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November 15, 2001 2:00 AM
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FESTIVAL: More Subdued Ft. Lauderdale; Foreigners "Lantana," "Zookeeper" and "Y Tu Mama" Take Home P

FESTIVAL: More Subdued Ft. Lauderdale; Foreigners "Lantana," "Zookeeper" and "Y Tu Mama" Take Home Prizes


by A.G. Basoli



(indieWIRE/ 11.15.01) -- If "mellow" best describes the ghost of Ft. Lauderdales' past, brimming with annual boat cruises along the coastal waters, gala dinners, and star-studded parties, "comatose" best describes the ghost of Ft. Lauderdale present. With 20% less filmmakers attending the 16th edition of the Ft Lauderdale International Film Festival -- officially because of scheduling conflicts, unofficially holding tight in the aftermath of September 11 -- the festival was a much smaller affair this year, despite the ritual reveling and celebrations.


"We weren't affected in a major way," says Lily Majul-Pardo head of the press relations, "because our program was ready two months in advance. Ticket sales actually went up." Still, except for packed theatres when Hurricane Michelle was in town, many films played to an almost empty house. A shame, because this year's film selection was exceptionally strong all around.


The competition line-up featured this year's Cannes Palme d'Or winner "The Son's Room," by Nanni Moretti, a somber meditation on loss and family in the aftermath of a son's death; Alfonso Cuarón's sexy road-trip movie "Y Tu Mamá También," winner of the Best Screenwriting award at Venice; Peter Bogdanovic's "The Cat's Meow," a giddy "rosebud" about the accidental death of a guest at a star-studded party on board Hearst's yacht in the 1920's, featuring a luminous performance by Kristin Dunst as Hearst's long time companion Marion Davies. Other films in competition included Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land," Rachid Bouchareb's sweet and flawed "Little Senegal" and Ray Lawrence's brooding thriller "Lantana," closing night film at Toronto last September.


At a remarkably downscaled Luminaries Gala, Paul Sorvino received the Lifetime Achievement Award and Paul Mazursky received the Robert Wise Award for Director of Distinction, while the Star on the Horizon award for most promising newcomer went, inexplicably, to Victoria Secret's model Lorri Bagley. At the award ceremony, the prize for best film was tied between Ralph Ziman's "Zookeeper" and Lawrence's "Lantana." The latter went on to win three more prizes including Best Screenplay to "Lantana"'s screenwriter Andrew Borell, a special Award for Best Ensemble Cast to the film's actors and Best Director for Lawrence. Best Foreign Language film went to Cuarón's "Y Tu Mamá También," while Best Actor went to Sam Neill for his shaded portrayal of an obsessive zookeeper in Ziman's film, and Best Actress went to Laia Marull for Miguel Hermosa's "Fugitivas" from Spain. Best cinematography as well as a special Jury Prize went to Jose Luis Garci's "You're the One," a period love-story set in Franco's Spain, shot in gorgeous black and white.


The room went quiet when Nelson Pilosof, representing the World Trade Center of Montevideo, Uruguay gave the Award for best Foreign Language film to the Mexican film "Y Tu Mamá También." "Our Towers are the only remaining twin towers in the Americas," said Mr. Pilosof. "The Towers in New York were destroyed but not their spirit. We support your values."


Notable American Independents included Sundance entries and debut features: Rosemary Rodriguez's gritty "Acts of Worship," a frantic journey from the hell of drug addiction to recovery á la "Panic in Needle Park" featuring a breakthrough performance by Ana Reeder and Patrick Stettner's "Business of Strangers," starring Julia Stiles and Stockard Channing. Another Sundance baby, winner of the Sundance award for Best Documentary, Stacy Peralta's "Dogtown and the Z-boys" rocked in the non-fiction category.


"The Medicine Show" by Wendell Morris won the coveted Vespa Award for independent spirit for his partly autobiographical dark comedy about his bout with cancer. Starring Jonathan Silverman as a hard-ass yuppie getting surgery for a tumor in his colon who finds his soulmate in the Hospital's cancer ward in Linda, a leukemia patient, played with striking grace and subtlety by Natasha Gregson Wagner. Morris actually won a Vespa, the wanton moped by Piaggio featured in "Roman Holiday."


Notable entries in the World section were Guillermo del Toro upcoming spine-chiller "The Devil's Backbone" and "Room for Rent," by Khaled El Hagar, an engaging comedy about a young Egyptian writer, Ali, whose constant search for a room and a British wife causes him to revel in the greatest delusions and to suffer the most brutal awakenings. He finally finds his true love and straightens out his immigration status with an old blind woman who claims Ali is her reincarnated Egyptian lover who was killed in combat during WWII.


Writer-director Christos Georghiu's first feature "Under the Stars," winner of the best first film award at the Montreal Film Festival last month, was a poignant, beautifully crafted tale about Cyprus and the legacy of division left by the 1974 Turkish occupation. In the Greek section of the island Lukas and Phoebe, a girl who smuggles goods to the Turkish side, discover that they were from the same village in the part of Cyprus that is now under Turkish rule. Together they go back to find the place of their childhood and reconcile the events that permanently altered their lives. "It was never my intention to make a political film," the filmmaker said to a small crowd of deeply appreciative and curious spectators who stayed for the Q&A. "I just wanted to tell personal stories about a period in our history that deeply affected us."


While his statement obviously resonated with audiences at the moment, we hope that this somberness won't last too long, and that Ft. Lauderdale future will continue to provide excellent films and regain some of its trademark Floridian joie de vivre.

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