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FFF Day 4–Three Fabulous Documentaries

April 11, 2018

Kimberly Reed with Selection Committee Member Christopher Ramsey

This is Home
This powerful documentary begins with an aerial view of Homs, Syria. A modern city that has been absolutely decimated by the Syrian civil war. Block after block of destroyed buildings give a small glimpse into the suffering of the Syrian people. With millions of Syrians displaced because of war, our country’s pitiful response and lack of compassion are evident. Fortunately, there are pockets of places, such as in Baltimore, where a small number of Syrian refugees are given a new start in life along with significant social services for eight months in an effort to help them back on their feet.

This documentary follows four families during their first eight months in America. The filmgoer is drawn into their internal struggles to adapt to a new language and cultural while at the same time holding onto their own ethnic values and traditions. For them, it is a test of survival as those who can’t successfully navigate the first eight months are in danger of being deported back to the dangerous hell of their homeland.

The movie shows both the best and the worst of our own citizens. There are those who reach out to help these poor innocent people as well as those who make it obvious that some of us are not very welcoming. In the same way, the refugees themselves display both eagerness and ambivalence as they strive to find a new place in the world.

Very compelling and well made, this documentary will touch your heart and, hopefully, change a few minds.

Preceded by Let My People Vote
In Florida, over 1.7 million convicted felons have lost their right to vote–forever. And before you consider that this might be a just consequence for such heinous criminals, you might be interested to know that a person can have a felony conviction for the horrible crime of releasing more than 15 balloons at one time! This documentary features Desmond Meade who made some bad choices when he was younger and is now fighting to make his vote count considering that he has paid his debt to society. In 2018 this issue will be put on the Florida ballot. And it’s about time. This is a well made and surprisingly emotional short film.

Dark Money
In 2009 Kimberly Reed enthralled us with her hard hitting documentary Prodigal Sons. This year she’s back with a government thriller to rival All the President’s Men. The movie is Dark Money. It tells the story of how campaign finance laws are allowing anonymous people or organizations to finance elections and what her home state of Montana is doing to combat it.

The film follows a journalist as he methodically uncovers the source of some of this dark money that has seeped into state political races in Montana. In the end, he succeeds in revealing enough information to bring a prominent lawmaker to trial.

Afterwards, Kimberly was available to answer questions. She noted that campaign finance is not a partisan issue. Christopher Ramsey, a member of the Documentary Selection Committee, could not restrain his enthusiasm and he pointed out that the film featured Republicans battling Republicans on this important issue.

Preceded by The Shift
A powerful little short that gives an inside look at what it is like to work a shift at a 911 call center. Well paced and filmed, it gives the filmgoer a visceral experience of some of the challenges faced by those who answer the phone during some of the most traumatic moments of a person’s life.

Mole Man
I really don’t know why Mrs. LanceAround and I were in tears so many times during this documentary. It’s a relatively simple story about an older man on the autism spectrum who cannot refrain from building. He does so without mortar or nails. Yet he somehow has created a sprawling edifice of several stories with multiple basements, corridors, mazes, and tons and tons of compulsive collections. (Anyone want a bathroom plunger? He has one from every abandoned house he’s ever visited because, “it’s the one thing they always leave behind.”)

In Western Pennsylvania, the demise of coal and steel have left entire towns completely barren. Ron Heist seeks out these dilapidated buildings and takes anything he can get his hands on. In the meantime, his family has to decide what to do with Ron once his 92 year old mother becomes unable to provide him with his daily meals.

It’s a heart wrenching story of a man who has made the most, literally, with what life has dealt him. The documentarian skillfully draws you further and further into Ron’s world and introduces you to the friends and family who are working behind the scenes to figure out how to care for someone who is at once highly creative and capable and yet, somehow, unable to connect and find his place in today’s world.

Preceded by Nueva Vida
An unusual short documentary that is a complete animation of one person’s story of his near death experiences when an errant soccer ball damages his pituitary gland. A very creative way to take a true story and add life to it.

What a Night!
as Mrs. LanceAround and I drive the hour back to our home, we find ourselves deep in conversation about the three powerful documentaries and three shorts that we saw tonight. We both agree that this was one of the most powerful and enjoyable nights we’ve ever had at the FFF. If you get a chance to see any of these movies, don’t miss it. They have the capacity to change how you view the world.

FFF 2017 Day 9–Manifesto

May 11, 2017

Cate Blanchett as You’ve Never Seen Her Before

Matthew Curtis, Programing Director for the FFF describes Manifesto as a movie unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. He is exactly right.

It is not uncommon for people who are passionate about a given topic to write a manifesto. These documents reflect the convictions and beliefs of their authors. The better ones often become well known. Some even serve almost in the role of a recipe for social change.

Julian Rosenfeldt selected several such manifestos, primarily focusing on artistic writings, and created a film where one actor–the incomparable Cate Blanchette, assumes 13 different roles and recites these manifestos in character.

To further create visual stimulation, backdrops and sets are chosen to enhance the characterization and add body to the recitations of the manifestos. The result is that the written words tend to come alive giving even more weight to the idealism of the authors who wrote them.

If this sounds appealing to you, you will really enjoy this movie. If this sounds strange, dull or weird, you might just want to skip this one.

Within my family, Mrs. LanceAround was very moved by the recitations. I, on the other hand, have a more difficult time with auditory learning and, therefore, could not follow the writings with the same passion as my beloved spouse. I did thoroughly enjoy the fabulous cinematography and the creative costumes and set designs. I also loved some of the more whimsical presentations–like the mother who recited her manifesto as a solemn prayer prior to the family dinner while her husband and two bored children had to listen to her drone on and on.

This film was visionary, creative, beautifully acted and filled with powerful words. Don’t go looking for a brilliant story arc or even a sense of continuity. Just let each scene wash over you from a visual standpoint and touch you with an oratory of powerful thoughts and ideas and you will find this to be the most unique movie you’ve enjoyed in a long time.

Florida Film Festival (FFF) Preview 2016

April 11, 2016
Matthew Curtis and Mrs. LanceAround

Matthew Curtis and Mrs. LanceAround

Florida Film Festival
8-17 April 2016
Enzian Theatre and Regal Cinemas Winter Park Village 20

We’re here once again with Matthew Curtis, Programming Director for the 2016 Florida Film Festival.

LA: Matthew, something happened this week that I’ve never seen before. I was in a local multiplex theatre and saw a trailer for the upcoming film, The Lobster. This was the opening film of the FFF on Friday night. I don’t recall ever seeing a FFF movie previewing in local theatres at the same time it was showing during the FFF.

MC: We’ve done that before. It’s just a matter of timing. The Lobster is coming out in May in major markets and then it’ll expand in late May/June. I had heard that AMC and Regal were starting to show the trailer. Although I do think the FFF audience will be the largest single audience that the film gets in Central Florida. It will be larger than any regular audience that film gets in its commercial run.

LA: Why is that? What is it about the FFF that seems to attract such a unique audience that you wouldn’t find at the regular cinemas?

MC: I think it’s an audience that is attracted to movies but they’re more attracted to originality. People may have even come to that movie because it’s the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos who was nominated for Dogtooth years ago and is this unbelievable director making his first English language film. Not everybody loved the movie either. But I thought it was a very good opening night film and very provocative. Tongues were wagging! People were talking about it. It’s not for everyone. It’s darkly funny. It’s bleak and grim. It’s ideas on love and companionship are brutal. But I thought it was a worthy opening night film.

LA: As we wrote our review of the movie, we had a hard time finding a way to describe it. In the end, we settled on, “surrealistic.”

MC: Yea, certainly, although the vision of the future that it’s proposing, I suppose some would find that surreal or absurd or just…

Mrs. LA: (Interrupting) Dystopian-Holy Smokes!

MC: That’s right, it’s a dystopian situation.

LA: Until you said that now, it never occurred to me that this was a futuristic world.

MC: Well, it didn’t have spaceships and floating cars. There’s nothing “futuristic” about it except that it’s an alternate reality of, possibly, the future of mankind and how things are going to go.

LA: What is it that the Programming Director does for the FFF?

MC: The Programming Director sits on as many selection committees as possible and oversees all the decision making as far as what gets into the final lineup; what direction the program is going to take and ensures that what we’re offering is as diverse as possible.

LA: So, you oversee the selection process, you oversee the scheduling process, you oversee all the cogs in motion…and then when the festival starts your job is pretty much over?

MC: (Laughing) No…I wish! No, once the festival starts my job is to make sure that every single screening is done with the utmost efficiency and professionalism and every film with a filmmaker is given special love and the utmost care and the filmmaker is happy with the way we present their movie.

LA: During the 10 days of the FFF do you get ANY time off?

MC: No! No!

LA: Not even a two hour break?

MC: No! During the festival I get here about 10 0’clock in the morning and I go home about 2 or 3 in the morning.

LA: All day long you’re doing things and no matter how tired you are or how long your day’s been, there’s always one more blogger wanting to interview you late at night (we’re having this interview after a late night movie).

MC: (Laughing) That’s not true, but I flow with it. I have a Program Coordinator, this year it’s Tim Anderson, and we make sure that one of us is always at Regal and one of us is at Enzian. We’re here to handle any situation.

LA: If you did get a break, if you had a two hour break at some point…

MC: (Interrupting) I’d take a nap!

LA: If you had a two hour break during the 10 days and you said to yourself, “Ok, I have a break now. I can see a film.” Which movie would you see?

MC: Well, I’ve seen all the films. (Starts to laugh as he understands what I’m trying to do…)

LA: Oh, Darn! I worked for 10 minutes to try and trick him into acknowledging what his favorite film is and, once again this year, Matthew Curtis refused to divulge his favorite FFF movie.

Mrs. LA: (To LanceAround) You could just ask him directly!

LA: I’ve tried that for the last three years! He refuses to acknowledge a favorite.

Mrs LA: (To Matthew) You don’t have a favorite that tugs at your heart?

MC: There’s a lot of films that tug at my heart–It would be hard to just pick out one movie. I love our Shorts Programs. I think our Docs are amazing. The Spotlight Docs. The Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You doc is phenomenal. Tickled…Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made…There’s a lot of great non-fiction stuff. And this is probably our strongest ever Narrative Competition. We have more comedy than we’ve had in previous years. We have more countries represented; more diversity, more women directors.

LA: Which films are really funny?

MC: depends on how you take funny…I think Donald Cried is hilarious. Some of the funniest films in the festival are My Big Night, a Spanish film by Alex De La Iglesia. I think the Taika Waititi film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is hilarious. Morris From America, the new Chad Hartigan film with Craig Robinson–these are all not just straight ahead comedies. They’re all coming of age comedic dramas. They all have something else on their mind–an indictment of foster care–different things. But they all have an awful lot of humor. Lolo, the Julie Delpy film, is about a middle age woman trying to find love and her teenage son who lives with her, you know, has a major Oedipal complex, is trying to do everything he can to undermine her romantic entanglements. (Matthew chuckles as he reminisces about this film.) Lola has the best dialogue in the festival. Her conversations with her best friend are brilliant. She’s amazing.

LA: What is it about this year’s festival that you would like our readers to know?

MC: So far it’s shaping up to be pretty awesome. I’m very proud of the programming. As I mentioned before, this is our most diverse festival ever. We certainly have the most amount of films…the most amount of countries we’ve ever had represented. And we have countries that rarely ever get on screen here like Kyrgyzstan and Cyprus and Ethiopia. The family film Lamb is really beautiful. As always, we try to offer something for everybody and I think we definitely live up to that this year.

LA: To finish, give us a quick update on Enzian Forever, the effort to expand the Eznian to three screens.

MC: It’s about three quarters of the way as far as the fundraising goes. There’s a lot of complications with the city of Maitland–things that have to be cleared…decisions made…but we’re looking to break ground sometime in the fall.

LA: That is outstanding! There you have it fans of LanceAroundOrlando. Matthew Curtis, the inside scoop on what’s happening at The Enzian and, most importantly, the 2016 Florida Film Festival. Be sure to come down and see some of the fabulous movies that are appearing for the next eight days at the festival.





First Position – Day 9 FFF 2012

April 21, 2012


Gina and Zoe Love to Dance

First Position
Documentaries about competitions have fallen into a routine, formulaic model. They start off with an “introduction” of all the principles, then you see a few scenes during the “preparation” phase. Finally there’s the actual competition.

First Position follows this formula to a T. The filming and editing are well done and you do grow attached to the characters. So, from that standpoint, the film works. Certainly the audience who saw the film had lots of positive reactions to it.

Dancers Await Their Fate

For me, I thought it was a good film, but I’m getting pretty tired of the formula. Time for something new. I was really disappointed that the filmmaker did not choose to show complete dance sequences. Just as I was getting into a particular dance, there’d be a sharp cut to someone’s expression or a close up of the dancer’s feet. It really took me out of the movie.

Afterwards, I ran into two young dancers and their parents, all of whom were enthusiastic about the film.

Gina found out about the film just this afternoon. “We know some of the people who are in it,” she says excitedly: “Gabriel Maxwell, Orlando Melina, Olivia Munoz. Two of them are teachers, the other is a student. They competed and Gabriel, from Switzerland, got a scholarship.”

“It was awesome,” said Zoe Grecho. (Zoe’s mom leans over to me and whispers, “They live for dancing!”)

Gina tells me more, “I cried at some points. Overall I was glad my mom isn’t that strict-that hard on me.”

Zoe was focused on the dancing, “Some of the variations gave me chills. It made me very happy that they won-what they got.”

“Why dance?,” I inquire.

“It’s an amazing sport. You get to move and express yourself. You don’t have to speak. You get to show yourself in your body,” says Zoe.

Gina says, “My mother’s side of the family are dancers, but I CHOOSE to do dance–as well as music and acting. It’s mainly to get a chance to perform. I love performing for people and making people feel what I’m feeling.” I ask, “What are you feeling?” “It depends on what I’m performing. I don’t really have a favorite. I just love it.”

“Any last thoughts?” Zoe–“You should really see this, it’s amazing, It shows you how hard dancers work and what we do.”

Gina concludes, “It’s amazing and it really represents the community of dancers.”

I wish I had thought to ask them how old they are. For young ladies, they demonstrated a great deal of insight and maturity.

ThatGuyRoberto and NumberOneEmber Vs.Monty Python – Day 6 FFF 2012

April 21, 2012

[Editor’s Note: Tonight the Enzian theatre has a free showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on an outdoor screen at the grass amphitheatre right beside the Eden Bar. NumberOneEmber invites ThatGuyRoberto and NumberOneSon to watch the movie with her. Here’s her report. –LanceAround]

My first impression of the outdoor theatre set-up was that we wouldn’t be able to find a place to sit. The area in front of giant, fabric screen was overflowing with people on blankets and in chairs. Every adult seemed to have a drink in hand, kids sat at a table together talking excitedly, and several dogs ran around on the grass.

NumberOneSon, ThatGuyRoberto and I squeeze in-between two blankets and lay down, waiting for the sun to set and the movie to start. 30 minutes after the reported start time, an Enzian staff member comes and introduces the movie. After a rough start, the movie finally flips onto the giant screen. I settle into my blanket and watch one of the best comedies I know. I’ve seen the film before so I was murmuring the lines to myself when I knew them. However, it was great to see ThatGuyRoberto’s fresh reactions to the comedy. All in all, it was a rather nice night out.

The day was hot and there were a bunch of drunk people around me, but Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a good movie regardless. It had a lot of old school humour; such as a man fighting with all his limbs cut off and a bunch of rude-French people.

However, even though the movie was good, I didn’t like that I got turned down for trying to buy popcorn and a drink. So, I had to sit through the movie hungry, thirsty, and sitting in the heat. I don’t advise watching this movie in Florida at night, surrounded by a bunch of sweaty people. I’d much rather watch it in the comforts of my own home surrounded by family and loved ones.

The Timeshare Debate

June 4, 2011

Disney's Approach to Timeshare is Much More Reasonable

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by our good friend Heidi Strawser who hails from my home state of Pennsylvania.  Heidi has her own blog, Reviews and Reflections, which focuses on the things in her life that she loves the most—Christianity, family, homeschooling, Disney World, reading…just to name a few. I was so excited to see her when she stopped by my office last week. I knew she was in town, but didn’t expect her because she stayed on Disney property and did not stay with my vacation rental home company (which she talks about in today’s post.)

Her post today focuses on timeshares, which is a huge industry in Central Florida.  In essence, a timeshare means you are purchasing a “fractionalized ownership” in a dwelling. (Usually you own one week a year in a condominium type dwelling.) The most common technique timeshare companies use to sell their properties works like this. They hold up signs along the road advertising a ridiculously low price for theme park tickets. For about $20 they sell you a voucher and say that all you have to do is go a “short presentation” about a great resort. At that presentation, you’ll get food. When it’s over, you get your cheap tickets.

What happens during that presentation? Let’s just say that Heidi’s description below is consistent with my own experience as well as the experiences of lots of other people who went to a timeshare presentation. And hence the debate—are timeshares a legitimate option? I will be honest with you. I recognize that they are a “legal” option. (In other words, the selling of the timeshare is not, technically, illegal.) However, I believe they are an irresponsible option. Anytime an industry produces an overwhelming number of companies that have to lie (“the presentation only lasts an hour”), uses high pressure tactics (“let me have my supervisor speak with you”) or bullying behavior (“Stay seated, this won’t take much longer…”) then I believe such an industry should be avoided at all costs.

In her guest post, Heidi has graciously made several references to my vacation rental home company. At first, I thought I might edit them out for fear that they might be viewed as a shameless plug—or worse—that I had asked Heidi to plug my business. Of course, I did no such thing. In the end, I decided that Heidi wrote what she wrote and I would leave it as is, with very minor editing, and just be honest with you about it. Thanks, Heidi, for the kind words!—LanceAround]

My Thoughts on Timeshares

Heidi and Family

Recently, we spent some time in the central Florida area.  The reason for the visit was strictly business; but, with my family, when the opportunity to be within a stone’s throw of Walt Disney World comes up, we jump on it! 

My boss graciously offered to put us up in a timeshare complex (which shall not remain nameless – more on that later in this post).  But, we wanted more than just the Sunday – Sunday down there, especially since the last 3 days of that week would be devoted to working.  So, we traveled down early, decided to use some of the points we’ve been racking up on our Disney Visa, and stayed on Disney property for the first time ever.  (Now, let it be known that if I were traveling down with extended family or friends, or if I were not being given accommodations for free, I’d definitely rent through Florida Dream Homes – and I’m not just saying that because this is LanceAround’s blog. )

Anyway, we arrived at the Port Orleans Riverside on a Thursday afternoon. We decided to forego making any “real” plans for Friday, so that we could just hang out and enjoy what the resort had to offer.  I must say that we all enjoyed our stay at Port Orleans and would definitely consider returning in the future. 

While there, we were greeted in the lobby by one of the “spokespeople” for the Disney Vacation Club – a precious British lady who was lots of fun to chat with and spent extra time conversing with the children. When she asked if we’d be interested in taking some time to learn more about the Disney Vacation Club, I think we were a little wary at first. We’ve been roped into these timeshare speeches in the past and they’re never pleasant.  However, something about the way she presented it made it sound so appealing – “it will only take an hour of your time . . . there is a special room for the younger children to play in while you do the tour . . . it’s a no-pressure sales pitch (could this be true?!) . . . afterwards, you’ll be treated to ice cream in our on-site ice cream parlor . . . each member of your family will receive a $15 gift certificate to be used anywhere on Disney property.”  An hour?  $75?  Ice cream?  Yep, we can handle that.

And it was EXACTLY as it was represented.  We dropped our two younger children (ages 10 and 5) off in the children’s area (they were thrilled!). The rest of us were  greeted by our representative who sat down with us in a living-room-like environment, took about 10-15 minutes to talk about the program, how it worked, and how much it cost. Then, he showed us around 3 different “samples” of the resort accommodations. Afterwards, we got our ice cream and our gift cards, and the van driver whisked us off to Downtown Disney (our choice).  No pressure, fun, yummy, and the kids enjoyed spending their gift cards (truthfully, so did we).

Fast forward a few days and we found ourselves leaving Disney and moving to the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort.  Our front desk check-in experience was less than pleasant. Then, when we finally were allowed to check in, we were told we needed to go to another desk for a parking pass. At that desk, it “was our lucky day”. . . “because we were from PA, we were lucky enough to be eligible for a free breakfast and resort tour the next day.”  Seriously?!  We were going to pass, having just seen the Disney Vacation Club a few days prior, but my boss wanted to do it for the “cheap” Disney tickets.

When we got there, we were immediately separated from my boss and her family, who ended up skipping out on the whole thing.  We weren’t so lucky.  First, we were escorted to an area with lots of little “rooms” (tables and chairs) and told to help ourselves to the “breakfast”.  What?!  Individually wrapped, dry, hard pastries?!  Already, we were getting a bad taste in our mouths (pun intended). We were told that our representative was busy but would be with us shortly.  Already the kids were getting restless, but we waited (thinking my boss was putting up with this same treatment in another area of the facility).

It LOOKS Like a Resort, But by the End of Your Timeshare Presentation You Might Wonder If You Are in a Prison!

When our representative finally did arrive, he started trying to sell us a timeshare.  What was promised to take an hour and a half of our time was extended to almost double that.  The promised $75 gift card suddenly didn’t seem worth it. Despite our attempts to explain to him that we weren’t interested in purchasing a timeshare, it wasn’t something we were considering, and it wasn’t currently in the budget, he continued to push and push and push.  And, he got rude about it too.  If his rudeness weren’t enough to turn us off, his lies were – he told us things about the Disney program that were out and out wrong (and he knew we had just heard that sales pitch a few days earlier).

I could go on and on and share in detail some of the things that were said, but I’m trying to put it behind me.  Let’s just say that if I had been considering purchasing a timeshare, I definitely would NOT be purchasing from Wyndham!  The $75 gift card really turned out to be only $65, as the card was rejected when we attempted to use the last $10 on it.

Now, I’m not complaining about the accommodations at the Bonnet Creek Resort – they were lovely and very comfortable. However, the staff was less than accommodating and the experience with the timeshare pitch was so disappointing.  I think we learned a few important lessons from this experience – – –

  • Say NO to those timeshare “deals” unless it’s at the Disney Vacation Club.
  • If you’re going to be in the Orlando/Disney area, I’d recommend either staying on Disney property or renting a Florida Dream Home through LanceAround’s company.  (We’ve done the hotel thing and I could write a whole other post about some of those experiences.)
  • Oh, and one more thing, if you’re traveling from the north, you may want to go during a different time of year.  May in central FL is HOT!