For a while now, I've been slightly worried about the Florida Film Festival (FFF). Not the institution itself, mind you: Newly ranked in "The Ultimate Film Festival Survivor's Guide" as one of the world's top 10 cinematic conclaves, Orlando's annual salute to indie spirit has clearly come into its own.
My concerns were for the event's 10th-anniversary edition, which plays out June 8-17 at Maitland's Enzian Theater. Unease set in as key personnel came and went, and some perennial contributors proved reluctant to resume their duties. Neither was I encouraged when I asked one insider if any of the early contenders for festival screen time had met his fancy. The answer: A point-blank "No."
Good thing I don't count my chickens before they're oven-roasted. Weeks passed, positions were filled and my initially blasé screening-room source totally changed his tune. Now I know why: The list of confirmed FFF 2001 films that landed on my desk last week is enough to lift even a skeptical heart. It's the best movie-related news I've heard since Geena Davis moved back to TV.
The 10-day marathon of features, documentaries and shorts looks set to cover almost every base in the indie ball game. Many of the notable titles represent the cream of those -- hmph! -- other film festivals. You know the names: Sundance. Slamdance. Riverdance. (Wait a minute!)
Opening-night honors fall to The Anniversary Party, a serio-comic slice of life that marks the first directorial collaboration between actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming. The dream cast they've assembled includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates and Parker Posey. "Anniversary" comes to Enzian fresh from its world premiere this week at Cannes; its FFF booking will coincide with its release to houses in New York and Los Angeles.
There's a strong multicultural bent to this year's lineup, as indicated by a number of films with Latin American themes and/or dialogue. Elsewhere on the global beat, we'll be treated to The Road Home, a drama of death and remembrance by Chinese director Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern") that won the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award. And an Oscar nomination piques interest in "Everybody Famous!," a Belgian comedy in which criminal behavior is employed to put a lackluster singer atop the pop charts. Take a deep breath and remind yourself it can't happen here.
Local lore does surface in the documentary "Gibtown," a visit to Florida's colorful community of carny and circus performers. And thank you, FFF, for keeping your lower brow hairy enough to accommodate a documentary profile of Todd McFarlane, the comic-book and toy magnate who created Spawn. Director Jeff Krulik, the pop-culture vulture responsible for 1999's "I Created Lancelot Link," weighs in with "Obsessed with Jews," an 8-minute interview with a collector of Semitic memorabilia.
Krulik is but one of the represented filmmakers who will be familiar to Enzian regulars. All hail the return of New York's Larry Fessenden, whose revisionist vampire thriller, "Habit," was a late-night treasure at the theater back in 1998. Fessenden trades urban nightmares for country terrors in "Wendigo," his entry in the FFF's Dramatic Feature race. The misguided pursuit of "the next ‘Blair Witch Project'" was a common red herring at least year's festival; if anyone's still out there looking, finding Fessenden in the woods should be the goods.
And that's just the proverbial trailer. The iris widens when the FFF's traditional preview party is held May 30 at Tabu. Why that godforsaken, cheese-and-meat market, of all places? I guess because too much good news can give you diabetes.
As always, the FFF won't be restricted to the Enzian's single screen. Supplementary showings will again be held at the Universal Cineplex 20. But give yourself a hand if you foresaw the re-enlistment of Rollins College, whose Annie Russell Theatre and Bush Auditorium will host more screenings and special events. Was it only last October that I called the possibility of Annie Russell replacing the shuttered Colonial Promenade as the FFF's second locale a "long shot"? If you wagered real money, my lawyer sends his condolences.
Shake a tail feather
The Orlando Museum of Art has its "1st Thursdays," and now Victor Perez has his third Mondays. This Monday, May 21, the promoter christens a monthly series of public viewings at The Peacock Room, that "nice neighborhood bar with style" (Perez's words) on North Mills Avenue.
The spotlighted artist is mixed-media mainstay Bill Gallagher, whose works will be shown in the Peacock's front bar as champagne pours and hors d'oeuvres are served. Painting demonstrations will be backed by the inevitable DJ music. The output of seven "guest artists" will be displayed in the nearby library area; the idea, Perez says, is to rotate one of these artists each month into the featured position. (Though the receptions will only be held the third Monday of the month, everyone's art will stay in place all month long.)
Perez has high hopes for the new setup, especially in the wake of his recent, abortive effort to carve out an art niche at Dante's restaurant. That venture, he says, fell victim to corporate waffling, leaving him temporarily "hesitant to do anything.
"They just didn't have a good idea of what they wanted to do," Perez says. "One minute it was this and one minute it was that."
Owl be seeing you
Locally based horror author Owl Goingback has a raft of book-signings lined up to promote his just-published latest novel, Evil Whispers. What Goingback jovially calls "a Borders minitour" begins Saturday afternoon, June 2, at the chain's retail store in Altamonte Springs, then moves on to its Winter Park location in the evening. The following afternoon, Goingback can be seen putting the old H.P. Lovecraft (excuse me, "John Hancock") on paperbacks at the Borders outlet in Oviedo.
Between the new novel, the in-store appearances and his participation in the recent Central Florida Book, Jazz and Art Festival in College Park, things are looking pretty good for Goingback these days. So I wondered how he was taking the news that Stephen King -- who is not only his rival in the horror-fiction marketplace but has also aced him out of winning the genre's major writing award on two occasions -- had just purchased an $8.9 million home in Sarasota County.
He hadn't heard -- not until I told him. Suddenly, I had an aghast, competition-fatigued author on the other end of the phone line, groaning that I had ruined his day while threatening to mow the Maine snowbird down with a minivan. Me and my big mouth.
Next week: All about Clive Barker's surprise party!