If there is one thing that I would like you know about me, it is this; I am a writer. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a “blogger” or a “journalist“. It simply means that I consider myself to be a storyteller. My job is to create worlds for my characters to inhabit, and then place these characters in unique and interesting situations.
So when you are asked, as I was, to discuss my time during the Florida Film Festival, I was presented with a very unique challenge: how do I tell a story that has already been told 24 times before? How do my “characters” react to situations that are out of my control? How do I, a real person, tell a story that is always changing with every passing year?
Most writers…heck, most people I know…would love to presented with such a challenge.
I accepted that challenge.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always compared the Florida Film Festival to a giant maze, with me as the mouse trying to get to the cheese. To accomplish this, I have worn many hats throughout the years; a volunteer. A bystander. A distant observer. However, at no point was I able to fully motivate myself to obtain said “cheese”. There were many reasons for this, but in the end, it all came down to two things; time and money. That all changed this year. I was finally able to purchase the most coveted of items; a Producer Pass. With this pass, I was able to get in to every event there was, including certain events that were invite-only.
First things first; make peace with the fact that you are not going to see every single film in the entire festival. Even if you attend every single press screening, there is absolutely no way that you could possibly see the 180+ film lineup over 10 days. Not only is it impossible, but if you’re not careful, your body may not be able to take the strain.
My advice? First, get a hotel near the theater and plan on staying there the entire time. Your body will thank you. Second, don’t hesitate to take a break. Third, don’t’ forget to eat. You’re going to use up a lot of energy going back and forth from the Enzian & Winter Park Village, so be sure to plan ahead for snacking.
Most of my time throughout the festival was spent hopping from film to film, or from film to event I attended the Producer Pass Holder exclusive Programmer’s Luncheon in March. Matthew Curtis, the Programming Director, went over the entire program long before it was announced to the public. The festival had not even started, and I was already way ahead of the curve.
There was also another luncheon hosted by Programming Coordinator Tim Anderson, so if you weren’t able to attend the one with Matthew Curtis, you could still get an idea of what to expect from this year’s selection of films. A number of pre-festival press screenings were made available to the higher level pass holders, so I was able to knock out whatever films Enzian happened to screen on that day.
The press screenings, as it turned out, were arguably one of the best parts of the festival. This is because you have a healthy mix of press members and regular people who wanted to see movies. The films were always shown on time, which was something that did not happen during the festival. Some of my favorite moments were just relaxing at the Eden Bar and chatting about the films we just watched. I will not attempt to review every film I saw, but I will highlight certain films that are worth your time, as well as those that are NOT worth your time. However, the question remains; is paying for the most expensive pass available for a 10-day film festival really worth it? This is a question that I intended to answer for myself.
DAY 1: “Let’s Dance”
The Opening Night Film was a movie called The Lobster. Henry Maldonado, President of Enzian Theater, was on hand to introduce the film, as well as declare that the festival had officially begun. Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs was also in attendance. She made a proclamation that April 8, 2016 was to be “Florida Film Festival Day”.
The Lobster (the Opening Night Film of the festival) is one half of a great film, and one half of an OK film. The premise alone is so compelling, that you will remained engaged with the movie throughout its entire runtime. However, once you start to think about the film and discuss it with others, the movie falls apart like wet tissue paper.
The party that took place immediately after was awesome, with tasty treats being served all night, and a live band playing inside the theater. The party ended with the patrons of Eden Bar dancing to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, and it was absolutely hilarious.
DAY 2: “Under Pressure”
The Festival Block Party, which took place at Winter Park Village, was essentially a toned down version of the previous night’s festivities. The shorts showing on this day were very strong, both those that were screened before feature-length films, and the multiple shorts programs spread out throughout the festival.
King Georges is a documentary about a French chef so abrasive, he would make Gordon Ramsay blush. Hunky Dory is a film that I enjoyed quite a bit, but I wish more people saw. I cannot speak to the film’s 2nd screening, but the one I attended had so few people in attendance, that I wondered if it was due to the film’s story (about a bisexual drag queen taking care of his young son). Of the two main shorts programs screening that day, I thought that Shorts #2 provided the much stronger crop of shorts, with Black Swell & Other People’s People being the standouts.
Speaking of shorts, the Midnight Shorts were playing that night. The Midnight Shorts have always been a favorite among festival goers, and this year was no exception. The great thing about the Producer Pass is that if you arrive early enough (usually around 30 minutes or so), you’re guaranteed a seat inside the heater, even if tickets for that film are sold out. So if you going to the Midnight Shorts and they’re sold out, all you have to do is get there early, show the volunteer your badge, and find your seat. No fuss, no muss.
After a brief introduction by Tim Anderson, a huge advocate for the Midnight Shorts, we were treated to some of the most vile, disgusting, and downright insane short films that I’ve seen in a long time. This is not something that I can accurately describe to you; you literally had to see it in order to believe it.
DAY 3: “Rebel Rebel”
This was the first of two Sunday Brunches that took place during the festival. The food was amazing; pancakes, eggs, fresh fruit, and a whole lot more were being served. I’ve never eaten so well in all of my life. I wish I ate like this all the time. It was on this day that I hit a snag in regards to my Producer status.
I attended the “An Evening with Mark Duplass”, featuring a screening of The Puffy Chair and Q&A. Everything with off without a hitch: I arrived early, got a really good seat, and enjoyed my time there. I wanted to attend the meet and greet that was to take place after the festival, but I was denied entry. My producer pass was not enough to attend the meet and greet. My name wasn’t on a list, and I am certain that there was a list.
It turns out that in order to attend the meet and greet, you had to purchase a “backstage pass”, something that I was not aware of until of course it was too late. The backstage pass ticket was something that was not available when tickets were initially available. The fact that a pass holder like myself would have to pay $150 on top of the $1,500 that I paid for Producer status is absurd. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it did make fir a bittersweet end to the day.
DAY 4: “Never Let Me Down”
This was the first of two days in which the festival activities started later than usual. Considering that there are so many films programmed into the festival, it seemed strange that no films were shown during the day. The first film did not screen until 4:15pm, which was awkward given how early the programs from the past two days had started.
I only saw three films that day, one of which was a block of German short films affectionately titled “Let’s Deutsche”, named after the late David Bowie’s song “Let’s Dance”. Of the 6 that were screened, only 3 of them managed to catch my attention: 90 Degrees North, Dissonance & Pitter Patter Goes My Heart. I had a huge issue with the subtitles for Hausbesuche (Visiting), as the film suffered from extremely poor subtitles, complete with misspelled words & poor grammar.
Man vs. Snake was a film that I had viewed during the press screening, but I had decided to watch a 2nd time, if for no other reason than to see how it played in front of a larger crowd. It played very well, and as long as you don’t go into the film expecting The King of Kong 2, you will have a great time.
DAY 5: “China Girl”
Another late start. By the fifth day people were starting to recognize me. I had moved back and forth between the Enzian & Regal Winter Park, so I was easily recognized by most of the volunteers & staff. I have it admit it was a great feeling. There were even people who had bought the Film Lover pass that allowed me to get in front of them. Those were some genuinely amusing moments. I have volunteered in the past for the Florida Film Festival, so I know what these individuals have to go through just to make sure that things run smoothly over the course of 10 days.
Unfortunately, due to the short day, I only saw 2 films; Louder Than Bombs, & Newman. Other than Pickle, the short documentary that preceded Newman, I was not impressed by any of them, even in the slightest. Newman has a fascinating subject at its core, but it suffers from way too much secondhand information from people who may or have not known things that either the filmmakers couldn’t get access to, or were unable to get certain people to talk. The final 10 minutes are worth checking out, but it is a bit of a slog to get there. Louder Than Bombs has some excellent performances, but the 21 Grams out-of-order type of storytelling keeps you from fully engaging on an emotional level. A disappointing day all around.
DAY 6: “Life on Mars?”
After the excellent “Perseverance: Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves” panel ended, it was time to check out the documentary Left On Purpose. Without spoiling anything, I believe that you should see this film knowing as little about it as possible, as the film presents a major moral dilemma/conflict of interest that I feel is best experienced untainted by other people’s opinions.
Every short in the Animated Shorts was excellent, some of which were on par with the quality of the live-action shorts.
I finished the evening with Slash, the new film from director Clay Liford. Despite the unconventional nature of the story of the film being told in a very conventional way, Slash ended up being one of my favorite films of the festival.
DAY 7: ”We Could Be Heroes”
We were in for a treat for today’s festivities; not only were Billy Mitchell & Walter Day, who were featured the “King of Kong”, going to be in attendance for the ‘Man vs. Snake’ documentary’s 2nd screening, but the NIBBLER* arcade game (one of only 2 available in the state of Florida) would be available to play at the festival. I missed the Q&A with Billy & Walter in order to watch the mature-rated Shorts #4 program, which I regret. None of the shorts were particularly memorable in my mind, and only one of the shorts (Bad At Dancing) contained some form of nudity.
I enjoyed my time at the Filmmaker Party, although I found it hilarious that I kept getting mistaken for a film producer. I was confused as to why it took place in Longwood (which was a 15 minute drive from the Enzian), and not somewhere in the Winter Park/Maitland area. Why was there no shuttle? It was clear that some filmmakers were missing the party in order to do Q&A’s, so I feel that some adjustments need to be made in the future so that filmmakers will be able to do both.
Later that night, I attended the Secret Screening. It was for a film called The Greasy Strangler, which had its world premiere at South by Southwest. It was interesting to note that most of the crowd was made up of Full Sail students. My first thought was; is this some type of twisted homework assignment?
Having said that, I wish I could say that I enjoyed The Greasy Strangler, but I can’t. The gross out humor in this fim is so unnecesarily pervasive that it wears out it welcome LONG before the credits roll. If you are interested at all in checking out this film, I would suggest getting a large group of friends together and riff on it MST3K-style. Otherwise, do not waste your time.
*And now, a moment of silence for all those quarters that were sacrificed to the NIBBLER machine…
DAY 8: “Starman”
I was impressed with the selection of documentary films this year. From Man vs. Snake & Newman, to Presenting Princess Shaw, there were certainly a very diverse group of individuals being profiled. The standout for me was without a doubt the ‘fictumentary’ The Other Kids. Directed by Chris Brown, the documentary is framed more like a narrative; there are no talking head interviews, no narration over certain scenes, or the like. This matter-of-fact approach to storytelling is, while not a new approach by any means, still made for very compelling cinema.
I was able to, for the first time ever, attend an annual event known as the “Founder’s Dinner”. This dinner is not advertised in the program, except for a little blurb that I saw when I purchased the pass. The only way to get an invite is if you buy a Producer pass. I mingled with guests that I never thought I would mingle with, while enjoying the catered dinner from Black Bean Deli.
About an hour into our time there, Sissy Spacek arrived. She shook hands and introduced herself. I went to shake her hand, but was denied by one of her handlers. While I can’t say that I shook Sissy Spacek’s hand, I can say that I ALMOST shook her hand.
I made my way back to the theater, but by that time the “An Evening With…” had already begun. I made a tough decision to not attend the evening with, and instead I made a brief appearance at the Copper Rocket Pub for the Industry Party. As much as I would’ve liked to have hung out for longer than I did, my true intention was to just kill time until the next film screening; a documentary called Danny Says. I would come to find out that the Sissy Spacek Q&A was cut short, although there are many rumors as to why.
In Search of the Ultra-Sex (AKA What’s Up, Tiger Lily? as directed by Tinto Brass) was the final film I saw that night. The film was preceded by a gleeful introduction by Tim Anderson, who told a amusing story about the printing of the photo that is featured with the description of the film.
I remember 6 people walked over the course of the screening. I wonder to this day what those 6 people were expecting from a movie made up of over 2,000 clips from French porn movies. I mean, what did you think you were going to see?
DAY 9: “Space Oddity”
Wrestling Alligators made its world premier. James Billie, the subject off the film, received a standing ovation. I had to cut down on the number of films so that I could be at the Awards Bash on time.
One hour and a truckload of pasta later, the Awards Show had begun. I loved the energy of the hostess. As for the awards themselves, I only had an issue with one film in particular, but I was glad that the filmmaker was recognized for their hard work. Like with most awards shows in general, sometimes a film that is the most popular with audiences doesn’t always win, but you’re happy that the filmmakers were recognized for all of their hard work.
Chris Brown breaking down in tears when he won the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature is a sobering reminder of the time and effort that filmmakers like him put into their projects, and an award provides recognition of that hard work. The awards ceremony needs a few more awards so that more filmmakers like Chris can be rewarded. Lo & Behold, High Rise, & Belladonna of Sadness are all films that I’d consider to be polarizing, but I still would reccomend that you check them out.
DAY 10: “Blackstar”
This was the last day of the festival, and boy, was it a bittersweet one. I got up bright and early to take full advantage of the second Sunday Brunch. This time, I took seconds, thirds, and fourths! It’s safe to say that I ate like a pig that day, which is ironic given all the bacon and sausage that was being served. After I finished eating, I headed over to Regal Winter Park, where I stayed for the rest of the day.
I managed to check out Tickled, a film that I heard buzz about even before the festival had started. Tickled was a film that…is both what I expected and not what I expected, and that is all I will say about it. The final film I watched was the Raiders! documentary. A group of young kids spent most of their childhood filming a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark with hilarious results. Except for one harrowing incident involving explosives, the film had a wonderfully upbeat tone, and was a great way to end what was a very stressful week and a half.
So the question remains; is the Producer pass worth surgically removing $1,500 from your wallet? I would have to say yes, I’d highly recommend the Producer pass.
If you’re not going to any of the parties/special events and just wanted to check out the films, then I’d recommend the Film Lover badge. The main issue that I have with buying a pass (aside from a VERY disappointing “swag bag”) is that there’s no added value of being a pass holder other than during the festival. $1500 dollars is a lot to ask someone up front, especially when you don’t know what the movies are. There should be some sort of incentive for paying such an extravagant amount.
For instance, if you purchase the VIP pass for the upcoming 2016 MegaCon Convention, you’ll have first crack at buying VIP passes for the 2017 MegaCon. It may not sound like much, but what the organizers of the event are banking on is the fact that if you’re willing to pay $400 for VIP access this year, then it stands to reason that you’ll want to pay for it next year as well.
There was also a VIP pass, but this was not available for purchase. I only met one person who had this pass, but how did they obtain it? There weren’t any VIP’s standing in line to see movies, so was this only for special events? There should be a little more transparency involved when it comes to things of this nature.
One suggestion I have for this particular issue is to offer a discount for next year’s festival. As it stands now, if you purchase the Producer Pass, $500 of that $1,500 goes to Enzian as a tax-deductible donation, whereas discounts for passes are only offered to those who purchase either the ‘Film Lover’ or the ‘Ten Day’ passes.
While is a good thing that Enzian is receiving a donation from you, outside from all of the perks it offers in the short term, you’re still paying $1,500 for what is essentially a $1,000 pass. With a $500 donation, why not offer those who purchase a Producer pass a membership to the Enzian Film Society? The benefits that come with being a Film Society Member last all year round, which would be an enticing offer for someone willing to spend that kind of money.
Now, remember at the beginning of this article when I compared the Florida Film Festival to a giant maze, and that I was the rat? Well, after so much time watching movies and spending so much with old friends (as well as making new ones) dissecting them, all in the service of attending a film festival, I came to this realization; that it’s NOT like a rat in a maze. I’m NOT the mouse trying to get the cheese. I’m an adrenaline junkie. A user whose drug of choice happens to be film. I get a contact high from chatting with other movie lovers, filmmakers, critics. For someone like myself, The Florida Film Festival is the mountain of cocaine that Al Pacino buries head in during the movie Scarface. When it’s over, you really miss that. Those ten days, more than any other time of the year, really drive home the motto of the Enzian; Film. Food. Friends.
I’d like to take this opportunity to break the 4th wall, a lá Deadpool; I don’t know how to end the article. You see…one of the hardest things about being a writer is coming up with a satisfying ending. Originally, I was going to end it with the whole “…Film. Food. Friends.” tag, but it just seemed so…expected.
My story is still being told, and it will be told again at the 2017 Florida Film Festival. How do I, the main character of this tale, leave my audience with a sense of satisfaction for joining me on this journey? The answer: I’ll just take a page out of the Deadpool playbook, and end the article referencing the final scene of a John Hughes film;
Dear Florida Film Festival,
I accept the fact that I had to sacrifice ten days of my life in Maitland for whatever movies that I wanted to watch. But I think you’re crazy to make me write an article telling you who I think you are. You see me as you want to see all of us: in the simplest terms and in the most convenient definitions…. But what we found out is that each one of us is a Producer. And a Film Lover. And a Filmmaker. An Aficionado. Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club Christopher Collins