In seven years, Sanford's Love Your Shorts Film Festival has grown from a small-town dream into one of the most highly regarded movie events in the Orlando area. Indeed, only the Florida, Orlando and Global Peace film festivals draw significantly more than LYSFF's roughly 2,400 attendees.
This year's festival, scheduled for Feb. 9-12, features 71 short films of 30 minutes or less (nine more than last year) from 12 countries, chosen from 325 submissions. After Thursday's free filmmaker workshops at the Greater Sanford Chamber of Commerce, and short movies from University of Central Florida students at the historic Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, the festival gets into full swing on Friday at the Wayne Densch with the first of nine film blocks. That initial block offers various genres, but the next seven cover one genre or theme each. They are "E for Everyone," documentary, animation, comedy and sci-fi/horror on Saturday, and drama and "Florida Flavor" on Sunday. The festival finishes with the "Best of the Fest," containing the top films from the previous blocks, as voted by attendees.
The voting process allows audience members to select their favorites on electronic devices provided to them. One winner from each block goes on to the "Best of the Fest." Because the audience is partially comprised of filmmakers and others who may be supporting a particular film, the voting is somewhat skewed and occasionally results in the highest-quality films not reaching the awards block. Nevertheless, the system gives the festival a friendly, interactive feel while allowing a panel of qualified judges to pick the overall best film.
Orlando Weekly previewed a dozen films, and while quality is mixed (as at all such festivals), three stood out. Amerigo, an Italian-language production screening in Sunday's "Florida Flavor" block, is especially impressive when you consider it was shot with limited resources in Central Florida.
"Amerigo is a foreign film shot 99.9 percent in Central Florida," says director Todd Thompson. "It is a true story about my grandfather. ... Due to budget constraints, I couldn't make the film in his hometown of Montelanico [Italy], as I had hoped, so we found locations in historic downtown Sanford and Clermont to re-create the Italian countryside. For the scenes that take place inside his home, we re-created the small apartment he grew up in on a warehouse stage near the Florida Mall from plans my mother drew up from memory. [But] I needed true Italians to pull this off ... so what I did was leverage my social network on Facebook and found an entire club of Italians in Orlando and Tampa who ended up booking the starring roles."
Even better is the German-language Nelly, a beautifully filmed, dreamlike examination of what it means to go home. It plays on opening night while another German production, Pitter Patter Goes My Heart, screens in Sunday's drama group. The latter, which gazes deeply into the heart of a romantic idealist and asks how far one should go for love, will likely be a contender for best film.
But the festival is not just about watching movies.
"We always offer an educational component," says festival co-founder Gene Kruckemyer. "This year our Thursday 'education day' has three workshops for veteran and aspiring filmmakers that are focused on animation. And for the first time, we have a Saturday demonstration for middle- and high-school students interested in filmmaking, so they can experience what it's like to be on a working film set with green screens, cameras and other equipment."
Organizers have a history of picking local moviemakers to shoot fun, promotional films that introduce each block. This year they turned to LYSFF veterans TL Westgate and Dale Metz. (Westgate's Shadows in the Dark plays the Florida Flavor block on Sunday.) The two co-directed several Star Trek-inspired shorts that include cameos by festival director Nelson Beverly and vice president Chris Wise, who play spoofy versions of Spock and Bones.
"As a local filmmaker, I love the Love Your Shorts Film Fest," says Westgate. "An actor friend of mine [called it] a boutique festival – very aptly put. It's intimate but still has the best of the bigger festivals: great parties and mixers, great networking, great people and a great location. If you're local, you should attend just to absorb the atmosphere."
A ticket to one block costs $8 (except the $2 "E for Everyone" group) while a festival pass is $55. For a schedule and list of films, visit loveyourshorts.com.