DAILY NEWS: Film School Joins the Global Parade, and Florida Film Festival Report
by Matthew Ross and Wendy Mitchell/indieWIRE
>> Searchlight Goes Global
(indieWIRE: 6.19.02) -- Online film education program Global Film School and
Fox Searchlab, Fox Searchlight's emerging digital director program, have
partnered in a deal to provide emerging filmmakers with scholarship money.
Under the terms of the agreement, Fox Searchlab will award one production
scholarship to the top candidate from Global Film School's international
student base. The candidate will be flown from his/her hometown to Los
Angeles, where Fox Searchlab will provide creative resources and a
first-look deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures.
"We are committed to finding and developing emerging talent," said Fox
Searchlab director Susan O'Leary in a prepared statement. "Global Film
School will help us to extend our reach, identifying a broad and
internationally diverse group of potential filmmakers."
Global Film School was founded by UCLA's School of Theater Film and
Television, the Australian Film Television and Radio School, and the
National Film and Television School of Great Britain recently announced its
second session of courses is currently open for enrollment at
www.globalfilmschool.com. [Matthew Ross]
>> Orlando Minus Mickey: Florida Film Festival Welcomes Serious Films
(indieWIRE: 6.19.02) -- When I hear "Orlando," I think of two things: Disney
World and cheesy boy bands. Thankfully, the offerings at the 11th annual
Florida Film Festival, which ran June 7-16, didn't involve Mickey, Minnie,
or Jacob from O-Town. Instead the fest showed a more cerebral side to
Orlando and its inhabitants. Two films in particular, John Sayles' "Sunshine
State" and the documentary "My Father's Son" offered less romantic
explorations of modern life on the panhandle. Also, the line-up included
plenty of other challenging works -- the controversial doc "Raw Deal," about
an alleged rape at the University of Florida; the East Coast premiere of
Rotterdam native Nanouk Leopold's early midlife crisis tale "Iles
Flottantes" (Floating Islands); or the political doc "Party Animals" by
12-year-old Miami native Chaille Stovall.
There weren't many boldfaced names down in Florida this year (especially the
first weekend when I attended); competing fests may have drawn some away --
for example, John Sayles attended the Lake Placid Film Forum instead of
presenting "Sunshine State" in Orlando. But there were some enthusiastic
young directors happy to be here, along with an appearance by Florida first
lady Columba Bush (Jeb's wife), plus the Native American actor Graham Greene and Phoenix Pictures co-founder/chairman Mike Medavoy. Schmoozing and dealing took a backseat to the films; and thank goodness the films lived up to the challenge. "There were less celebrities than past years," said
programming director Matthew Curtis. "This year was really carried by the
programming." While no acquisition deals were cut, several distributors
(Seventh Art, Sony Pictures Classics, and First Look Overseas) have
expressed some interest in films that screened in Orlando, Curtis said.
The festival kicked off, appropriately enough, with Sayles' "Sunshine
State," about coastal communities in Florida. With this story about two
women and the shifting worlds around them, Sayles continues to push buttons
about race, class and corporate America. Edie Falco plays Marly, a woman
stuck in a rut while running the family business, a no-frills hotel and
restaurant, who is approached by corporate execs looking to buy out the
small businesses in the name of progress and rebuilding. Angela Bassett
plays Desiree, who returns home several decades after she was sent away as a
pregnant teenager. Amazing performances by Falco and Bassett (seen at their
least glamorous), plus Sayles' rich supporting characters (like the suicidal
gambling addict played by Gordon Clapp and the not-so-evil country club
architect played by Timothy Hutton), made "Sunshine State" really shine.
When I asked the born-and-raised Floridian next to me what she thought of
"Sunshine State," she said that the portrayal may not have been wholly
flattering but it did prove to be an accurate snapshot of modern-day
Florida. (The neighboring black and white towns of "Sunshine State" are
fictionalized versions of Florida's American Beach and Amelia Island).
Also a portrait of the non-Disney-fied Florida landscape is Eric
Breitenbach and Ben Van Hook's "My Father's Son," a DV documentary about John Blalock, a man who lives in the woods near downtown Orlando (by choice, not necessity). Despite being an admitted alcoholic, Blalock is a rather
inspiring figure, hunting tirelessly for scrap metal to sell, and constantly
improving his hobbled-together tent home. The filmmakers show him as the
complicated figure he is -- a hard worker but also a man who shuns his
loving family, a guy who chooses to live in the woods but also reads The
Wall Street Journal.
Another striking documentary, David E. Simpson's "Refrigerator Mothers,"
captured the jury prize for best documentary. The film examines the lives of
seven mothers who were blamed for their children's autism in the '50s, '60s,
and '70s. In a movement led by concentration camp survivor Dr. Bruno
Bettelheim, these women were said to hold back from interacting and loving
their children, and labeled cold "refrigerator mothers" who caused autism.
Doctors labeled the women psychotic when they had acted as normal, loving
parents; children were taken away from them and institutionalized. As
demonstrated in these interviews, even though the medical community now
recognizes that autism is a neurological disorder, these women carry deep
scars (Bettelheim had drawn parallels between these mothers and nazi prison
camp guards). While the topic had the potential to become a bit Oprah-esque,
Simpson presents a noble portrait of these forgotten women. It was
impossible not to be moved by this work.
A similarly impressive documentary, Marlo Poras' "Mai's America," has been winning hearts at several festivals (and will be shown as part of PBS' POV series on August 6). This doc provided fuel to the old adage that truth is
indeed stranger than fiction. Poras follows Mai, a spoiled Vietnamese high
school student, as she travels to rural Mississippi on an exchange program.
Mai dreams of an America as seen in Hollywood movies, but instead she
encounters unemployed, depressive rednecks (unfortunately, her first host
family), tarot card readers, a cross-dressing man who finds religion, and
other assorted characters. Director Poras, who was in attendance in Orlando,
told the crowd that she had spent four years researching, shooting, and
editing the film. The real draw of the movie is Mai herself, a natural in
front of the camera who also narrates the movie. "Mai was wise and innocent
and wonderful and brave and funny," Poras told the audience after the
One more standout for me was the Zentropa production "Fukssvansen" (Chop Chop), a wacky dark comedy (think "Raising Arizona" meets "Weekend at Bernie's") about two dimwitted trailer trash brothers in Denmark as they
deal with their LSD-manufacturing roommate, sexually repressed neighbors, a
mute bombshell who arrives for Christmas Eve dinner, and of course the
man-eating carp in the swamp behind their house. The crowd, myself included,
was laughing out loud at this Saturday night screening.
Less winning was "Mockingbird Don't Sing," a feature based on the true story
of a "wild child" whose parents kept her in seclusion until she was nearly
14. Thankfully, this film doesn't dwell on her dark past, but instead looks
at what happens when she enters the "normal" world. There were loads of
teenagers at this sold-out screening, but even they probably were distracted
by the cheesy voiceovers and melodramatic acting. This one seems more ripe
for a showing on Lifetime, playing out the tale with absolutely nothing
Likewise, "Face," Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's debut full-length feature, felt a bit
slick and predictable, but was saved by some crafty performances and a true
warmth at the heart of this story about three generations of
Chinese-American women. You can tell this was a labor of love for Pan -- a
talent to be watched in the future -- who showed the short version of "Face"
at Florida four years ago. Another labor of love was "Daddy and Papa," a
documentary about gay men adopting children, which didn't present a
comprehensive portrait of the politics of gay adoption, but did tell these
personal stories very well. [Wendy Mitchell]