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Film Reviews
 
Florida Film Festival 2020, or How To Hold A Fest in the Year of Covid
| Monday, 08.24.2020, 03:01 AM |   (190 views)

Amigo


There are some grand and wonderful films at the 2020 Florida Film Festival, as well as some not so.  You know, the usual assortment you’d find at any festival.  However, this year’s festival is outstanding not only for the mélange of films, but also for how hard the Enzian staff worked to bring it to fruition - providing an outlet for developing film-makers to bring their creations to the public, as well as offering the parched film-going community of Central Florida some much needed diversion for 14 days. The Eden Bar was continually bringing tasty food to hungry patrons, and local performers serenaded us with beautiful music from the tent nearby.


If you’re weighing the pros and cons of bringing a film festival to your area in this time of Covid, I implore you to call the staff at Enzian.  Everyone entering the theater was masked, distanced, and temperature checked at every film.  From my experience, the number of attendees seated inside at screenings was far fewer than required to make the fest monetarily profitable, however I believe everyone there felt safe and satisfied. Sometimes feeding the soul is more important than tallying up the credits.


Below are my reviews of what I caught on the big and small screens throughout the fest.  I don’t have a rating system, only a list of those films that I found memorable.  Should they come to your stream, whether it be through corporate media ala Netflix, or through a subscription to Vimeo, please add them to your can’t-miss list.   To close, I’ll include the misses with the whys and wherefores.  If one of these are yours, please remember, it’s a festival.  And you made it through an exhaustive selection process, which is a win in itself.


NARRATIVE LONG-FORM

Adam
My first must-see is Adam.  Part of the International Showcase, and Directed by Maryam Touzani.  Set in modern-day Casablanca, it features complex and universal themes of birth, death and how life must continue even after tragedy rips your world apart.  Adam features moving performances by Lubna Azabal as Abla, a woman running a bakery from a window in her home to support herself and her young daughter Warda (Douae Belkhaouda), and Visrin Erradi as Samia, a single woman, visibly pregnant, searching to find employment and shelter.  The interplay between the women in the home, and how they all seek to lift each other up in extremely trying times, while simultaneously not bashing the men in their orbit, was heartfelt and refreshing.  In the latter part of the film is a scene with few words, just a simple song playing in the background, but it is the true centerpiece of the film.  Though I saw Adam in the pre-screenings, I can tell you that this scene stood out among all the films I caught at the festival, making Adam my choice for standout film.





#2: Amigo, which had its East Coast Premiere here.  Basically, the story entails what happens immediately after three friends are in car accident that proves fatal to one of them.  Take a big shot of King’s Misery, a touch of the isolation+insanity of The Shining and spice it up with a multitude of Hitchcockian lore and you’ll get Amigo. I was totally NOT expecting how much I was ultimately going to enjoy this film.  The mind games that these two so-called friends play with each other leaves the audience continually saying, “did that just happen … what sick games are they playing?”  Battling survivor guilt to the nth degree, the friends spend much of their time watching over-the-top Spanish telenovelas, whose on-screen scenes don’t come close to the pathos of what’s going on in the friend’s home. Very dark psychological horror, yet very funny.   



#3 Drought  What impressed me most about this sweet film about a dysfunctional family… and whose isn’t, when it comes right down to it, is that filmmakers Hannah Black and Megan Peterson each sat in multiple chairs for this, their first feature length film.    Hannah is credited with writer/Director/Producer/Actor and Megan’s share of the credit for Drought is Directing/Producing/Acting.  Many talented filmmakers with far longer filmographies have tried to do the same.  Some have been successful, and many, many have failed.  And to be so successful with Drought absolutely thrilled the filmmakers. 

Drought
It took them three years and some major Crowdfunding.  But they knew they were on the right track when none other than the Duplass Brothers (The Skeleton Twins, The Puffy Chair, The One I Love) decided to EP their film.

The Drought team tells In Focus-Magazine.com, “This is our first film at the FFF and when we found out we were a selection for FFF, we couldn't believe it.”

If you’re unaware how rarefied that is, let me tell you that hundreds and hundreds of films of every length are submitted for consideration.  When these were whittled down for 2020 through months and many juries and panels, 177 films were selected to run in the FFF. 

Drought is about sibling bonds and realizing that you’re more than just the label that others tag you with.  To capsulize the film, it’s 1993 and North Carolina is experiencing a historic drought. Carl is an autistic teen who is fascinated by weather; he predicts that a storm will soon hit nearby. His sister Sam crafts a plan to help him chase the storm, and with the assistance of their sister Lillian and Carl’s buddy, Lewis, they steal their mother’s ice cream truck and embark on a road trip.



Yes, it does sound a bit similar to The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019), but instead of having the autistic teen create by chance the team who become his ‘family’, Drought’s family members are already coping with their past demons and disappointments.

When asked about the comparison, the filmmakers said, “Fun fact: Drought and PBF were filmed 1 month apart and the co-director/co-writer, Tyler Nilson is ALSO from NC. Must be something in the water.”

Not only was Drought about family, two of the stars are family. Co-stars Carl and Lewis were played by brothers Owen and Drew Scheid.  

In making Drought, the filmmakers were hit with a double whammy.  First, the entire production had to shut down and evacuate when threatened by Hurricane Florence.  In this case, that’s definitely a slice of life imitating art. 

And then came Covid-19, whammy number two.  Like so many other filmmakers this year, their plans to fly out to Orlando to be with the film when it launched were tossed to the winds.  But the Enzian staff managed to pull it together and allowed films like Drought to be brought to life for one screening, as well as in their Virtual Cinema.   The filmmakers told me, “It has been difficult to re-calibrate our hopes for the film with a live audience, however we are super thankful for festivals like FFF that have done an incredible job in shifting it virtually and making it fun!”

What I enjoyed most about Drought was that the relationships between the characters felt real.  Pointless arguments followed by time spent laughing together.  The film gave me the warm fuzzies, and we can’t wait to see what adventures this production team comes up with next!

Honorable mentions in this category: Outside Story, Honorable Losers and The Perfect Candidate.


DOCUMENTARIES

When it comes to Documentaries, as a reviewer I have two bars that they need to reach.  First, did I learn anything new, and second, did it make me care about the subject enough to be memorable.  Docs don’t have to do both, but they should at least do one.

My number one Doc this year was Jimmy Carter: Rock ‘N’ Roll President.  Why? Because it wasn’t heavy on the politics of the era, but laser-focused instead on how President Carter believes music is really a balm to the soul, regardless of which political flag you carry.  The film left me thinking that this extremely nice, polite, intelligent, humble man, had he been in the Oval office at any other time in our history, would have had the chance to lay the groundwork for a more caring future, for everyone.   Very often, Carter found himself surrounded by giants of the recording industry, who often just “stopped by” to see him.  Artists such as Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, Willie and Dylan.  Claimed not only by Billboard’s rock ‘n’ rollers, but also by country mega-artists like Yearwood and Brooks, and a multitude of Gospel performers. 

Dedicated and smart, and by virtue of his personality and patience to see all sides, President Carter was able to bring Egypt and Israel to the table, brokering the Camp David Peace Accord.  A real victory that no one thought possible.  Compare that to the recent Palestinian/Israeli agreement brokered by the Trump White House.  It’s already been decried as a farce by the Palestinian authorities – since none participated in said negotiations.

What did I learn from this film?  That Carter brought more talent and experience to the office than he was allowed utilize in his term.  That the man who, to this day, still builds homes for people in need is the exact same man who wanted to rebuild a country at war with itself. 

Jimmy Carter
As stated by Garth Brooks, more than any other living President, ‘Carter brought heart and soul to the White House’.  Says President Carter, “Music is the best proof that people have one thing in common, no matter where they live or what language they speak.”

Carter ran as an outsider against Republican incumbent Gerald Ford and won.  As he stated in a stump speech, Carter’s platform addressed the desperate need to bring truth to the White House, following years of lies and coverups which consumed the Nixon Presidency.  It shall prove interesting to see if history is able to repeat herself.


The second Doc of choice is Sixth of June, in the 8X Real showcase.  Just 15 minutes in length, Director Henry Roosevelt brings to light the story of D-Day, or as WW2 veterans call it, the “Great Crusade”.  425,000 dead at Normandy.  An endless sea of crosses aligned in neat rows speaks towards the sacrifice the soldiers made to ensure that fascism would not take over the world.  Together, countries were willing to align themselves in a common bond and defeat Hitler.   That without the sacrifice of multitudes, the French town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first town over the rise of Normandy beach, would have fallen to the Nazi’s and the entire history of the world would have been far, far different.  With interviews from Helen Patton and Susan Eisenhower, along with many other military veterans and townspeople who survived that day, your heart will break when you consider how much was given by these brave anti-fascists, and how much we stand to lose as a country if we forget the freedom for which they gave their lives.   Antifa means anti-fascist, and the stars of this documentary pray the country acknowledges the facts rather than the spin.  

Honorable Mentions: Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa  - I had no idea what damage the Hyde Amendment has done to the women of this country… and learned something about the cost of playing politics with peoples lives.  That’s Wild gets huge kudos to the entire cinematography team.  The challenge of carrying hiking equipment AND A/V equipment up, down and across multiple mountain peaks while making it visually captivating made me think of that saying about Ginger Rogers – she did it backwards, in heels.


INTERNATIONAL SHORTS


Piggy

These International Shorts either horrified or amused me, but, in any case, I found memorable while watching at home with my Virtual Pass: Banality, Sticker and Piggy.  The Visitor”, one of a trio of Micro-Movies, I watched multiple times.  Sometimes it takes less than a minute to tell an intriguing story.


SHORTS PROGRAMS

In Shorts Program 1, which is the only shorts program I was able to catch due to time constraints, Feeling Through gets my vote for Best of Fest, Shorts Program.  An emotionally fraught, ultimately optimistic slice of life.


MISSES AND NOT SO MUCH FUN

Finally, we come to the section that I’m sure will have many disagreeing with my choices.  The misses.  In my mind, these missed for various reasons.  Whether the plot was a god-awful mess or there was something vital that was missing, I just didn’t feel the vibe.  

The big budget, The Personal History Of David Copperfield.  As much as star Dev Patel tried to hold it together, I was underwhelmed.  I simply did not care about any of the characters.  At all.  Visually interesting at times, but simply flat for the most part.

Summerland – too much alluded to, not enough actually said.  As if the filmmakers had a point to make, but reluctant to actually go there.  A bit too fluffy.  Moffie – apologies, but I simply could not tell one enlistee from another.  Which, when you lose a soldier in the course of a film, whether to war or to suicide, prohibits you from really caring about the loss or the film.  Chubby, an International Short, left me wondering what was the point.  Did the event really happen or was it all bad fiction.  I sat through about 20 minutes of Billie, and then I reminded myself I have other films to see and moved on. Definitely a film that quickly lost its way.

If your film subject is The Villages community, but you don’t get permission from the Morse family to shoot in more than one subdivision, someone should ask the filmmakers of Some Kind Of Heaven what they expected to document.  We already know the Villages are bland, superficial and exceedingly right-wing, with mansions one on top of each other to the point where you can hear your neighbors snore.  Yes, I’ve been there.  Many, many times.  So what was their point? 

Broken Orchestra – where were the kids playing the instruments.  You know, the entire focus of the film? Apparently, they were MIA, cut in the editing room. After So Many Days – repetitive and flat.  I just did not care as they trecked from gig to gig. Landfall was another miss.  Was it about the storm?  About the people of Puerto Rico? I was left totally confused by the intention of the filmmaker.  According to the filmmaker of Your Iron Lady, the original was longer than the submitted film.  Please and thank you for shortening it for us, though it was still far, far too long.

So, was my mind blown by this year’s festival?  Some films were more memorable than most.  The talk-backs, whether in person or in virtual world, were engaging and funny.  Many times, this was the first time a filmmaker got to watch their film with a live-non-family-member-audience.


What I’ll remember more about this festival was that it actually took place, when the rest of our lives were put on hold.  Kudos, Enzian, for taking a risk that I believe paid off for everyone who attended, both in person and virtually.


Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor for In Focus Magazine.  She's been a News Editor at NBC affiliate WESH2 in Orlando for more than a decade. She was formerly with WKMG6 for 14 years as a News Editor. She spent nine years in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and MTV Networks. She also worked as an on-air host for local cable access programs. Lisa has covered the Florida Film Festival for the past 28 years as well as the World Peace Festival. She was a columnist for Lady Freethinker, a featured columnist for ShelterMe.tv and for the now-defunct Examiner.com.  She has been a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and now for In Focus Magazine. 


Lisa Blanck can be reached at: [email protected]




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