Festival founder and director Bob Cook
The 2015 Central Florida Film Festival came to a close on Sunday with an awards ceremony and a tribute to filmmakers who have been part of the event over the last 10 years. This year’s fest screened 57 films (eight documentary features, 11 narrative features and 38 shorts) over three days at the West Orange 5 Cinema in Ocoee. Special guest Dan Haggerty, who was scheduled to attend a screening of The Capture of Grizzly Adams
, was unable to attend because of health issues.
Festival director Bob Cook held the first event in 2006, and the first three years were hosted by the Osceola Center for the Arts in Kissimmee before the event moved to Ocoee. Attendance averages just under 2,000 each year, making it one of the most popular small festivals in Central Florida. It attracts slightly fewer patrons than Sanford’s Love Your Shorts
Film Festival but a bit more than the Enzian’s Jewish and South Asian festivals. (The Florida Film Festival easily takes the top spot, with the Orlando Film Festival in second.)
Though Cook would love to see more guests, he says, for him, it’s all about providing the best networking opportunities for his filmmakers while “putting on a show” for all. Although he admitted he started the festival so he could personally network with his fellow filmmakers, he soon realized he had the ability to help others.
“If I can network, why can’t everyone?” he says.
In addition to screenings, panel discussions, Q&As and a slickly produced awards ceremony, the 2015 event featured multiple parties and a Sunday brunch at the nearby Sabal Hotel. For the public, festival tickets range from $10 for a single screening to $125 for an “all-access” pass, which allows entry to all events plus complimentary food and drink.
As with almost all other small festivals, quality is hit-or-miss. I saw just four features, and, regrettably, all were misses. Driving While Black
, directed by Paul Sapiano, was the best of the bunch and had its heart in the right place, but the darkly comedic social commentary suffered from structural malaise and performances that ranged from effective to mediocre. Still, it was far better than the 2005 amateur horror film Feast
, which occupied the “special screening” slot on Saturday night and offered audiences little more than genre schlock and a healthy heaping of blood.
Henry Davies, director of "Caring for the Recently Deceased"
For audiences not into mindless gore, the festival offered the faith-based Hoovey
in the same time slot. Directed by Sean McNamara and featuring Lauren Holly, Patrick Warburton (David Puddy on Seinfeld
) and Cody Linley, it features solid production value but degenerates quickly into a heavy-handed and embarrassingly obvious exercise in proselytism. But I guess some people enjoyed it – because it was awarded best feature.
I save my harshest criticism for The Conspiracy Project
. Directed and written by and starring Neal Fox, this pseudo-documentary is both amateur filmmaking and irresponsible journalism. Mixing truth with lies, Fox seems to throw ideas and events at the screen just to provoke us, without taking responsibility for anything or creating a comprehensible piece of entertainment. By playing fast and loose with facts, and frightening us with unreliable statistics, Fox is guilty of the same crime he accuses society of: spreading ignorance and fear. It’s as if the dumbest conspiracy theorist crapped a musical PowerPoint presentation.
Thankfully, some of the shorts were better. I screened 22 of the 38, and my favorites were Christopher Leps’ Muse
, which won best dramatic short; Dustin Whitehead’s Somewhere in the Midwest
; and James Everett’s I’ll be Home Soon
. Henry Davies’ Caring for the Recently Deceased
and Sonny Dyon’s Clarity
also received raves, the former winning both best foreign project and best comedic short and the latter taking home the audience award, but I saw neither. (The festival has three screens, making it difficult, though not impossible, to see everything. You just have be there almost all day every day and, sadly, give up some of the free wine.)
Luca Elmi, director of "Roman Citizen"
The rest of the shorts ranged from entertaining to “nice try” to cringe-worthy. However, as a networking and social event, the festival was a solid thumbs-up, as evidenced by the loyal following of filmmakers who return year after year. (This year’s fest saw 35 of the 55 filmmakers in attendance, and 19 of those had been to the event before.)
Next year’s festival is again scheduled for Labor Day Weekend. For more information, visit the festival site