"Will all of the filmmakers please stand up?"
The eighth edition of the Brouhaha Film & Video Showcase began with a roll call last Saturday afternoon at Maitland's Enzian Theater. And when nearly half the audience rose to its feet, it was apparent that this was a festival not only for and by Florida talent, but of it as well.
The presence of so many entrants (as well as their friends and families) assured an easy ride for this roundup of the latest in Sunshine State indie cinema. You don't want to be heard blowing raspberries at someone else's lackluster opus when your own budget-draining labor of love is next on the chopping block.
Still, it was fairly easy to separate the genuinely positive responses from the merely polite ones. "The Brothers," Jonathan Figg's comedy about a pair of white rappers, simply went over like gangbusters (or should that be gang-bangers?) with the showcase audience. And even though I had, well, dissed the film, I was happy to eat crow just this once. On second viewing, I realized that it flowed much more smoothly than I had at first perceived. Perhaps I was swayed by the good will all around me, but comedy is a communal experience, after all.
I felt a little more in the loop when the Florida State University productions that had so impressed me played just as well in a group setting. Having turned out the lion's share of the festival's more mature and exciting efforts, the school has, as far as I'm concerned, duly thrown down the gauntlet of Florida film. So I was invigorated to see an unprepared audience share my enthusiasm for such FSU offerings as the simply terrific Civil War drama "The Road to Charlottesville" and the moving "Ten Thousand Buddhas," a lofty story of a mail-order bride's escape from her abusive husband that benefited from some haunting visual symbolism. William Kruse's "Sliderule," a Kafkaesque portrait of a corporate drone thrust into the frightening world of management, hit the right note of creepiness with the more paranoid among us.
It was also satisfying to watch actor Mark Lainer accepting numerous (and well-deserved) compliments for his starring role in "Slow Dancin' Down the Aisles of the QuickCheck," a charming Dixie love story directed by FSU's Thomas Wade Jackson. As we grabbed some fresh air outside the Enzian during Saturday's intermission, Lainer told me that Jackson had entered the school's film program intending to become "a cross between Flannery O'Connor and Woody Allen." Don't scoff until you've seen the man's work; he appears to have a good shot at it.
Despite the homegrown, homeboy success of "The Brothers," it seems as if Orlando will be following in the footsteps of the Seminole Spielbergs for some time to come. Or perhaps our contributions may lay more on the acting side of the equation: Lainer told me that our fertile theater community is an increasingly important resource to the Tallahassee production teams with which he's affiliated. As they say in those Hollywood boardrooms, it could be a win-win situation for everyone.
Ironically, FSU may have been its own worst enemy this past weekend. The 'Noles' big game against the Florida Gators was blamed for the spotty turnout that plagued the Saturday portion of the program (the attendance was even less impressive when directors, their wives and their drinking buddies were subtracted from the equation). It seemed at first like a spurious argument: How many lovers of indie film could really be deterred from coming out to such an important event by the prospect of kicking back in front of a mere gridiron contest? But when I arrived at Winter Park's West End Grill Saturday night to mingle with festival staffers and some of the participating filmmakers, all eyes were riveted on the game's final moments as they poured from the TV hanging over the outdoor veranda.
With the last out scored (or whatever you call it; what do I know about football?), I had a drink with Levi McConnell, whose engaging, experimental short, "Fingerprints on the Wheel," had received its screen debut earlier in the day. A perpetually smiling Anthony Edwards lookalike, McConnell told me that he had to juggle his passion for video and music production with the responsibilities of his day job in the advertising business.
I asked McConnell which of the Brouhaha entries had particularly impressed him. There had been a few challenging shorts that I surmised were right up his avant-garde alley. But somehow, I knew before it left his lips that his answer would be quite different.
"Oh, I really liked 'The Brothers,'" he enthused.
Smiling in agreement, I mentally reminded myself to never again trust my first instincts.
Fumbling toward the future
I could at least take some scant satisfaction in being perhaps the only audience member to recognize Kevin Steele in the video for the Mojo Gurus' "Tiger Lily" when it played on Sunday. Once the frontman for Roxx Gang (a Melbourne glam band I'm probably alone in missing), Steele led his new outfit through a music clip that smacked more of late-'60s Rolling Stones, complete with flowing costumery and tribal percussion. I enjoyed it, but everyone else seemed to treat it as a bit of a joke (no cries of "rock and ROOOOLLL" from the grandmotherly type seated down front).
The second-day crowd was smaller and harder to please than its Saturday counterpart. That spelled bad luck for "Roll of the Dice," a black-and-white crime drama so preposterously clichéd that even Jean-Claude Van Damme would kick it out of bed. It was the first film at the showcase to inspire persistent, derisive guffaws. On the other hand, it seemed to take itself pretty seriously, down to the unnecessarily professional closing credits that warned "Unauthorized duplication or reproduction is prohibited." No worries there.
Suffering through the 40-plus minutes of "Dice" could try anyone's patience, but good manners had in fact begun to go out the window the previous day, when several directors and their loved ones were spotted exiting the theater en masse as soon as their works had been shown. Despite the studied bonhomie with which most the attendees conducted themselves while they were on the premises, their decision to up and leave as soon as the "important" part of the program was over was both telling and sad.
The worst offenders were the crew that turned out for "Conversations on Creativity: Six Louisiana Artists Speak Out," a documentary in which a half dozen bayou talents were seen discussing their passion for music, dance, painting and the other lively arts. The minute the film was over, the "Conversations" team and its guests elected to hold an impromptu, very loud conclave on their own creativity that made it impossible for anyone seated nearby to concentrate on the short that followed.
Those displays, I thought, spoke volumes about the current state of Florida film. Until our directors realize that it's in their best interest to pay actual attention (and not just feigned respect) to the works of their peers, our indie community is going to remain a marriage of convenience, not love.