"Zero" and "Trip" Among Top Films at Annual Florida Film Fest
by Eugene Hernandez
Ben Coccio's "Zero Day" and Paul Devlin's "Power Trip" were selected by juries as the top competition films at the 2003 Florida Film Festival which ran from March 7-16 in Orlando. The event, in a new March slot for 2003, drew local cinephiles and a sprinkling of industry attendees to Central Florida for the 13-year-old event.
Those who have attended the solid Florida Film Fest rarely forget the experience, in part because of the unique screening venue which is the home base for the annual event. The 18-year-old Enzian Theater is a unique venue, family run by Philip and Sigrid Tiedtke. Stylishly redecorated, the cozy theater offers an array of seating options (from single seats to love seat sofas and tables) along with a full food and drink menu that offers service during screenings.
On opening night, "Confidence" director James Foley and actor Ed Burns settled in for a Q&A to discuss their Sundance 2003 debut. The film, a Sundance premiere that stars Ed Burns, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Paul Giamatta, and Luis Guzman, has been a staple on the spring festival circuit. It will open theatrically at the end of April.
With screenings of other Indiewood and specialty fare, the fest has become an important stop for new work from distribution companies, in part because the Enzian team has embraced and developed a year-round audience. Among the other films with distribution that were showcased included Emanuele Crialese's "Respiro," Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," Fernando Leon de Aranoa's "Los Lunes del Sol" (Mondays In the Sun), Patrice Leconte's "L'Homme du Train" (The Man on the Train), and Lukas Moodysson's "Lilja 4-Ever."
New to the event this year was NextArt, a fest sidebar that included installations, performances, and seminars. It was produced by the Festival and the Department of Film and Digital Media in the College of the Arts at the University of Central Florida. Among the more tangible elements was Trailer A Go Go, a project that created a new festival trailer each day of the event.
Michael Monello of the local Haxan Films ("The Blair Witch Project") group, himself a former Enzian staffer, was back at the fest this year to contribute the new nightly trailer which was shot on HD and quickly edited to give festival-goers snapshot installments of the 2003 fest. Each new trailer, created by Monello and a group of local filmmakers in a public editing suite at the fest headquarters, screened ahead of each day's 7 p.m. screening.
"I feel our work was the most tangible and direct," wrote Trailer A Go Go collaborator Anthony Torres in the online diary that the filmmakers kept during the fest. "For all the technology, usability is still a big hurdle," he wrote, "For all the bells and whistles, it comes down to what emotion the work evokes from the audience. Is the message heard the same as what was sent? Or is it falling on deaf ears due to the listener not sure what is even said?"
For his Grand Jury prize, Ben Coccio won the significant $100,000 goods and services award from a number of Florida vendors. The film, a faux documentary that was inspired by the Columbine massacre, looks at the world of two disaffected teenaged boys through the viewfinder of their own video cameras as they plan a suicide attack at the school. Paul Devlin's "Power Trip," a look at the political and cultural struggles that surround a power company in Tbilisi, won the grand jury prize for best doc. It has been a hit on the festival circuit, nabbing two awards in Berlin for Devlin, who was at the Florida Film Festival in 1998 with "SlamNation." Jurors at the 2003 Festival included: filmmaker Raymond De Felitta, journalist Dave Karger, and producer Diana Williams (narrative); and director Alan Berliner, publicist Mary Litkovich, and film buyer Kelly DeVine (documentary).
Audience awards this year went to Paul Quinn for "Never Get Outta the Boat" (narrative) and Elaine Epstein's "State of Denial" (documentary). Chen Kaige's "Together" won the audience prize for international feature, while Andrew Horne won the audience award for best international short for "Leuning: How Democracy Really Works."
Other highlights in the 2003 doc competition included Katja Esson's "Ferry Tales," David Eberhardt's and Jack Cahill's "Long Gone," Vance Malone's "Ocularist," and Jonathan Karsh's "My Flesh and Blood." Esson "Tales" takes viewers inside the secret world of the women's powder room aboard New York City's Staten Island Ferry. In a mere 40 minutes, the film offers an insightful peek into the lives of a diverse group of women, from their troubles at home to their thoughts about life and each other. "Long Gone" a double prize winner at Slamdance, takes viewers on the road, aboard railroad boxcars with a nomadic group of hobos. For seven years, the filmmakers rode the rails to reveal a level of drama as invisible as that of the women in the Ferry ladies room. Tom Waits' solid soundtrack puncuates the beautiful vistas of the open rails.
In the dramatic competition, a highlight was Joseph Pierson's "EvenHand." A buddy cop story unlike most, the film stars Bill Sage and Bill Dawes (it was written by Mike Jones, a former indieWIRE staffer, and shot by Tim Orr). Set in a fictional Texas town, and shot primarily in San Antonio, the drama unfolds quietly as the two cops make there way from incident to incident until a defining moment on the job changes everything. Dawes performance as Officer Francis draws in the viewer and offers a humanist portrait of a sensitive man struggling to be the best cop that he can amidst the inherent turmoil of his job.
The Grand Jury Award for best narrative short went to Paul Gutrecht's "The Vest," while "The Ocularist" won the jury prize for best doc. The grand jury award for best animated short went to Alex Budovsky's "Bathtime in Clerkenwell."
Festival organizers took a gamble this year by moving the event from its regular summer slot to March, but it's a risk that seems to have paid off; if nothing else the weather was about 20 degrees cooler with much less humidity. In fact, planners have already confirmed that the event will run in March again in 2004. Of course, on opening night this year, some couldn't help but question the move. A pre-spring storm hit Orlando as the opening night movie screened and nearly washed out the kick-off party. Unfazed, festival chief Sigrid Tiedtke laughed loudly as she greeted well-wishers on opening night. "We moved, in part, because of the weather," she quipped, laughing loudly as she talked with guests. Not much later, the skies cleared and the party began.