2019 Florida Film Festival Spotlight Selections

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida from April 12-21, 2019, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from 41 countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition. Spotlight films are hand-picked selections not in competition. A sampling of spotlight film reviews appears below.

Hail Satan? Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival

Hail Satan?

In Spotlight Films. Screens Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 8:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater.

This documentary on The Satanic Temple is not about devil worshippers, but about a group of outcasts and misfits who formed a religious sect now spread around the world to protest combining church and state, and to promote the reproductive rights of women and rights of the LGBTQ community. They adopt Satanic symbols, such as wearing black, using heavy eyeliner, donning devil’s horns, and painting pentagrams mostly to irritate authority figures, according to the Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson, Lucien Greaves. It’s all rather tongue-in-cheek until one rogue sect leader moves away from their tenet of non-violence, and takes the performance art into dangerous new territory. The film presents lots of information—presented in an entertaining manner—but never answers the question about whether or not Greaves takes himself or his Temple seriously, satirically, or a little bit of both.

  • Directed by Penny Lane
  • Stars Lucien Greaves (not his real name) and a cast of other people using fake names
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity, and some language
  • 4/5
Ode to Joy. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Ode to Joy

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater and Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 4:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a rare neurological disorder that causes loss of muscle control under extreme emotions, and in his case, feelings of joy. He lived a careful life avoiding babies, puppies, weddings, and romantic love until one day an exceptionally beautiful and spontaneous woman walks into his library and causes a scene. After this strange initial meeting, they begin a short-lived romantic relationship because of his conflicting desires to be happy and miserable at the same time. The closer he gets to happiness, the more misery he inflicts upon himself (in the form of horrible entertainment choices, unstimulating conversations, and physical pain to damper excitement). His brother and sister complicate the situation further, as does the woman’s odd co-worker. Sweet, sad, and humorous, this film includes an unusual story, an eclectic cast, and truly funny scenes depicting human frailty to which all of us can relate.  

  • Directed by Jason Winer
  • Stars Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jack Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Shannon Woodward, Jane Curtin
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual references
  • 5/5
Clara. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.


In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 21 at 1:30 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

This Canadian science fiction film makes its Southeast Premiere at the Florida Film Festival. A disillusioned science professor, who has lost faith in love, religion, and life, hopes to find meaning by discovering another Earth-like inhabitable planet. After getting fired from his job at the university because of his bad attitude and disregard of rules, he hires a strange otherworldly young woman named Clara as his research assistant. She’s beautiful, artistic, and wiser than someone with her spotty education should be. She also has an open-mindedness that challenges the professor’s tendency to take things literally and not see beyond his facts and figures. This film is heavy with science that sometimes slows things down a bit, but otherwise is an intriguing look at the possibility of life on other planets.   

  • Directed by Akash Sherman
  • Stars Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, Ennis Esmer, Kristen Hager
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 3/5
The Biggest Little Farm. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

The Biggest Little Farm

In Spotlight Films. Screens Monday, April 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and on Saturday, April 20 at 10:30 a.m. at Enzian Theater.

This documentary focuses on a Los Angeles couple who leave the big city to start a new life managing Apricot Lane Farms in the foothills of Ventura County. In an attempt to create a life in perfect harmony with nature, director-cinematographer John Chester (who also narrates the film) and his wife, Molly (a food blogger and chef), chronicle their eight-year endeavor to live an eco-friendly lifestyle with plants, livestock, and wildlife all working together aided by one farming expert and several others devoted to their cause. Fulfilling their dream came with many physical, financial, intellectual, and emotional challenges, which are detailed in this beautiful and inspiring film for all ages. Stunning close-ups of nature, artistic cinematography (including some clever match dissolves), engaging storytelling, dramatic scenes of birth and death, and profound insights about life and nature raise this film to a masterful level of filmmaking.  

  • Director: John Chester
  • Stars John Chester and Molly Chester
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and brief language
  • 5/5
Amazing Grace. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Amazing Grace

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 13 at 6:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

This unpolished documentary takes viewers behind the scenes and front row center for a two-part gospel concert by Aretha Franklin at the Watts New Temple Baptist Church in 1972. Intended as a documentary to support the gospel album, technical difficulties prevented director Sydney Pollack from finishing the film and getting it released, so it sat in the studio’s vault for more than 45 years. Now pieced together by director Alan Elliott, the film presents Franklin’s spectacular performances, complete with quirky choir singers, enthusiastic audience members (Mick Jagger attends part of it), and loving commentary by Reverends James Cleveland and C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s father). Shots are often blurry, candid, and inconsequential. Video and audio are occasionally out of sync. Apparently the technical problems also extended to the church’s air conditioning because Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland are drenched in sweat throughout both performances.   

  • Directors: Alan Elliott and Sydney Pollack
  • Stars Aretha Franklin, James Cleveland, C.L. Franklin
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: G  
  • 3/5

For a complete list of films and to learn more about the Florida Film Festival, visit the official website.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

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