Large Crowds and Popular Docs as 1998 Florida Film Festival Weathers Heat Wave
by Eugene Hernandez
The Garden Room at the Langford Hotel is without a doubt the place to be after hours at the Florida Film Festival. Last night, local singer Sarah Hayes was roaming the tacky-chic lounge belting out songs like "Route 66" and "My Funny Valentine", accompanied by a tired bar pianist. Trying to get the attention of the raucous festival crowd near the dance floor, the crooner solicted vocalists for her rendition of a Van Morrison song, filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky joined in briefly, later Texas filmmaker Jake Vaughn was swing dancing, first with the singer, and later with festival co-founder Sigrid Tiedtke. "Who's the Caboose" filmmaker Sam Seder and producer Charles Fisher hung out for a bit, while at the other end of the table a contingent from GMD Studios enjoyed the festivities. Nearby, festival staffer Peg O'Keefe and programming committee member Mike Monello unwound after a long day, while doc jurors Debra Zimmerman and Mike Jones sipped cocktails, and dramatic jurors Thomas Ethan Harris and Jerry Tokofsky dropped by to hang out.
With consecutive days of temperatures topping 100 degrees here in Central Florida (not to mention oppressive humidity levels), its no surprise that late nights at the Langford are the place for festival-goers to let off some steam. And with filmmakers representating over 35 festival films in town for the event, things can get pretty lively. By all accounts, the festival has made a strong showing here in Orlando. Attendance is up, even for mid-week, mid-afternoon screenings. Large crowds have been gathering for the festival, with documentaries among the most popular screenings at this 7th Annual event. Sigrid Tiedtke, who ran the festival through last year before handing the reigns to her husband/co-founder Phillip, attributed the popularity in part to this weeks heat wave. "The weather is playing right into our hands," she joked yesterday, explaining that the air conditioned theaters offer the ideal respite from the elements. Festival marketer Rich Grula confirmed the box office heat, telling indieWIRE that this year documentaries are among the best selling festival films. "SlamNation", "Tango: The Obsession", "Tell About the South", "A Letter Without Words" and last nights screening of "Frat House" have all been hot tickets at a festival which has developed a reputation for a compelling non-fiction slate.
Of course, a number of dramatic films are also generating interest. "Once We Were Strangers" and "Unmade Beds" drew large crowds following rave reviews in the local press, while a handful of other fiction work sold well, according to festival organizers. Among the popular screenings were "Buffalo 66", "I Married a Strange Person", "Unmade Beds", "Jerome", and "Slums of Beverly Hills".
With the heat wave forecast to continue and weekend screenings approaching, festival organizers expect the demand for tickets to increase. A film business and budgeting seminar is on tap today, while tomorrow afternoon audiences can meet the filmmakers during a discussion with attending directors. Awards will be presented tomorrow night during a dinner at a Universal Studios Florida soundstage and festival screenings continue through Sunday.