"Maxwell Bright" and "Mardi Gras: Made in China" Take Florida Film Festival Kudos
by Brian Brooks
The Florida Film Festival concluded its 14th edition over the weekend, with an awards brunch at the home of the event's producer, the Enzian Theater Saturday afternoon, complete with a visit from a cooperative but slightly disturbed looking reptile, and a packed house of event attendees cheering the winners, including David Beaird's "The Civilization of Maxwell Bright," and "Mardi Gras: Made in China" by David Redmon. Film Threat's Chris Gore, whose film, "My Big Fat Independent Movie" screened during the festival, hosted the awards brunch.
"Maxwell Bright" star Patrick Warburton ("Men in Black II") received the festival's grand jury award for best narrative feature on behalf of Beaird, and did a quick photo call with Jeb the alligator, who was transported to the stage of the Enzian Theater for the awards presentation, by his keepers from nearby Gator Land. Warburton took part in other activities during the fest, and hung out at late night local haunts with festival staff and attendees who typically headed out for late night chit-chat and cocktails after official parties. "Maxwell Bright" is a unique story that focuses on Max Bright (Warburton), a misogynistic single man who 'purchases' a mail order wife from China, hoping she will do his bidding as an alpha-male. Instead, she becomes a spiritual pillar as he faces a life-changing event.
Sundance 2005 competition film "Mardi Gras: Made in China" documents the globalization of one of the world's biggest parties, with the manufacturing of the beads typically used by revelers during Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans. The film traces the beads from their origins in a factory in Fuzhou, China to the often decadent distribution of the beads by partygoers. Fellow Sundance competition film, "Loggerheads," meanwhile took the audience award for best narrative feature. Directed by Tim Kirkman, who was on hand to collect the prize (and pet the gator), the film is the story of estranged families in various areas of North Carolina.
The documentary audience award prize, meanwhile, went to Kate Davis and David Heilbroner's "Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling." Additionally, the film also received a special jury award for "excellence in filmmaking. Subjects in the film, which follows a crew of enthusiastic whistlers, including a turkey hauler, an investment banker, and a Dutch social worker, as they vie for the top prize at the International Whistling Competition in Louisburg, North Carolina, lent their talents Saturday evening for the Florida Film Festival Revel party at a local museum in Winter Park, a tony suburb of Orlando. Guests donned '20s wear for the outdoor event in celebration of the Enzian's 20th anniversary in a Gatsbyesque throw-down that was only tempered by a cool wind blowing off the lakefront. Actor Paul Reiser, whose film "The Thing About My Folks" by Raymond De Felitta played as a special screening at the fest, presented actor Peter Falk with the Lifetime Achievement Award during the event, while Reiser himself received FFF's Artistic Achievement Award.
In other juried prizes, the festival's grand jury award for best narrative short went to "Fields of Mudan" by Stevo, while the prize in the best animated short category went to Shane Acker's "9." Jay Rosenblatt's "Phantom Limb" took the best documentary short award, while "The Raftman's Razor" by Keith Bearden won a special jury award for originality. Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik's "On the Outs" also received a special jury nod for narrative filmmaking. Along with "Loggerheads" and "Pucker Up," the fest's audience prize for best short went to Bobby Houston and Robert Hudson's "Might Times: The Children's March."
Members of this year's American Independent Competition jury were director Morgan J. Freeman ("Desert Blue," "Hurricane Streets"), producer Lauren Lloyd ("Cellular"), and Wellspring acquisitions manager, Rob Williams. In other categories, filmmaker Paul Devlin, publicist Susan Norget and Showtime acquisitions and program planning exec Bryan Younce served on docs, while Jason Leaf from Avatar Films, filmmaker Chel White and Emily Woodburne from Zeitgeist Films deliberated in the shorts category.
The 14th Florida Film Festival opened April 8th with director Alice Wu's Sony Classics release, "Saving Face." The festival screened over 130 films and hosted panels and other special events over eight days, and closed with Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle," also from Sony Classics.