by Lisa Blanck
Film Festival celebrated its 22nd anniversary this year. When I think
back on the previous years, and compare it to this year’s 10 day event, I must
say that the 22nd was the most laid-back Festival in a decade.
From what I experienced, filmmakers were happy - lots of free beer and
interested viewers watching a multitude of premieres of their first films.
Attendees were happy - I didn‘t see anyone turned away for lack of
seating. Volunteers were happy - except when there were too many of them
in one place and they kept bumping into each other like spinning electrons.
Too many is always better than too few, but a little tweaking of body
count may be called for.
definitely a few standout films this year, both long and short-form. Of
course, it’s just my opinion here, so feel free to disagree. Plus, since
I opted out of seeing most of the animated offerings, I won’t be the judge of
those. Many of the documentaries did open my eyes to situations, events
and people I never knew about. And, in fact, that was the slogan of the
22nd… to “Open Your Eyes”.
Below are three
films I enjoyed. As a member of the press, I had the added benefit of
meeting and befriending some of the filmmakers attached to these films.
Some of these were honored with awards, and I’ve indicated that as well.
If you’d like to see the complete list of winners, go to www.floridafilmfestival.com /2013-award-winners
This Is Where We Live, directed by Marc Menchaca and Josh
Barrett, also written by and starring Menchaca, had its East Coast Premiere
here as an entrant in the Competition Narrative Features category, right after
it debuted at SXSW. Marc’s native state is Texas, and this is where the
tale is based. Though he has experience in films and television in front
of the camera, most notably in Homeland and Generation Kill, it‘s
the first film he‘s written. Marc stars as Noah, a caregiver to August, a
man diagnosed with cerebral palsy, who comes from a family that‘s spiraling
downward. As Marc explained to me, it’s based on someone he’s buddies with in
Texas, who can say more with one word than most people can with entire paragraphs.
Marc had a
difficult time casting the role of August, due to the physical constraints of
the part. When he saw Tobias Segal’s audition, everyone in the crew knew
Segal nailed it. Other FFF attendees must have agreed, myself included,
since the film won the Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast. Marc
also added personal bits to the film; the spelling board that Gus uses to speak
was actually the board belonging to his Texas friend.
The Dark, directed by Justin Lange, was an entry
in the Competition Narrative Shorts category, having it’s World Premiere here.
As Justin told me, he hates horror. Never goes to watch scary
movies. Has hated anything like that since he was tortured by his brother
as a youngster, who told him that the monsters and aliens were going to get him
while he slept. Yet his teacher at Columbia challenged him to think
outside the box and come up with a short film in a genre that he was unfamiliar
with. Luckily for us all, he chose horror.
And what a
choice! This 16 minute short has a blood sucking teen vampire-girl who
can kill people with her eyes, and a blinded, kidnapped teen boy. Why are
his eyes sewn shut? Is she from another planet? Is she alone or are
there others like her? Why was he kidnapped? Will they meet up
again? Yes, there must be a Santa Claus who likes horror films, because
we’re getting a special gift sometime in the future! Lange is currently at work
pondering the answers to all these questions and more - and hopefully all will
be revealed once the full-length film is completed. As his two stars told
him “Justin, you’re TWISTED!!“ It’s like an episode of The X-Files, but
with infinitely more teeth….
Documentary this year was Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp. In the
Competition Documentary Features category, it had its Florida Premiere at the
22nd. Ever heard of Robert Beck? Neither did I. This was one
of those eye-opening films. Beck, aka “Iceberg Slim” grew up tough,
seeing the only man he respected, a man not his father, belittled by Beck’s own
mother till she walked out. Thus developed his view of women as being a
means to an end, a way of making money, leading to decades of pimping, drugs,
crime and brutality.
After he is
released from prison at age 42 Beck married a woman who encouraged him, told
him to write down his tales of pimping, about the “life”, because no one else
had ever done that. It was fresh and original, and through his books, he
became one of the most influential African-American authors of our time. Director
Jorge Hinojosa gave us a far-reaching look into this complex man. His own
daughters may disagree about the level of his love for them, how he was a good
provider but kept his distance emotionally. But all agreed, Beck was a snappy
dresser till the day he died.
Ms. Tippi Hedren
was one of the special guests this year, attending in celebration of the 50th
anniversary of Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. Although I did
not attend the well-received viewing, I met the lovely and petite Ms. Hedren at
one of the fabulously exclusive Festival’s after-parties. She regaled me
with a harrowing tale of being left for hours atop a building in Los Angeles
when she recently guest-starred on Cougar Town. She waited patiently for
her call time, which came 12 hours after she appeared on the set.
“Never again” she told me. “One of the worst experiences of my
career”, a career which began in 1963 with The Birds. While making that
film, she was gouged by the live birds, reaching a state of exhaustion after 5
days. So if her Cougar Town experience was on par with that, well, I can
only imagine….Ms. Hedren was also a guest star in one of the FFF’s enjoyable
feature films entitled Free Samples which had its Florida Premiere at
Yes, there were a
few glitches. Films arriving the day of show, causing staffers excess
agita. A few problems with the digital end of things. One film that
I was viewing had to be restarted multiple times till the audio and video
finally meshed. The scheduling of the special event panel discussions
needs to be tweaked. The one I attended, the Filmmaker Forum, which is
usually a highlight of the Festival with most seats filled, was one of the most
sparsely populated panels that I can remember. I can’t fault the
moderator or the panel, all of whom were entertaining and giving in their
thoughts and reflections on how they got where they were, their successes,
failures and ambitions. However, scheduling it the same day as the Women
in Industry panel needs to be re-examined.
And this may be a
small thing, but I personally would have loved seeing a series of different
pre-film teasers. Seeing the same clip with the same woman blinking her
eyes became a bit tedious after a while. Maybe throw in some animation
clips, some live action, some humor, all with the same message. It’s a
festival, we’d all enjoy a variety of tastes on our visual plates.