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Now in its 12th year and on track for Oscar accreditation, the Orlando Film Festival is bigger than ever

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Based entirely at the Cobb Plaza Cinema Café in the heart of downtown Orlando, the Orlando Film Festival is shaping up to be a strong contender for the area's most lavish film festival. Now in its 12th year, the festival brings more than 400 films – 67 features and 311 shorts from 39 countries – for multiple viewings, along with parties, panels and workshops for filmmakers.

The Orlando Film Festival – the only event of its kind happening in the downtown area – started out at CityArts Factory in 2005 with a slate of less than 20 films. When the Cobb Cinema Plaza Café opened in 2010, the festival found a permanent home with state-of-the-art amenities. It's a relationship that paid off this year when, instead of allocating another screen to the festival, the theater's management decided to extend the whole festival, bringing this year's iteration up to a full week.

In addition to the weeklong slate of films – many of them world or state premieres – the festival features several special presentations. Derek Allen Roe, a pioneer in the world of virtual reality, brings hands-on VR rigs to try out, along with a presentation on how the new medium is set to change the landscape of filmmaking. Meanwhile, Mark Shapiro from stop-motion powerhouse Laika Studios (The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings) presents a virtual tour of the Oscar-nominated studio. And Linda Olszewski of ShortsTV delivers a lecture on what the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences looks for when nominating short films for Oscars – a timely presentation since the Orlando Film Festival will be eligible to become an Academy-accredited film festival next year.

VIP ticketholders are also able to access a series of workshops covering the filmmaking process from pitch to distribution. This focus on the behind-the-scenes aspects of film at the festival is tied to the fact that the festival is run by independent filmmakers. The jury in charge of booking films and selecting films for awards is composed entirely of people who have worked in the industry. According to executive director Daniel Springen, this is also why every filmmaker in attendance, even students, receives 15 minutes after a screening of their film to participate in a Q&A with the audience.

The festival kicks off Thursday night with a screening of Andover, a sci-fi comedy about a genetics professor who uses cloning to resurrect his dead wife, only to run into problems trying to re-create her personality. The film stars Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie's) and Richard Kind (Spin City, I'm Dying Up Here), both of whom will be in attendance for the world premiere of the film, directed by Scott Perlman. Nearly every night closes with after-parties in venues around downtown, providing out-of-towners with a taste of the Orlando that locals are familiar with. Attendees can visit the festival's website, orlandofilmfest.com, to purchase tickets and create customizable schedules of films or events that they want to attend.

Though the Cobb Plaza Cinema Café was recently purchased by CMX Cinemas, Springen doesn't anticipate that the change of ownership will affect the Orlando Film Festival. With both private and public investment, the festival is healthier than ever, and if that Academy accreditation comes through, we can only expect it to grow even larger next year.

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