Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
100+ Movies in 18 days, Miami to Boca Raton, so many films, so little time… WHY???
Because we like them!
Being the challenging creatures that we are, we make our annual pilgrimage to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. We are driven on by an unseen hunger to see and experience a departure from the ordinary, something different, something creative, and something that the director wanted us to see the way it was intended. What if you went to an art gallery where big-name painters were hired by corporations who directed and oversaw all of the creative processes involved in each painting created the paintings on display? The results might be near technical perfection, would you looking at art?
Movies shown at the festival are, for the most part, independently-produced films that come in all colors and flavors. Every year the festival presents something created specially for each and every person reading this right now.
The People’s Choice Award, and Susan & Larry’s choice, went to The Island on Bird Street (Denmark) which presents the occupation portrayed in Schindler’s List from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Alex (Jordaz Kiziuk), who hides in the ruins of the ghetto on Bird Street, created by the Nazis. This movie deals with the challenges of day to day survival (and not the politics of the occupation), taken from actual accounts by author Uri Orlve.
Susan’s Award for the Best Conscience Raiser goes to Welcome to Sarajevo (Bosnia/UK). How better to bring the horror of war in Bosnia than through the eyes of the children caught in the middle? Filmed in a documentary fashion, the story shows how one British journalist covering the conflict, Michael Henderson (Stephen Dillane), becomes obsessed with the kids in the orphanage, even going so far as to smuggle one child (Emira Nusevic) home with him. But, the happy ending is not so pat, the government of Sarajevo wants to tear the child back from her peaceful existence in England. Woody Harrelson plays a good supporting role as a callous American journalist.
On the lighter side, Larry’s Warm & Fuzzy Award goes to Up On the Roof (United Kingdom: World Premiere). This film begins in 1979 and spans three decades in the lives of five people and their a cappella singing group. Now the story line is less than remarkable, but that’s not the point. The essence of the film is the warmth, energy, and timing of the cast as they sing their songs, like you’ve never heard them sung. One scene has them singing the theme to 2001 (Also Sprach Zarathusa)!
Susan’s Best Guest Award goes to Heath McLaughlin, producer of the romantic comedy Just Write (USA). Heath is a helicopter pilot who obtained the financing for his movie from a group of Midwest dentists. That’s about as independent as you get. After the showing, Heath hung out and gave a informative behind the scenes look at his goal to produce a good, clean story that the whole family can enjoy. In the process, he selected an experienced director and casting agent who brought on a few established names like Jo Beth Williams, and Jeremy Pivens of TV’s Ellen. The ability for the audience to interact with the creative forces behind the films is always a highlight of festival attendance.
Susan & Larry’s Most Endearing/Original Subject Mater Award went to Ma Vie En Rose (My Life In Pink, Belgian/French; English subtitles). Children are capturing more of the juicy roles in Hollywood today, even more so in today’s independents. Here we have little Ludovic, seven years old, with a normal family that has just moved into a perfectly normal upper-middle-class suburban community. However, it seems that Ludovic feels that he is really a girl who by mistake just happens to look like a boy, and takes advantage of any opportunity to present his better half, in dress when possible. This entire film is played, with all honesty, some very funny and tender moments.
The film shows colorful, surrealistic dream sequences of Ludovic’s imagination (a la Fantasia), and contrasts them with everyday realities. As for his parents, on one side we see a less-than-amused father figure, and on the other, the warm maternal side, we see a “Ward, don’t you think you’re being a bit hard on the Beav lately?” type of mother. However, as dad’s shock wears off, mom’s understanding nature goes right down the tube, as her social standing within her peer group takes a nose-dive. Their neighbors approach the situation with no less voracity than if Ludovic had the black plague.
All the while, little Ludovic can’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about, but begins to realize its far-reaching consequences as the neighbors pounce. The “lynching” is not complete, however, until the children are excused from their private school, and the husband is excused from his employment, all of which result in the family being excused from their home to begin life anew in a working class community. Now they must come to grips, as their new social and economic realities impact their lifestyles.
Ma Vie En Rose was accompanied by The Wings of the Dove (USA) as the festival’s well chosen closing night selections. Susan & Larry rate The Wings of the Dove as the Best Festival Film for Commercial Release, meaning 1) it will appeal to the masses, and 2) it also happens to be an excellent film with an outstanding cast, featuring Helena Bonham Carter. We won’t tell you anything more about the film, because it is in the theaters right now. Go see it!
Susan & Larry’s Not Quite Fargo Award goes to director Paul Chart for his American Perfekt (USA), staring Robert Forster as a criminal psychiatrist who is one wild and crazy guy, Amanda Plummer (still fresh from Pulp Fiction) as a motorist in trouble, trying to evade David Thewlis, a professional con-man, so she can meet with her sister (Fairuza Balk), who is a dropout from society. Great cast, great script. For much of the movie, you never know what is going to happen next. Even Robert Forster needs a flip of the coin to help him decide. Fortunately, for those who missed it, this is a film we think you’ll be seeing more of.
Larry’s Award for Better Than the Critics Gave it Credit for Being is a tie between Dream For An Insomniac (USA) and Slaves to the Underground (USA). Here, the mood for the films is determined by their location: Dream — in San Francisco, and Slaves — in Seattle. Neither film tries to be more than it is, allowing the viewer to more easily accept it at face value. Both feature a good cast, writing, and direction, and quite acceptable production values, and are relevant to the times. So much for the critics.
Our Everybody Sees Something In This Movie That We Don’t See Award goes to the critically acclaimed The Sweet Hereafter (Canada). Now, we’re not saying that we think its a complete waste of time, like Trouble on the Corner and Love, Etc., but we just can’t seem to muster the same degree of enthusiasm as the critics, the audience, and the jury for this one. At any rate, its release date is Christmas Day; see it and judge for yourself.
Larry’s Can the Director Do It Again? Award go to George Hickenlooper for his Dogtown (USA), which is every bit on par with his ’95 festival hit The Low Life. Dogtown has Philip (Trevor St. John) returning home from Hollywood, a star, or so everybody thinks. They have no way of knowing, because the town’s movie theater has been closed for years. Erza (Jon Favereau) is the promising high school ex-jock who blew the state championship, and is now the town’s tow truck driver. His friend (Rory Cochrane from The Low Life) scrapes up the town’s road-kill. Together, they plot their get rich schemes, and represent the future of life in Cuba, Missouri. To that we add Dorothy Sternen (Mary Stewart Masterson), former sweetheart cheerleader, now hairstylist — that is, when she decides to show up for work. This is one of those films where the ensemble cast saves the day, with an endearing look at the social mores of white trash America.
Special acknowledgments go out to: The Emperor’s Shadow (China), El Amor Perjudica Seriamente La Salud (Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health, Spain), and to Sylvia Salvesen for her roll as Maria in The Other Side of Sunday (Norway).
Larry’s award for Best Performance by an Actor and Actress in a Too Original for Mass Distribution Film goes to Hal Holbrook and Martha Plympton for Eye Of God (USA). Hal Holbrook discards his TV actor persona to deliver a fine performance as the town sheriff, out to solve a not-yet-revealed crime. Martha plays Ainsley, a sincere hometown girl who meets face to face for the first time with, and subsequently marries, an ex-convict with whom she corresponded in prison. Martha has appeared in many films during past festivals, and we recommend checking out her performance in The Beans of Egypt under the released title of Forbidden Choices.
The reason we present our summation of festival highlights after the festival has closed is not only to share our views with you, but to also encourage you to seek out these movies. A few will be in general release (Wings of the Dove, The Sweet Hereafter, Critical Care, Afterglow). Some might turn up in limited showings in theaters near your neighborhood.
One of the factors involved in having a distributor pick up these films is due in part to their success at the major film festivals. The distributor’s agents sit in the audience not only to preview each film, but also to gauge the audience reactions.
Each year in the U.S., about 450 films are released. About 250 of those come from the major studios, who budget an average film at 10-15 million dollars, and therefore are strongly driven to make their films a success. On the other hand, an individual theater might run each movie for two weeks on average That would translate to 26 movies per-screen, per-year. It quickly becomes very clear how just how strongly each film competes for each coveted slot, with the winner usually going to the film with the largest promotional budget.
Without the support of the festivals, these truly great films may have never crossed over into general release. Each year, festival director Gregory von Hausch and staff travel the globe viewing well over 1,000 films in order to present the hundred that make the final cut. Diversity is the goal; to present something for everyone, not to target a select few. Last year, more than 57,000 people attended the festival and while the final numbers for this year are not yet in, more have come this year. In the last two years, the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival has showcased films like The Piano, Breaking the Waves, The English Patient, and Shine.
This year, Debbie Mason replaces Ginny Miller (now Chairman Emeritus) as Chairman of the Board of Directors who comprise the festival’s major sponsors. One of the board’s goals is to create an event that extends beyond film.
The Luminaries Committee sponsored the festival’s Award Gala, a black tie and sandals affair attended by 475 people, at a specially erected pavilion on Fort Lauderdale Beach. This year, director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Sound of Music, West Side Story, Star Trek: The Motion Picture) was on hand to present the 1st Annual Robert Wise Director of Distinction Award to director Arthur Hiller (The Americanization of Emily, Love Story, The Out-Of-Towners, Silver Streak, The In-Laws).
We would like to extend our most sincere appreciation to Bonnie Adams, Operations Director, and the entire staff, directors, corporate sponsors, members and volunteers of the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival for bringing us films that are “Ars Gratia Artis” (Art for Art’s Sake).