2019 Florida Film Festival Overview

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held this year from April 12 – 21 throughout Central Florida, offers 184 feature and short films from 41 countries. The Festival includes the American Independent Competition with 20 narrative features and documentaries vying for jury awards and audience awards.

As always, Festival goers also can choose from a variety of additional programming, such as celebrity guest events, special screenings, spotlight films, sidebars, international showcase, Florida films, family films, midnight movies, parties, avant garde films, and the popular film forums offered free to the community.

Some upcoming highlights from this year’s Festival:

Woman in Motion. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.
  • Opening Night Film and Party, April 12. Held at Enzian Theater, the opening night film Woman in Motion, is a first look at the documentary by director Todd Thompson about Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols’s tremendous influence in recruiting women and minorities to the field of space exploration. The film also screens at Regal Winter Park Village at 8:00 p.m. for $25.00 a ticket.
  • Food Film Sidebar with the narrative feature Ramen Shop (directed bv Eric Khoo) and the documentary Chef’s Diaries: Scotland (directed by Laura Otalora).
Minuscule–Mandibles from Far Away. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.
  • Family Film Sidebar with two features for children making their Southeast premieres. Minuscule—Mandibles from Far Away, and animated adventure directed by Helene Giraud, and the live action feature film, The Witch Hunters directed by Rasko Miljkovic.
  • Festival Block Party sponsored by Winter Park Village. Saturday, April 13 from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village in Winter Park. Free for all Festival ticket and pass holders. Meet at the Winter Park Village fountain for live entertainment and free drinks and appetizers from participating restaurants.
The Blair Witch Project. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.
  • Sunday, April 14 from 8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Enzian Theater will host “An Evening with The Blair Witch,” featuring a 35mm screening of the low-budget thriller and a Q&A session with members of the cast and crew.
  • Enzian Theater hosts three filmmaker forums: “Turning the Tables: Renegade Women of Early Cinema” on Wednesday, April 17, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.; “Sketches Insane: The Wild World of Independent Animation” on Thursday, April 18, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.; and “Filmmaker Forum” on Friday, April 19, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.
  • Closing Night Retro Film: Monty Python’s Life of Brian (directed by Terry Jones). This R-rated comedy classic from 1979 is in English and Latin with English subtitles. Sunday, April 21 at 8:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater.

For a complete list of films, parties, events, and ticket information, visit the Florida Film Festival 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.

Blair Witch Returns to Florida Film Fest as Special Event

By Leslie C. Halpern

Marking the 20-year anniversary of its release, the scary pseudo-documentary, The Blair Witch Project returns to the Florida Film Festival where it was featured as the opening night film in 1999. This time it appears in a 35mm version in the coveted special event spot as “An Evening with the Blair Witch: A 20th Anniversary Celebration” on Sunday, April 14 at 8:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida. As the filmmakers are local and will be participating in a Q&A following the screening, this event likely will sell out fast. Tickets are available now for this program and all screenings at the Festival, which runs from April 12-21, 2019.

Twenty years ago when the story broke that five local University of Central Florida film school graduates had sold their micro-budget horror film to Artisan Entertainment at Sundance Film Festival, I was lucky enough to interview the filmmakers in their studio and write articles for Orlando Sentinel, Sun-Sentinel, The Hollywood Reporter, and Markee Magazine. As proof that you should never throw anything away because someday you might need it, I dusted the creepy black widow spider webs off one of my articles from 1999, and am reprinting it below.    

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The stir created by the premiere of the low-budget thriller, The Blair Witch Project, purchased by Artisan Entertainment at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, was no less exciting than the stir created during the actual filming of the pseudo-documentary. During the month of October 1997, Haxan Films transformed the tranquil beauty of Maryland’s Seneca Creek State Park into the haunted Black Hills Forest, the site where three student filmmakers (played by Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard) mysteriously disappear during filming of a documentary about the mythical Blair Witch. Although the three students never emerge from the forest, terrifying footage of their experiences is discovered a year later.

The Blair Witch Project. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Written, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez and produced by Gregg Hale and Robin Cowie, the four men—along with co-producer Michael Monello—comprise Orlando-based Haxan Films. Sanchez grew up in Maryland, and with the assistance of The Maryland Film Commission used the benign park for the eight-day shoot.

Postproduction in their home office was more daunting than haunting, however. Eight days of shooting produced 18 hours of raw footage, which took more than a year to edit into an-87-minute film. Shot on video and 16mm film, in color and black and white, the feature is a hybrid of looks created by method filmmaking, where Haxan Films achieves amazing realism through the imperfections of the footage. Blurry shots, seemingly unedited footage, improvised lines and unplanned expletives allow the actors to film themselves experiencing terror in the haunted forest.

“The actors’ prime directive was to react to stimuli and roll camera on everything that occurred,” Myrick says. To prepare for their ordeal, the actors were given a two-day crash course in filmmaking.

The unsuspecting actors didn’t know what awaited them as they wandered through the woods, deprived of sleep, proper nourishment, and knowledge of the production team’s plans, which included nightly harassments, haunted images, and a bloody discovery wrapped in flannel.  “Actually it was just some extracted teeth with the roots attached that we got from a dentist,” Cowie says. “You can’t really tell what it is—just that it’s nasty, real nasty.”

Sanchez says although the production team spent countless hours walking through the woods before the shoot, the tedious scouting was well worth it. Their in-depth knowledge of the woods was crucial for the nightly hauntings staged by the production team. “My favorite part was waking up the actors at 3:00 a.m. and scaring them,” Sanchez says. To facilitate these supposed encounters between the filmmakers and the Blair Witch, the production team moved quietly through the woods—sometimes a mile or more—in the dark using red-lens headlamps. Filming around Halloween added to the ambience.

During filming, the actors moved to and from pre-determined locations, encountering actors and non-actors with whom they improvised scenes. Direction was limited to written notes passed to the actors as they interviewed people in town before entering the haunted forest. In the woods, the actors relied on Global Positioning System (GPS) handsets for navigation. The production team also used GPS to track them. Notes, gear, and food were exchanged via baskets marked with DayGlo orange bike flags.

Cowie, who also serves as president of the development and production company FILMstart, Inc, says although a few local actors were used for small roles, many of the people interviewed in the film were local non-actors who agreed to answer questions. “Heather went up to people and asked if they had heard of the Blair Witch,” Cowie says. “For whatever reason, some of them said ‘yes’ and related stories they had heard or television shows they had seen on the subject.”

What possessed locals to share witch stories based on a myth conjured up by the filmmakers?  Myrick says it was one of many lucky signs that appeared along the way. “On the second day of filming, we were hiding in camouflage in the woods while the actors tried to negotiate crossing a log across a river. Because they were effectively shooting on film, they had sound gear, cameras and rolls of film on their backs. I knew that if they fell into the water and soaked the camera and film, then our movie was over. We couldn’t afford to buy any more stuff. I thought to myself, ‘If they can just make it across the log, then we’re home free.’”

They made it across the log.

While Artisan Entertainment test markets the film to determine play dates and range of distribution, Haxan Films is developing more projects, including screenplays, a book detailing the production of The Blair Witch Project, a film sequel, a television series and an interactive CD-ROM, all based on Blair Witch mythology.

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For more information about “An Evening with the Blair Witch” and 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.

Life Screenings International Film Festival: Depicting a Better World

By Leslie C. Halpern

With so many annual film festivals around the world, it’s easy for them to blend together – apart from definitive fests such as Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, and our own Florida Film Festival. That’s why Life Screenings International Film Festival is so refreshing. Focusing primarily on shorts that are 15 minutes are less, this 90-minute experience presents between four and seven films each third Sunday of the month at the Winter Park Public Library in Winter Park, Florida.

This truly is a unique festival for three reasons:

  • Life Screenings International Film Festival is a monthly event, rather than an annual gathering. Featured local filmmakers are often in attendance to talk about their work and international filmmakers participate in question-and-answer sessions and discussions by Skype following the screening of their films.
  • Each month’s festival is free and open to the public, although advanced tickets must be reserved to ensure seating. Other festivals typically charge for screenings other than a few selected freebie films.
  • These film shorts range in style, subject, and length, but all depict “a world we want to live in,” according to host, curator, and founder, Banks Helfrich. This distinctive feature is the antithesis of the dark, dreary, disturbing fare that most edgy festival programming directors seek for their events.

A World We Want to Live In

Helfrich, a Central Florida-based actor and independent filmmaker currently working on his 10th feature film, started the festival in February 2016 after first experimenting with Living Room Screenings, which (as the name implies) presented short films in a home setting to a handful of people. Although it began locally, now only about ten percent of the submissions are from Florida filmmakers as the festival has gained international exposure.

As interest grew, so did the festival. Now based in the Winter Park Public Library, the event has changed rooms over the years to accommodate growth, and technical director Jesse James was brought on to keep things running smoothly. Attendees are not necessarily typical movie goers. “These are people who like to think, to question, to learn and to connect,” Helfrich says.

Banks Helfrich

He usually receives about 19 submissions each month and chooses about six of them to screen. No good submission gets ignored, however, although it might be saved for future use. Any submitted film that impresses him with its high quality filmmaking and positive message will get screened at some point. “This is not a competition,” he says. “I will take them all if I like them all. It’s dependent on how they move me.”

So what exactly is a world Helfrich wants to live in? “I want a world where I’m inspired all the time and where people are kind to each other. It’s the world of a child filled with beauty and wonder.”

To that end, he’s working on another new experimental show at the same library this fall. On October 10th, he’s planning “No Assumptions,” a live interactive event in the round where people with opposite views discuss their ideas in front of an audience. “Whenever they disagree and conflict arises, music will begin to play, and they must dance away the tension,” he says. “I’m hoping that art wins.”

Life Screenings Film Submission Process

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

2018 Florida Film Festival Forums

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 27th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held this year from April 6 – 15 throughout Central Florida, offers 183 feature and short films from 38 countries. The Festival includes the American Independent Competition, 23 world premieres, 82 women filmmakers, and a new experimental shorts program named Sunspots: New Visions in the Avant Garde. As always, Festival goers also can choose from a variety of additional programming, such as celebrity guest events, special screenings, film sidebars, family films, parties, and the popular film forums offered free to the community.

Here’s a quick look at this year’s forums, all held at Enzian Theater. No tickets are required, and the forums are free and open to the public; however, seating is limited. The moderator asks questions of the panelists, and a general Q&A with the audience follows the discussion.

Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Write Now! A Screenwriter’s Road from Keyboard to Storyboard

  • Wednesday, April 11, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Enzian Theater

This group of respected screenwriters will provide an up-to-the-minute insider’s guide to succeeding in the film industry, including tips on breaking in and working with the changing markets (such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu). Panelists will discuss agents, hot topics, and writing on spec, among other issues. Moderated by screenwriter Barry Sandler (Crimes of Passion, Making Love), this panel features Nick Naveda (Say You Will, Words on Bathroom Walls) and Don Mancini (Childs Play).

Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Indie Women: Grab ‘em by the Movies

  • Thursday, April 12, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater; sponsored by Full Sail University

In recent years, Florida Film Festival has devoted time and attention to some of the extraordinary women filmmakers working today. The Indie Women film panel returns this year, marking an even stronger presence at the Festival with women filmmakers representing more than 45% of the total programming. With strong women filmmakers including Greta Gerwig (Ladybird) on today’s scene at the same time as the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, these are changing times in the entertainment industry (and beyond). Panelists include Brooke Purdy (Quality Problems), Raama Mosely (Tatterdemalion), Jen Serena (My Indiana Muse) and Caroline Voagen Nelson (Aquacade), who will talk about their industry experiences. The forum will be moderated by Anne Russell, Program Director – Film Production MFA at Full Sail University.

Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Filmmaker Forum

  • Friday, April 13, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater; sponsored by IMDBPro

Always a favorite, the filmmaker forum brings together a combination of talents from each year’s Festival. Conversations are lively, dynamic, and totally unscripted. Panelists reveal their triumphs and challenges, gloats and grievances, along with plenty of colorful anecdotes of the independent filmmaking process. Charles Sutter, Adjunct Professor, Film Department, UCF School of Visual Art & Design and festival selections team member, will moderate the panel, which includes Karl Jacob (Cold November), Fiona Dawson (TransMilitary), Christina Parrish (Call Me Brother) and David Howe (Call Me Brother).

Visit the Florida Film Festival website for full movie listings and ticket information.

 

 

2018 Florida Film Festival Overview

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 27th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held this year from April 6 – 15 throughout Central Florida, offers 183 feature and short films from 38 countries. The Festival includes the American Independent Competition with narrative features and documentaries, 23 world premieres, 82 women filmmakers, and a new experimental shorts program titled “Sunspots: New Visions in the Avant-Garde.”

As always, Festival goers also can choose from a variety of additional programming, such as celebrity guest events, special screenings, film sidebars, midnight movies, family films, international showcase, Florida films, parties, and the popular film forums offered free to the community.

Some upcoming highlights from this year’s Festival:

American Animals will be the opening film at the Florida Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

  • Opening Night Film and Party. American Animals in its East Coast premiere, starring Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, and Barry Keoghan in a heist film directed by Bart Layton. Blake Jenner will be in attendance for the film and party, and will participate in a post-film Q&A. The party includes food samples and cocktails from local restaurants.

Ramen Heads. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

  • Food Film Sidebar with the narrative feature Back to Burgundy (directed bv Cedric Klapisch) and the documentary Ramen Heads (directed by Koki Shigeno).
  • Family Film Sidebar with two animated features for children making their Southeast premieres. The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales… directed by Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert, and Lu Over the Wall directed by Masaaki Yuasa.

Grace Jones: Blood and Bami. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

  • Music Film Sidebar features three documentaries: 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie (directed by Lee Aronsohn); The Godfathers of Hardcore (directed by Ian McFarland); and Grace Jones: Blood and Bami (directed by Sophie Fiennes).
  • Festival Block Party sponsored by Winter Park Village. Saturday, April 7 from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village in Winter Park. Free for all Festival ticket and pass holders. Meet at the Winter Park Village fountain for live entertainment and free drinks and appetizers from participating restaurants.

Pam Grier in Jackie Brown. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

  • Sunday, April 8 from 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., Enzian Theater will host “An Evening with Pam Grier,” featuring director Quentin Tarantino’s third film, Jackie Brown, which stars Grier as the title character along with Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, and Robert Forster. A screening of the crime caper action movie, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, precedes the interactive event with Grier.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in RBG. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

  • The Spotlight Films program includes 11 non-competing movies with especially intriguing premises, riveting subjects, and well-known stars. Included in this year’s lineup: Borg McEnroe (starring Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf, respectively, in a fact-based sports film by director Janus Metz); Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (a documentary directed by Morgan Neville about Rollins College graduate Fred Rogers); and RBG (a documentary directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West about 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg).
  • Enzian Theater hosts three filmmaker forums: “Write Now! A Screenwriter’s Road from Keyboard to Storyboard” on Wednesday, April 11, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; “Indie Women: Grab ‘em by the Movies” on Thursday, April 12, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; and “Filmmaker Forum” on Friday, April 13, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

For a complete list of films, parties, events, and ticket information, visit the Florida Film Festival website.