FESTIVALS: 15th Ft. Lauderdale: Royal Palms, Pink Flamingoes, and an Awful Lot of Bush and Gore
by Erin Torneo
(indieWIRE/ 11.16.00) -- "Someone just said to me, 'You've had bush and gore in your movies,' which I thought was funny. I know it's a boring election, but when you're waiting in line, look at someone lewdly. It'll really work. When you go in the voting booth and you pull the Gore button, touch yourself sexually. It'll really perk up voting. Think of me, when you pull that lever this week." -- John Waters
Could John Waters be to blame for the Florida fiasco that has taken this country's bipartisan politics to an entirely new level? Because we all know this election perked right up from 'boring' and just keeps going, and going. Appropriately enough, Waters got the 15th Annual Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival (November 3-11) -- Guiness Book of World Records' longest film festival in the country -- off to a rollicking start with a breathless 90-minute speech.
At the luxe Parker Playhouse, the ever-irreverent John Waters reflected on his own career -- from his "early negative influences" (calling the Wicked Witch of the West phase he went through "the only time I dressed in drag") to the state of independent film today ("We have to bring the showmanship back! Arty used to mean dirty, not whiny."). As well, he offered some voting tips to a packed audience of press, filmmakers, Festival staff, and well-heeled Festival board members in black-tie. Even Secretary of State Katherine Harris was present to take part in the ceremony, before screening the opening night selection, "Il Cielo Cade" ("The Sky is Falling"). The moving Italian World War II drama, featuring tour de force performances by stars Isabella Rosellini and Jeroen Krabbe, only added to the strange and heartening melange.
Following the screening, guests went to the Opening Night Gala at the Design Center of Americas, a yearly soiree that doubtless makes local society pages. There, scraggly, sleep-deprived journalists mixed with eager filmmakers, well-to-do doyens, festival staffers, and a few drag queens and politicians in a forced-mingling kind of fete. (Dozens of South Florida's best restaurants set up booths all around to offer sample plates of their finest dishes.) Guests wandered amiably from the big band playing swing tunes in one room, to the writhing Latin rhythms from a farther, darker room.
With 98 features, 12 documentaries and 12 shorts, the 2000 FLIFF improved its standing reputation as being one of the most pleasant film festivals by streamlining its operation. This year all guests stayed in the Doubletree on Sunrise Blvd., in walking distance to the main venues, Galleria and Gateway Cinemas. Though 54,000 people attended the screenings, the spread-out run (the multi-region fest holds screenings in Miami, Boca Raton, Hollywood, and Ft. Lauderdale over 28 days) prevented unwieldy lines and sold-out shows. Said Festival Public Relations Director Lily Majjul-Pardo, "Our foreign product is particularly strong this year. We've a lot of films on the cusp, like "Coronation" (Chile) and "A Time for Drunken Horses" (Iran). And it's wonderful to be bringing these films to the community, because only a small percentage of them will get distribution."
Indeed, festivals like Ft. Lauderdale are vital to the community of small filmmakers whose work doesn't have a distributor, like Matt Irmas, whose film "Sleep Easy, Hutch Rimes" with Swoosie Kurtz won the Best World Premiere Award. Fourteen films representing thirteen different countries competed for Best Film, including U.S. premieres of Russia's wrenching tale of a grandfather's revenge "Voroshilov Shooter," Spain's "Adela," Greece's "Peppermint" whose director won Best Director, and Israel's box office heavy-weight "Total Love." But in the end, Best Film went to the homegrown "State and Main," David Mamet's stretched-thin satire about big Hollywood film coming to small town, USA.
As the growing FLIFF attempts to integrate itself more with the community, they made an exciting announcement: They had recently been given a 30-year lease with a downtown church converted into an arthouse cinema, called "Cinema Paradiso." Under the festival's management, the theater will show films to members throughout the year, providing an extraordinary opportunity to support undistributed films, and emerging talent. The documentary "R2PC (Road to Park City)" screened late one evening at the new venue and hosted the after-party thrown by Indieliquid.
Bleary-eyed festival guests boarded a luxurious yacht on Sunday morning, and cruised the Intercoastal Waterway for the Chairman's Brunch. John Lynch (best known in the U.S. as the cheating boyfriend in "Sliding Doors") and star of the biopic about football legend George Best, told indieWIRE he found the festival "intimate and relaxing." Lynch, who also co-wrote "Best" with director Mary McGuckian, later won the award for Best Actor along with Dirk Roofthooft, who won for his performance in "Don't Cry."
Also aboard was Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, now nearly a jet-setter with festival fave "A Time for Drunken Horses." Just in from Brazil, not only was Ghobadi finally able to collect last year's award from Ft. Lauderdale for his short "Life in Fog," but he subsequently received this year's Audience Award for "A Time for Drunken Horses," his feature based on "Fog." Sitting with friends from Emana International, a Florida organization that promotes Iranian heritage and literature, Ghobadi basked in the excitement over "Drunken Horses" having been chosen as Iran's official entry for the foreign language Oscar. And though he says he's getting weary of the traveling and is eager to get back to work, he did say the next time he returns to the U.S., he wants to go by boat.
And with Iranian cinema enjoying a nouvelle vague, documentary director Jamsheed Akrami, also at the table, said he felt "compelled and almost obligated" to make his prescient feature about Iranian cinema, "Friendly Persuasion," which screened later that day. "Friendly Persuasion" features interviews with Iranian masters like Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf and takes a comprehensive look at pre-and post-revolutionary Iranian films. Also showing in the documentary competition were Irena Salina-Gavin's and John Gavin's "Ghost Bird," a magic-realism-influenced story of an 89-year old painter and her bohemian, inspiring life; "El Rey de Rock n' Roll ," Marjorie Chodorov's tale of the Mexican Elvis known as El Vez (who performed at one of the festival parties); and Monika Koplow's "Alois Brunner," about the Nazi war criminal.
The motto of the 15th Annual Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival's was "a vacation from ordinary film," and festival attendees certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. (Too much perhaps, when we could have been campaigning -- John Waters for President, anyone?) But maybe, as Milan Cieslar, Czech director of the eerie "Spring of Life," told indieWIRE, "it's just the weather."
[Erin Torneo is the Associate Editor of ifcRANT.]