Ft Lauderdale's Moving on Up
by A.G. Basoli
"We have grown," said Ft Lauderdale International Film Festival honcho Gregory Von Hausch.
"We were never aiming at being another Sundance or Toronto." Von Hausch
declared proudly, "We are an excellent B-festival on the verge of
becoming an A-festival."
The main event in Fort Lauderdale unraveled from November 4th through
the 15th and was accompanied by several parallel events, offering more
of the same in different locations throughout the region, from the Ft.
Lauderdale Women in Film Festival in Downtown Ft.Lauderdale- focusing
primarily on the work of filmmakers like Dorothy Arzner, Martha Coolidge
and Nora Ephron, to the Miami Mini Festival, the Hollywood Mini
Festival, the Asian Film Festival and the Boca Mini Fest, for a grand
total of three weeks of celebrating cinema.
Judging from the impressive line-up of films that comprised this year's
program, the festival seems indeed in this 13th edition, to have come
into its own. And while the fest remains blithely non-committal towards
new talents in marketing terms, it does afford first time filmmakers an
exciting level of opportunity, by showcasing their work alongside
heavyweights such as John Boorman ("The General"), Paul Schrader
("Affliction") Todd Solondz ("Happiness"), and a hefty contingent of
exquisite foreign films like Majid Majidi's "Children of Heaven,"
Philippe Harel's erotic drama "La Femme Defendue," and Joan Chen's debut
stunner "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl," the actress's first directorial
undertaking and winner of the Grand Jury's Best Dramatic Feature Award.
Although Chen's Stratosphere release was a showstopper, with its
intensely poetic, beautifully shot images and brilliant acting, critics
maintained the safe approach by casting their best film ballot for
Miramax's crowd pleaser, the sometimes controversial "Life is
Beautiful," by Roberto Benigni.
Among the world premieres, a category normally reserved for first
features, Jason Freeland's haunting debut noir "Brown's Requiem," based
on James Ellroy's ominous novel, stood out for its excellent
performances, consistent style and high production values. "Followers"
by first timer Jonathan Flicker, a tightly constructed chilling tale of
frat-fervor gone awry, also revealed command of the medium and
insightful story-telling. Among lighter fare, Greg Lanesey's delightful
comedy "30 Still Single and Contemplating Suicide" chronicled the boy-
meets-girl misadventures of an angst-ridden 30-year-old in search of the
perfect mate. On the same subject, "20 Dates" by Myles Berkowitz, at
Slamdance earlier this year, seemed to round up Floridian concerns about
the current state of today's dating scene.
Other notable entries in the world premieres section were "The Truth
About Juliet" by Sean McGinly, "Totally Confused" by Greg Pritikin and
"October 22," Richard Schenkman's third feature ("Pompatus of Love" and
"Went to Coney Island on A Mission from God. . .Be Back by Five"), a
deftly directed dark drama about solitude and fate.
Among the Latin American fare, the Opening Night film "El Faro" by
Edoardo Mignona was moving and well acted, while "Central Station" by
Walter Salles continued to please audiences with a fine performance by
lead actress Fernanda Montenegro. "Amanecio del Golpe" ("Coup at
Dawn"), by Carlos Azpurua, dealt with the attempted coup d'etat by the
military in Caracas in 1992 and featured charged performances -- though
their delivery was plagued by unenlightened subtitling. Regrettably the
healthy presence of Latin American and Spanish films was sabotaged by
overlapping screening times. Their vitality, however, was felt at the
Latin American parties that followed.
Regarding parties, there were many, though as film festival veteran
critic Brandon Judell noted, "The films are sensational, but the food is
going down." Other highlights of the festival were a cruise on the
intracoastal waterway and the lush Opening Night party at the Design
Center of the Americas, preceded by the Opening Night film and a
presentation on the making of the "Titanic" by producer Jon Landau.
Earlier in the festival, as part of the celebrations, Amy Pascal,
president of Columbia Pictures was honored with a Motion Pictures
Business Leader of the Year Award. A series of education seminars on
film were also presented by Kodak in collaboration with the Desantis
Center and included a variety of topics ranging from "Directors on
Directing", "Acquisition, Management and Distribution", "Theatrical
Distribution" and the role of "Festivals and Markets" in getting
exposure for your film. In attendance were executives from Fine Line
Features, Trimark Pictures and Roxy Releasing, as well as the AMC
theatres operations manager.
Though most stars and filmmakers were also present for their films,
exceptional momentum at this year's festival was generated, above all,
by the quality of the works. There was much recognition by attending
press that the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival has taken a
step forward this year in presenting to its audience a vast array of
[A.G. Basoli is a freelance writer based in New York.]