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The last picture show: cueing up, reeling in



Over the past 17 years, the Central Florida Film & Video Festival has been a mainstay on Orlando's cultural calendar. So why is executive director Jason Neff "putting it all in a box and closing the lid" after this weekend's lineup of independent documentaries, shorts and features sees the light of the projector?

For the same reasons any relationship ends: The thrill is gone; he's tired; and he's decided he can find greater personal fulfillment elsewhere.

"For me, it's no longer a creative outlet," sighs 31-year-old Neff, whose Frameworks Alliance has experimented with the parameters of the traditional film festival -- sometimes to stellar results, other times becoming stymied by an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that's made Neff's concept of audio-visual integration a hard sell to the public.

The constant attention and months of planning that the CFFVF demanded prevented Neff from taking advantage of "other opportunities," he says. The door is now open for him to seek more work in the production realm, including a syndication deal for "Ballyhoo!," his irreverent arts-and-culture omnibus, which until recently ran on Time-Warner Cable's Channel 21 (and was eventually picked up in several out-of-state markets). Three new installments of "Ballyhoo!" are currently in production, Neff says, with a full, 13-episode season on the drawing board to lure potential buyers.

The 1999-2000 edition of the CFFVF deviated from its standard 10-day-marathon format by presenting a "themed" weekend every month or so. Though Neff "felt pretty good" about the results of phases I and II, his directive -- "Let's build an audience over a period of time" -- also diluted the immediacy of a single, limited-run endeavor.

Phases III and IV have been folded into a three-day swan song that Neff hopes will "double up on publicity." It's hardly a scaled-down send-off: Director John Werner will visit the AMC Fashion Village 8 Theater for Friday's opening-night screening of his domestic drama, "Rudy Blue." A seminar at Continental Film Labs will teach the basics of 16mm moviemaking, while other learning sessions at Sapphire will demonstrate the possibilities of the Internet and high-definition video. Music, as always, will part of the mix, with after-screenings concerts scheduled at Sapphire and Barbarella.

The spectacle will be carried to the web in streaming video by CenterSeat, a just-launched media concern in New York City. While in town, CenterSeat also will shoot a CFFVF-themed episode of its "Hip City" online variety program.

Come Monday, the CFFVF's future is a question mark. Neff's departure -- he is the festival, for all intents and purposes -- leaves a virtually unfillable hole.

"To be quite honest," he confides, "I'd just as soon it die." Even if a volunteer stepped forward to take up the cause, questions of legal ownership would be unavoidable. And those are questions he's not sure he can answer.

"It needs to reinvent itself, it needs a new name," Neff diagnoses, momentarily reentering proprietary mode. "Hopefully, not having it for a while will create a new energy." Time will tell if he's about to sign for divorce or give the bride away.

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