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From screenings to brunches, the 26th annual Florida Film Festival packs out the schedule

Cinema smorgasbord

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As arts organizations across the country prepare to feel the sting of proposed cuts to – or the complete elimination of – the National Endowment for the Arts, one local beneficiary, the Florida Film Festival, has programmed its biggest year ever. This year, the festival (Florida's only Oscar-accredited festival for the Live Action Short, Documentary Short and Animated Short categories) brings a record 182 films to be screened over 10 days, including 55 feature films and 122 shorts, from April 21-30. Programmers got more submissions this year than ever before, resulting in a diverse lineup that features films from 40 different countries and 76 films directed by women – the most the festival has ever had.

However, recent renovations at the partnering Regal Winter Park Village have resulted in fewer available seats than in previous years. Though the plush new reclining seats at the multiplex are normally a welcome addition, the capacity of the two theaters rented by the festival has gone down from 279 and 179 to 163 and 135. This will definitely leave some film fans out in the cold if they try to buy tickets for screenings at the last minute, so festivalgoers are strongly advised to buy tickets well in advance for anything that's a must-see for them.

And just as in previous years, there's plenty at the festival that will be "must-see." The "Spotlight Features" category brings in 12 films from major stars or directors that have yet to see wide release. Among them are comedian Demetri Martin's directorial debut, Dean, which he also wrote and stars in alongside Kevin Kline and Community's Gillian Jacobs; Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway, a comedy in which her character's mental breakdown is somehow tied to a rampaging kaiju; Buster's Mal Heart, a surreal tale of a man trapped between two different realities, starring Mr. Robot's Rami Malek; and Menashe, a family drama set in Brooklyn's Hasidic Jewish conclave, performed entirely in Yiddish. And a special one-screen version of Manifesto, originally produced as a 13-screen installation by video artist Julian Rosefeldt, should be required viewing for fans of Cate Blanchett, who performs 12 different art manifestos as monologues as a variety of characters. While distribution companies tend to keep these movies under wraps before festivals, the Spotlight program often serves as a season preview of films that will play at the Enzian in subsequent months, giving you the opportunity to form your own opinion before Orlando Weekly has the chance to review them.

Celeb-spotters get three chances to watch movies with the stars this year. Director David Zucker and star Robert Hays join a screening of the quintessential screwball comedy, Airplane!, with a Q&A after the show on Saturday, April 29. (Expect someone to pitch Airplane! III: The Memening after the film's online popularity in the wake of United Airlines' recent PR troubles.) Stillwater's own guitarist-with-mystique, Russell Hammond – that is, Almost Famous star Billy Crudup – stops in for another Q&A after a screening of his breakout film, Alison Maclean's 1999 adaptation of Denis Johnson's short story collection, Jesus' Son, on Friday, April 28. And America's 1980s sweetheart, Lea Thompson, known for her work in Caroline in the City, Howard the Duck, Red Dawn and SpaceCamp, joins the festival for a screening of Robert Zemeckis' timeless (pun intended) Back to the Future on Sunday, April 23. Tickets for celebrity events always go fast, so beg, borrow or steal as you see fit.

Of course, half the fun of the film festival takes place outside the theater. In addition to invite-only parties like the Filmmaker Welcome Party and Industry Party, there's the swanky-AF Opening Night Party on Friday, April 21, with an optional screening of this year's opening night film, The Hero – the story of an aging actor (played by national treasure Sam Elliott) coming to terms with illness and mortality. Two Sunday brunch buffets provide patrons with the opportunity to nosh and talk about their favorite flicks (before embarking upon marathon screening sessions) at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 23 and 30. The fountain across from Regal Winter Park Village becomes ground zero for the Festival Block Party – featuring free drinks and appetizers for anyone with a festival ticket or pass – at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22. And the Diageo beverage company sponsors a free Sip & Savor cocktail tasting at Enzian's Eden Bar at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 26.

With so many screenings, parties, buffets and more happening over 10 days, it's nigh impossible to take everything in, and we've barely scratched the surface here. But the festival's website, floridafilmfestival.com, provides an easy-to-use "My Festival" scheduling app that will help you make the most of the keystone event. Enjoy our preliminary guide to what we think you should see during the festival on the following pages, and keep an eye on our website for updates and interviews.

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