The Enzian Theater has announced the program for the 29th annual Florida Film Festival, which was originally scheduled for April 17-26 but is now slated for Aug. 7-20.
The festival, which will screen 177 films from 37 countries, will be the first major event of its kind in Florida since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the virus has forced Enzian to alter its format. Instead of utilizing three screens – one at Enzian and two at Regal Winter Park Village – the festival will use just Enzian. Further reducing the festival’s potential audience is the fact that the theater is operating at half-capacity.
To partially compensate for these reductions, the festival has been extended from its usual 10 days to 14. But even with that change, each film and shorts block will play just once. The festival will also include a virtual component, though most of its 177 films (37 features and 140 shorts) will be screened live at Enzian. (At least one feature and one short film will be virtual only.)
The festival received 2,850 submissions (its most ever) from 101 countries.
For its opening night, the festival is going local. Orlando filmmaker Steven Shea’s Surviving Supercon
will launch the festivities.
“As someone who lived in Orlando for 15 years – graduating from Valencia as a filmmaker, to then volunteering at the Florida Film Festival – it is an incredible honor to return to world-premiere our new film,” Shea, who now lives in Los Angeles, says. “This documentary is built around a major Florida-based, pop-culture event, using a Sunshine State-based cast and crew. It really is beautifully fitting to get to world-premiere at the Florida Film Festival.”
Closing the festival will be a retro showing of David Lynch’s The Elephant Man
Experienced festival-goers won’t notice much change in the film’s groupings. As usual, the event will offer the following genres: family, music, food, Florida, Sunspots (avant-garde) and, of course, the love-them-or-hate-them midnight movies. Thirty films are receiving their world premieres.
The “spotlight” films, which are screened out of competition, are often considered the best of the fest. Likely because of the difficulty of acquiring high-profile new releases during the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s festival will contain just five: Boys State
, directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss (online only); Jimmy Carter: Rock ‘n’ Roll President
, directed by Mary Wharton; The Perfect Candidate
, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour; The Personal History of David Copperfield
, directed by Armando Ianucci; and Summerland
, directed by Jessica Swale.
Half of the festival’s films are directed by women.
“This year’s lineup includes 88 women filmmakers, the most in our 29-year history … and their voices will be represented throughout every part of the festival,” says Matthew Curtis, programming director. “In addition, we have added a fifth live-action shorts program to the American Independent Competition for the first time ever, thereby giving seven more filmmakers a chance at Oscar glory and our audience another terrific collection of films to experience.
“We are also excited that the virtual platform will allow a large amount of these official selections to be available to festival-goers across the state of Florida. Some highlights include the Sundance Film Festival award-winner Boys State
, as well as international features Adam
and The Perfect Candidate
, in addition to a number of our short films and competition features. … More films than ever will be making their Florida debut at the festival, and we could not be more thrilled about introducing these talented filmmakers and presenting such an entertaining and diverse group of films to our audience.”
Speaking of thrills, the fact that the festival is happening at all is a bit of surprise, considering the recent rise in the number of Florida coronavirus cases and yesterday’s cancellation of the Telluride Film Festival, one of the top four fall festivals. The other big three – Toronto, Venice and New York – still plan to proceed, though Toronto will be mostly virtual.
But the Florida Film Festival’s challenges are admittedly not as daunting as those other events, as its audience is almost entirely local. Though out-of-town filmmakers might opt not to attend, the festival will still feature at least one celebrity event: “An Evening with Joe Bob Briggs: How Rednecks Saved Hollywood,” on Aug. 14. In addition, the schedule will include social events such as a Sunday brunch on Aug. 9, a filmmaker welcome party on Aug. 13 and live music at Enzian. However, the filmmaker forum will be entirely virtual.
To ensure guest safety, Enzian will likely utilize the same procedures currently in place for regular screenings, such as temperature checks, required masks (when not eating and drinking), social distancing and repeated cleanings of the theater. But that might not be enough for those who started a Change.org petition last month to convince Enzian to delay or cancel the festival. Begun by someone named “Anon Enz,” the petition reads, “As the number of Florida COVID-19 cases continue to rise each day, many employees have grown frightened of working. … Most employees would like to exempt themselves from working Florida Film Fest.”
The petition goes on to describe various concerns, including increased guest contact during the festival and “lax … cleaning policies in order to divert focus to customer service.” However, it’s not clear how many of the 333 people who signed the petition are current or former Enzian employees, so it’s impossible to verify the petition’s claim that it represents the views of the theater’s staff. Furthermore, Enzian says it has taken steps in recent weeks to address the petitioner’s concerns.
And the conversation does seem amicable, reflected by the petition’s closing statement: “We are working on other solutions to work with and not against our favorite place to work.”
The full festival schedule and ticket options will be available soon at FloridaFilmFestival.com