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According to James Schoepflin, Central Florida houses more magic than just in that kingdom tourists find so fascinating. It’s the kind of magic that has led to the out-of-nowhere debut of his Orlando Hispanic Film Festival.

“This place is magical. There’s no other way to explain how well we’ve been received,” he says. This is Schoepflin’s first event here, but the Casselberry resident has an extensive filmmaking and film-management background in Arizona. He landed his own movie a slot at an Arizona Black Film Showcase and co-founded that state’s International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival. And with the luck he’s had with OHFF, he makes jump-starting a prospective cultural institution appear easy. While Schoepflin expected to receive approximately 30 submissions the first year, he was hit with more than 100 possibilities.

The genesis of the festival dates back to January, when Schoepflin began to scout the city for ideas. “I knew there was a nice Hispanic population here, so I decided to go ahead and start researching to see if there’s anything like what I wanted to do,” he says. “And the research showed there wasn’t. I talked to some people to see if it was a good idea, and I got great feedback from them. I started preparing the logo and talking more with the Hispanic community here, the leaders in the community. The look in their faces and eyes told me that something had to be done.”

Just after Hispanic Heritage Month officially concludes on Oct. 15, the OHFF will present the fruits of Schoepflin’s labor – and his elite team of five festival directors and coordinators. Over three days, there will be screenings of more than 40 titles, including features, documentaries and shorts. Awards will be given out with Oscar-like range, from Best Feature to Best Art Direction to Best Ensemble Cast.

Four guest panels will be manned by lecturers from in and out of state; topics are “Essence of Acting,” “Animation & FX Nation,” “How About Documentary Filmmaking” and “Score on Films,” with the latter welcoming New York musician and entrepreneur Garry Velletri, who recently scored Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim.

With guidance and assistance from the local Hispanic community, Schoepflin is hoping the festival has an impact beyond cinema.

“We’re also not just about the film festival,” he says. “It’ll be a yearly summit. Throughout the year we support the community by having screenings and workshops and partnering with the Orange County Library System to enhance the filmmaking process with people who need assistance.”

Schoepflin believes that Orlando’s Hispanic film tent is big enough to hold his festival as well as the Orlando Latin-American Film and Heritage Festival, which celebrated its third year in February, because the OHFF offers a “vastly different” product.

“We are an independent film festival,” Schoepflin said. “We take submissions from filmmakers that have made films in the past three years and mainly do not have distribution in America. We don’t concentrate on music and others arts. We concentrate on the filmmakers.”

The selected films, whittled down by a panel of 10 jurors, cut a wide swath, he says. Some touch on culturally significant, hot-button Hispanic issues; for example, immigration and border control is the subject of the short Crossing the Heart (with Kris Kristofferson), while the documentary Dream Havana centers on two of the 33,000 Cubans who attempted to escape the island by raft in 1994.

Other selections seem more curious, such as the French-language Pleure en Silence, the true story of a noted daughter of a cruel neo-Nazi father, or Not Broken, a documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The films may not address Hispanic culture per se, but they were made by Hispanic natives, so they were accepted, explains Schoepflin. He is pleased with the balance the festival strikes.

“We’re trying to show both the entertaining side and the films that people don’t get to see in the general market that express a lot of important social issues,” he says. “And this gives everyone a good view of different countries and outlooks on different subjects. It’s a really well-rounded program we’re giving out.”

The festival’s website holds the complete schedule and synopses of the films, most them too underground to even be IMDB’d. But there’s a certain fascination with seeing films when you’re blind to their content, and hopefully the OHFF will give us plenty of reasons to open our eyes – and minds.

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