FESTIVALS: Fort Lauderdale Fetes "War Zone," Attenborough, & Solid Shorts
by David Bourgeois
Now in it's 14th year, the 1999 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival proved itself a viable alternative for filmmakers who either missed the deadline for the Toronto Film Festival or who want an extra push before they hear from Sundance. Sandwiched in between the two largest film festivals in North America, Fort Lauderdale is by far one of the easiest to navigate for journalists, filmmakers, and the general public. With no ungodly lines and very little pushing or elbowing, 66,000 people attended 100 films during the 26-day, multi-region festival which included screenings in Miami, Hollywood (Florida), Boca Raton, as well as Fort Lauderdale.
The films in competition included such well-hyped and press-friendly films as "The Straight Story," "All About My Mother" and "The War Zone," which was the biggest winner of the festival, picking up both Best Director and Best First Feature awards for actor-turned-director Tim Roth. The festival also featured some smaller films that made the competition's cut, including Alexander Rogozhkin's "Checkpoint" (Russia), Carlos Bolado's "Bajo California" (Mexico), and Yesim Ustaoglu's "Journey to the Sun" (Turkey).
In the Best Film category, the jury -- comprised of regional and national film writers -- gave the award to two foreign films: Pascal Bonitzer's "Rien Sur Robert" (France) and Krsto Papic's "When the Dead Start Singing" (Croatia). Best Actor honors went to Richard Farnsworth for David Lynch's "The Straight Story," and Janet McTeer won the Best Actress Award for Gavin O'Connor's "Tumbleweeds."
Out of the 83 full-length features that were shown, six films without distribution had their world premiere. These included Tamara Olsen's slam on the Los Angeles fashion world, "Fashionably LA," (which got quite a bit of buzz thanks to the triumvirate of willowy models who attended); Canadian director Alain Zaloum's light, predictable, Capra-esque romantic comedy "Promise Her Anything," starring a hyper-kinetic Billy Zane; Evan Oppenheimer's "The Auteur Theory," a mystery/suspense/comedy about a documentary filmmaker who tries to uncover the murderers of a group of student filmmakers; and Paul Lazarus's "Seven Girlfriends," a familiar romantic comedy starring Tim Daly and Laura Leighton that won Best World Premiere.
Some of the most notable films at the festival turned out to be short films. Among the most impressive were the wildly inventive Spanish animated film "The Metamorphosis: Part 1," directed by Charlie Ramos, based on Franz Kafka's novel; Michael Lander's subtly directed "Solid Waste," about a boy's loss of innocence in 1970s Los Angeles; and "Mißbrauch Wird Bestraft" by Ulrike Schweiger, about a woman's unrequited cry for help while she is being raped on a German commuter train. The winner of the Best Short Film was Robert Peters for his humorous dating insurance film "Mutual Love Life."
This year, the festival honored Academy Award-winning filmmaker Richard Attenborough with its Lifetime Achievement Award and nationally premiered his latest film "Grey Owl," starring Pierce Brosnan, at the sold-out, 1500-seat Parker Playhouse. The film tells the story of Archie Grey Owl (Brosnan), a trapper and woodsman who meets and falls in love with the Native American beauty, Anahareo (newcomer Annie Galipeau).
After the premiere, the diminutive Attenborough and his entourage (minus a missing Brosnan, out promoting the latest James Bond pic) partied late into the evening at the opening night reception held at the Design Center of The Americas -- a locale that, as a local Festival driver put it, "is kind of like a furniture mall for wealthy people."
Ft. Lauderdale's opening party is considered one of South Florida's main "be seen at" events, as it not only celebrated the film festival, but a gastronomic fete as well. Dozens of local South Florida restaurants set up stands in the center of the mall and cooked up their edible pleasures, eagerly handing out business cards and showing videos of their food being enjoyed by many a wedding party.
The well-heeled mingled among the invited filmmakers and journalists - Chris Smith and Mark Borchardt of "American Movie" chatted with Grace Quek (aka Annabel Chong), adult actress and star of "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story" -- all the while a swing band and a silent auction provided the entertainment. Borchardt seemed all too eager to offer up his take on the festival and said, "They've been great, but I've been on the road for the last few months, and am really looking forward to getting back home to Wisconsin to finish up my dream project, 'Northwestern.'"
The documentaries at this year's festival had at least one entry that has received more favorable press than "Being John Malkovich" -- "American Movie" -- but the jury seemingly felt that it, too, like fellow festival favorite "All About My Mother," had been feted to death. That left the jury to choose from a rather sparse field of documentaries including "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story"; Timothy B. Johnson's "Six Days in Roswell," a strangely edited and seemingly staged doc about the 50th anniversary of the 'alien space craft landing' in Roswell, New Mexico; and Lisa Gossels and Dean Wetherall's "Children of Chabannes," about a small French town that came together in 1942 to save 400 children from the Nazis. The latter, a festival favorite, took home the Best Documentary Award.
At the 2nd Annual Motion Picture Business Leader of the Year Award ceremony, Attenborough was also on hand, charming the biz-heavy crowd. Upon receiving an award from Bruce Mallen, of the DeSantis Center for Motion Picture Industry Studies at Florida Atlantic University, Attenborough quipped, "To be associated with an academic institution is more valuable to me than ten Oscars -- all my life I've attempted to be recognized in academia." Also recognized at the ceremony was recent Florida transplant Barry Reardon -- the doyen and 31-year pioneer of film distribution at Warner Bros. -- who was named the 1999 Motion Picture Business Leader of the Year.
Attenborough wasn't the only director to be honored by the world's longest film festival. Director Norman Jewison was named the 1999 Robert Wise Director of Distinction at the closing night gala on Friday, November 12, at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort. Also at that fete, writer/director Mark Anthony Galluzzo's feature debut "Trash," a drama about troubled youths growing up in the trailer parks of North Florida, won the Sunshine Celluloid Award for Best Florida Feature, Eva Marie Saint was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Actress Kelly McGillis presented actor Lukas Haas with the 1999 Star on the Horizon Award.