter and I were late to the opening film, “Paper Man”.  We walked in well after the movie had started.  The theatre manager told us it was standing room only but we managed to find seats in the very front row.  I was not expecting to enjoy it.  

The movie stars Jeff Daniels–one of my favorite actors.  It is a very engrossing film, telling the story of a writer who temporarily leaves his highly successful, vascular surgeon wife and moves to a home in Montauk, Long Island, to try to finish his next novel.  Lacking social skills, he innocently bumbles into hiring a babysitter, even though he has no baby.  She house sits while he spends time interacting with his childhood, imaginary super hero.  Yeah, the story line is a little weird.  

They might not have pulled it off.  Fortunately, there was Emma Stone, playing the babysitter.  

Her performance was sublime.  She somehow managed to capture the depth of a character struggling with guilt associated with the drowning of her twin sister.  It was one part “Ordinary People”, one part “The Sixth Sense” and very reminiscent ofLost in Translation”–mid-life crises meets teenage angst with a healthy dose of psychological fantasy.  Emma somehow managed to convey it all.  

I was so engrossed in the film, I lost track of everyone around me.  Like most Florida Film Festival movies, an appreciative crowd laughed and clapped at appropriate moments making the experience somehow more alive.  Before I knew it the movie was over, the lights came up and an announcer stated that some of the filmmakers were in the audience.  

Michele, Kieran and Emma

Emma Stone was sitting next to me!  Michele Mulroney, the co-writer and co-director and Kieran Culkin, another star were with Emma.  During the Q & A, I complimented Emma on her brilliant performance.  The hearty applause of the audience indicated I was not alone in that thought.  

In a typical film festival encounter, the audience sees  Emma transform from the brilliant actress that managed to plumb the depths of a very complex character to a shy, unassuming 21 year old demonstrating a lack of confidence in her work.  The president of the Florida Film Festival was standing beside me and commented that he felt as though he was witnessing the growth of a new Julianne Moore.  

Only at a film festival can you have these kind of experiences.  I hope you get to a chance to join me this week.  

And please let me know what you thought of “Paper Man”.  

8:30pm Opening Night Party 

After the film, the opening night party at the Enzian was a glorious bash of exquisite hor d’ oeuvres, live music and star-studded party goers. 

This was my first film festival as a member of the press and it didn’t take long for that to have an impact. 

“Are you with the press?  I want you to interview me.  I have the third highest making film in the festival,” brags one lady who looks at me with an expectant air. 

“Your movie made the third most amount of money out of all these films?” I ask, wondering what she meant. 

“No, it has sold the third–or second, I can’t remember–most amount of tickets in the festival.  It’s a local film so I’m really pleased it’s one of the most popular.”  

I know the movie.  It’s a documentary about high school children vying to win a music composition contest.  Since the movie is local, I’m not surprised it has sold a higher number of tickets–all those local young composers, moms, grandparents, friends and teachers would ensure that.  I try to think of a delicate way to make that point but the eager filmmaker is going a mile a minute. 

Her name is Dr. Lisa Mills and she is an associate professor of film at UCF.  She has made about six shorts and this is her second feature.  She says she is in the middle of her second life.  For her first life she was a journalist.  I tell her she could teach me how to write. 

“But you have your own blog, you already know how to write,” she replies.  I point out that anyone can buy a domain name.  She has no idea how much I struggle to produce good writing.  I often fail. 

Her movie is called “The Young Composers Challenge” and it is playing Sunday April 11 3:45pm at the Enzian and Sunday April 18 1pm at Regal Cinema A. 

Lisa laments how our society has adopted an attitude that the arts aren’t important.  She cites the many schools that have cut or reduced art programs as proof.  “I belive the arts are important!” she emphatically declares. 

I envy Lisa.  She is clearly entering a new phase in her life that she finds challenging and rewarding.  Before meeting her, I was not sure I was going to see her film but after meeting her I have it on my schedule. 

9:30pm Interview with Emma Stone 

After watching “Paper Man” Emma Stone agreed to allow me an interview, as long as I kept it short.  I caught up with her at the party. 

She seemed a little nervous and overwhelmed with all the attention she was receiving.  I asked her how she got started in acting.  She said she loved acting for as long as she could remember and she moved to California at 15 to start her career.  My journalistic instincts were working overtime.  Did she move with her parents?  Were they still together?  What happens in a family when a child wants to start a career in a different state? 

Emma Was Very Popular at the Party

I had promised her a short interview so I left these questions unspoken.  The sponsor of the film festival interrupted us and asked if she could do a TV interview.  Emma was fantastic.  She said she was in the middle of an interview with me and would do their interview in a minute. 

I lowered my notepad and tried to make a connection.  “I write a blog about the Orlando area,” I began, “what would you like to say to my readers?” 

The question catches her off guard and she doesn’t know how to respond.  After an awkward moment she shrugs her shoulders, smiles and replies, “Tell them I said, ‘Hi!'”.  

Now it’s my turn to look awkward.  “Tell them to google me,” she continues.  Then, quickly, “No, don’t say that.”  We both laugh as I make a mental note to tell my readers, in fact, to google her. 

She is a terrific young actress and deserves attention. 

Then, remembering that during the movie Q & A she revealed her life long goal was to one day host SNL, I tell her that I’ll tell my readers to look for her on Saturday Night Live.  She smiles and laughs as she moves on to her next interview. 

My first day at the Florida Film Festival comes to an end.

FFF Sneak Preview “Punching The Clown”

April 5, 2010

The "Bagel Dilemma" was a Highlight of this Movie

Punching the Clown claims to be a fictional story yet has the feel of a movie based on the true life exploits of its star and co-writer, Henry Phillips.  Indeed, some of the shots are of Henry’s actual live performances.  The documentary style narrative chronicles Henry’s attempt to become a successful singer with his off-beat, satirical folk songs which his agent describes as akin to “James Taylor on smack.”  Henry finds this analogy confusing because, as he points out, James Taylor actually was on smack.

The backdrop of the movie is Henry being interviewed on a 3am radio talk show where he describes his life on the road and his crashing at his brother’s apartment as he seeks his fortune.  Several coincidental interchanges occur that could result in a lucrative deal with a record agent or a mob protest for an erroneous, defamatory magazine article.

The movie is peppered with creative and humorous original songs written by Henry Phillips and similar in style to Weird Al Yankovic.  As the story unfolds, the gentle, innocent songwriter finds himself buffeted by forces seemingly beyond his control.  In one particularly hilarious sequence, his modest compliment of a bagel spirals into an out-of-control scenario resulting in a near riot.

As I was watching the movie, I found myself being struck by the similarities between the way the film was made and the internal story line.  The story was about a young artist attempting to refine his craft and seek exposure.  The movie had the feel of a young moviemaker struggling with his first major work.  The acting was adequate, but occasionally inconsistent, the cinematography was sketchy, the lighting was horrible and the script needed some tightening.

Did the filmmaker intentionally create a movie that mirrored its subject or was this the work of a novice filmmaker about a novice musician?

The end result was a film with some really good laughs, some poignant and enjoyable moments but not enough depth to carry a full length feature.

Henry Phillips is obviously a very talented artist and, with time, perhaps some exceptionally good work will come from him.  I hope he keeps working at it.

Punching the Clown plays at the Winter Park Regal Theatre B on Monday, Apr 12 at 9pm and Thursday April 15 at 4:30pm.