Florida Film Festival
The 1998 Enzian Theater Florida Film Festival, held June 12-21, was a success. A party! Serious. Uplifting. Subjectivity never rests when discussing art. Attendance was record-setting, multiple venues participated, and films more than ever broadly explored relationship possibilities. Stuffiness, no matter how hard some might wish for it or strive for it, was left outside with the heat and humidity. This was my fifth year attending. Many peers took in the film offerings, and others intended to go. “Always forget.” “Can’t make it tonight.” “Didn’t hear about it until the last night.” This was the best year yet.
Properly and creatively promoted, the festival was not easy to miss. Enzian’s Rich Grula worked with independent and other press to pass the word — “substance” — and the collective visions of the filmmakers represented validate that word as a formidable foe to much celluloid anesthetizing. The Florida Film Festival most definitely achieved a populist, open-ended offering of films that often get squelched by Hollywood bombasity. Could it be that those films “we’ve never heard of” are brilliant? Certainly. Criticism might represent fear, so maybe each attendee saw a film that was brilliant, the best ever. A quiet secluded place on the beach or a misty mountain retreat only few know of doesn’t take away from its reality. And it’s fun to share the bounty.
Three films with a thread of ordinariness and thus exceptionally include Unmade Beds, Walking to the Waterline, and Modulations. The first film, a notumentary shot in NYC with non-actors, deftly if corrosively captured self-delusion. Four protagonists tell the camera what they are looking for in the opposite sex, often awkwardly exposing themselves. Brenda’s fifty-going-on-twenty charisma and ample chutzpah was as endearing as it was off-putting. Some shame is good. Aimee’s diet is fruit and vegetables, yet she’s overweight. Aimee’s bright and financially self-sufficient, yet she’s overweight. Michael is a Christian. Mikey is a bit of a con, but his heart appears purer than his language. Directed by Nicholas Barker, Unmade Beds doesn’t resolve the dilemmas of its singles.
Walking to the Waterline observes fidelity, death of a parent, the malaise of many gray days. Shot on the Jersey Shore, Matt Mulhern’s characters are intertwined through a small town’s history and age-old expectations that are overturned with Francis McGowan’s low-key return to his hometown. He’s a celebrity. People love him. Francis is without a compass to even guide ’til the end of the day. Matt Mulhern (also director), Hal Holbrook, Matthew Broderick, and Alan Ruck are the big names. They each play roles that fit into the puzzle of Walking to the Waterline, with layers of personality revealed in grains and chunks.
Modulations avoids adulation of electronic musicians. Pioneers and recent players tell their own stories, tell on each other, isolate themselves with absurd soul-baring and quite often validate a futurist manifesto. John Cage and Pierre Henry share time with Alec Empire and Invisbl Skratch Pickls. “Planet Rock” might actually receive an implied award, but fairly and within the context of electronica’s striving for next.
Good and bad do not need to define these films. I missed all seminars. Concluding that unadvertised equals uninteresting, or worse “arty,” is unnecessarily limiting with so many inspiring films, many with no simple conclusion. That’s ok. Plan ahead for next year’s festival.