In Focus-Magazine

Picks & Pans Pt. One, AKA You Can’t Please Everyone At The 30th Florida Film Festival
Wednesday, 04.14.2021, 04:05 AM

Stuck, Dir. David Mikalson

It’s officially the evening of DAY 4 of the 30th FFF, and I’ve already indulged in about half of the films of the Fest in some fashion, either virtually or butt-down/mask-up style.  So … drumroll please… it’s time to roll out Part ONE of my picks and pans, covering the first four days of the fest.  So as not to overwhelm you with endless opinionated verbiage, I’ll cover some, but not all, of the other offerings.  Finally, we’ll play catch-up with noteworthy films previously omitted here along with a recap of who garnered what award.

And remember, it’s my opinion; you may totally agree or may believe I’m a total jerk with zero taste whatsoever.  I won’t be offended.  A fellow critic friend and I almost NEVER agree on thumbing something up or down, yet we’ve never resorted to fisticuffs, opting to break bread instead of each other’s chops.

Shorts #1: Hello In There 

Just as an FYI, following an established FFF tradition, these shorts are segmented into blocks, and those blocks are named in honor of a musician who passed away in the 12 months before the fest; in this case, Shorts #1 honors John Prine who passed away in April 2020 from complications related to Covid 19.

The short films in this series are David, Marie, Swim To Steven, Sproutland, Wiggle Room, Five Minutes and Swipe.  David stars Will Ferrell and William Harper Jackson. A therapist (Ferrell) is confronted simultaneously with an out-of-control son and a tightly wound patient (Jackson).  Yes, two big names, but it was Will Ferrell doing Will Ferrell.  And by that I mean Ferrell being thrown into an extremely awkward situation and trying to maintain control while visibly melting down.  It went for the guffaws but I didn’t so much as titter.  Really disliked the overacting by the son, who came across as a bratty 10-year-old rather than a H.S. teen. Wiggle Room, involving an incident at an insurance agency, a captive bunny and a wheelchair-bound woman looking for some compassion, has earned a Sundance award.  
Swipe, Dir. Anthony Sneed

Yes, I get the extremely unsubtle pretext for the woman’s (Deanna Gibson) actions. Escape, freedom, release and some just desserts. Yet I didn’t feel emotionally vested, so her obvious glee in the final scene was unfulfilling.  In this program the standout was Anthony Sneed’s Swipe.  In a short 5-minutes, the film opens with a shoplifting dare perpetrated by a group of middle-school boys, and closes with a humorously karmic turn.

Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street  This Spotlight Film, Directed by Marilyn Agrelo, takes you behind the scenes, before a single Muppet found themselves on one of the most famous streets in TV Land.  Street Gang provides us with the backstory of how the trio of Joan Ganz Cooney, Jon Stone and Jim Henson formed a TV powerhouse with one objective: develop engaging, educational programming for inner-city children.  Working with the Carnegie Institute’s Lloyd Morrisett, they identified the educational disparity as being economic, not racial.  Partnering with educators and TV writers, they formed the Children’s Television Workshop, whose backbone go-to was Never Talk Down To Kids.  I can tell you from personal experience that, decades later, the idea behind Linda Ellerbee’s Nick News was spawned from an identical font.

Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street, Dir. Marilyn Agrelo

Street Gang’s audience, similarly to Won’t You Be My Neighbor, is anyone who grew up with Bert & Ernie readily available on their PBS station … which, btw, wasn’t mainstream prior to Sesame Street.  The ‘Street’, whose name is attributed Henson, is where everything happens.  Like any other street, this Street was first filled with only bi-peds; the CTW staffers soon learned that the big draws for the kids were the ones with bits of fluff.  They’d listen to Maria and Mr. Hooper, but they embraced and learned from Kermit.

Watching the puppet masters work their magic from beneath the scenes was entertainingly disconcerting, a bit like seeing Disney street characters walking around with their heads off.  The clips of celebrities from stage & screen will knock your socks off.  And the memorable musical anecdotes are themselves worth the price of admission.  Street Gang is charming and engaging, opening the door into the world of our collective childhoods.

Everything In The End  Writer/Director Mylissa Fitzsimmons feature debut falls into the Competition Narrative Feature category.  This highly existential film about the end of the world as we know it has beautiful Icelandic mountains, lovely images of water, wind and cows, lots of cows, who are unconcerned that the end is nigh.  Apparently, we have DONE SOMETHING to generate our own demise.  I’m guessing global warming rather than pandemic.  For those on screen, the waiting is the hardest part.  Per the post-film QnA, the crew of six shot the film in nine days.  Except for star Hugo De Sousa (Paolo), every actor came to the set for only one day.  There are three languages spoken – English, Icelandic and Portuguese, with subtitles omitted to help you identify with the “lost”- ness of the characters.  The characters themselves are representative of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  We follow Paolo through his DABDA journey.  By the time the big reveal happened, I personally wished the end had come 45 minutes sooner. 


Midnight Shorts  Sometimes I catch these, sometimes I don’t.  This time around, it should have been a don’t.  Just not my cuppa.  It’s not the content, primarily sex or violence, animated or live, or a combination of all four.  I Just Don’t Get It.  So maybe it’s not you and it’s me.  I did enjoy one offering in the bunch, David Mikalson’s 14 minute STUCK.  I think for fans of Florida’s alleged underage sex scandal team of Gaetz-Goldstein, watching this film should be required viewing.


The Truffle Hunters    My disappointment in this Food Film goes back to my opinion about what makes a good documentary.  Engagement and education.  So was I engaged?  Somewhat.  Was I educated?  Not enough.  Perhaps I was expecting to learn more about truffles, and not so much about the men and dogs who excavate and market the fungi.  Filmed in Northern Italy’s Piedmont valley, this semi-documentary takes you into the hills and homes of the mushroom men, and deeply explores the relationship they have with their dogs.

Since the best specimens are found underground, a dog’s nose is the key to finding the fungi.  The 
The Truffle Hunters, Dir. Michael Dweck
 & Gregory Kershaw
competition is fierce because the production is extremely limited.  Dogs are poisoned by rival hunters.  Fungi deemed unmarketable are sold in back alleys. But what does one taste like?  No idea.  Are they prized simply because there are now so few?  Would any other large mushroom be just as palatable? No idea.  Why do I call this a semi-documentary?  Because many of the scenes and conversations are obviously pre-set, which disturbs my opinion of what makes a doc a true doc, though the doggie-cam shots were a nice touch. Do I still want to someday visit Bel Paese?  Certamente!  Can I recommend The Truffle Hunters?  Fa mezzo.

The Catch, Dir. Matthew Ya-Hsiung Balzer

The Catch Competition Narrative Feature   Money is tight in this Maine fishing village.  Beth McManus (Katia Winter), the daughter of Tom (Bill Sage), the villages’ top lobsterman, has returned home after being gone for five years.  And she’s pregnant.  Her dad is still trying to control her every move.  But there are bigger, more nefarious forces working against the McManus family.  Someone is stealing the family’s daily lobster catch, a conglomerate is trying to horn-in on these family fishermen in New England and drugs have worked their way into this tight, working-class community.  

It does have all the makings of an old Western, and, in fact, that is exactly how Director/Writer Matthew Ya-Hsiung Balzer envisioned his film, as a ‘Western-on-the water’.  The Catch is a tasty chowder, combining actual events and personal stories of the area’s residents with an enjoyable, artistic flair.  There are secrets and sellouts.  Will the McManus family be able to get out from under, when they don’t even know who’s responsible for the on-going theft?  The bonds of family and friendship will be tested as the net tightens.  There are a number of red herrings in this fishing tale, some of it shot in low-light situations.  When asked if the on-screen darkness was intentional, we were told it was.  Not only does it reflect the actual visibility of the fishermen, but it also represents looking through the murk and trying to dislodge the slimy rot hiding in the silt.


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 29 years as well as the World Peace Film Festival. She was a columnist for Lady Freethinker, and  She has been a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and now for In Focus Magazine. 


Lisa Blanck can be reached at: [email protected]


Powered by SNE Business 3.2
Copyright © 2005-2008 by All rights reserved.