Central Florida's most prestigious film festival, the Florida Film Festival, returns this week for its 27th year. Boasting more than 180 films – its largest slate to date – the festival runs from Friday, April 6, to Sunday, April 15, with screenings at Enzian Theater and the Regal Winter Park Village Cinema.
This year sees the festival bringing in a significant number of high-profile upcoming releases from independent filmmakers. In addition to the opening night film, American Animals, a documentary-narrative hybrid that's garnered rave reviews from screenings at Sundance, the festival's Spotlight Films category includes hotly anticipated documentaries like the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biography RBG and the Fred Rogers-focused Won't You Be My Neighbor?, along with Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's latest collaboration, Tully, tennis drama Borg McEnroe and Hearts Beat Loud from director Brett Haley – who also directed last year's opening night film, The Hero.
But while the Spotlight Films might get the lion's share of attention, audiences would be foolish to sleep on the rest of the festival's offerings, including 10 narrative features and just as many feature-length documentaries up for competition. And the best bang for your buck comes from the 12 different shorts programs – including animated shorts, experimental film shorts, international shorts, Florida shorts and the always uproarious Midnight Shorts. The festival is the only Oscar-accredited festival in Florida, meaning that winners of the shorts competition are automatically qualified to be nominated in the shorts categories at next year's Academy Awards.
But movies are only part of the fun of the festival. As in previous years, parties and events abound around the fest. After the opening night screening, the grounds of the Enzian become a gourmand's playground with complimentary food and drinks at the separately ticketed opening night party. Local musicians provide a live soundtrack for festivalgoers at the outdoor Eden Bar throughout the festival. Winter Park Village hosts a Festival Block Party for ticketholders from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, April 7, just across the street from the Regal Cinema with free drinks and appetizers. The Locally Fresh program returns, with live cooking demonstrations alongside food-focused shorts and a local farmers market on Sunday, April 8. And both Sundays, April 8 and 15, feature brunch buffets at the Enzian.
It wouldn't be a film festival without a few celebrities, and this year is no different. Film star Pam Grier will be on hand on Sunday, April 8, for a screening of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. And Ellen Burstyn joins the festival Friday, April 13, for a screening of Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. American Animals star Blake Jenner will be in attendance for the opening night screening and party. Romany Malco, known for his roles in Weeds and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, will be in attendance with his film Prison Logic, which he wrote, directed and starred in. And Nashville star Aubrey Peeples will be in attendance for a screening of Locating Silver Lake, a competition narrative feature about a recent college grad who moves to L.A. to work in film. And that's just the onscreen talent. Plenty of directors and producers will be present to introduce their films or give Q&As during the festival.
The best place to find information on the festival is now the dedicated Florida Film Festival app, available for both iOS and Android. Within the app, users can mark films they want to see or events they want to attend, view trailers, and use the calendar feature to keep track of when and where they should go to maximize their festival experience. Purchasing tickets is a breeze as well. Individual tickets to most features and shorts programs are $11, but you can save some money by purchasing ticket vouchers in bulk or springing for passes that grant you varying levels of access.