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The 2009 Florida Film Festival: Food, Wine & Films, Perfect Together!

The 2009 Florida Film Festival: Food, Wine & Films, Perfect Together!

Between March 12th and April 29th an intrepid and somewhat insane traveler could catch all or part of the following film festivals: South by Southwest, Miami International, Sarasota, Florida, Nashville, Atlanta, Tribeca and Boston Independent. One could catch an obscene number of films, panels and parties in 7 weeks. While indieWIRE’s already brought you to SXSW, in the coming weeks I’ll try and bring you a little of the Florida, Sarasota and Nashville entries in this Spring Circuit of Screenings! Not quite the Blues Brothers romping across the Midwest, but I will be driving roughly 900 miles around the Southeast to bring you some Plymptoons, Big Papi and maybe even Bil Shatner, so hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Often scheduled back-to-back, this year found the Florida (FFF) and Sarasota Film Festivals (SFF) completely overlapping which for some film and industry members means a frantic dash back and forth across the state in order to attend the screenings of their films and others, as well as parties and such. For example, “Prince of Broadway” producer Darren Dean found himself flying into Orlando on the 30th for a screening there on the 31st, driving to the SFF for a screening on the 1st and possibly back and forth and back once more before the two festivals concluded. Who could blame him? My first time at the FFF was met with wonderful staff and a venue that joins the Alamo theaters in Austin in uniqueness. The Enzian, home of the FFF is decked out like a Las Vegas lounge, with tables and chairs set in a terraced layout with a large screen, making for a fantastic place to screen a film while partaking in some excellent food and drink.

An ancient oak tree in the beautiful gardens on the grounds of the Enzian theater near Orlando, FL. Photo by Mark Rabinowitz.

The FFF opening weekend included three local master chefs: Melissa Kelly of Primo and James Beard Award winner for best chef, Northeast; Norman Van Aken (also a Beard award winner) of Norman’s, and Brandon McGlamery (formerly of Chez Panisse & French Laundry) of Luma who prepared five course gourmet feasts inspired by their favorite films, called “Select Your Indulgences: Film Feasts.” I was lucky enough to attend McGlamery’s “A River Runs Through It” feast and was blown away by the sardines, smoked trout, short ribs and bison carpaccio. Festival guest (and first female Iron Chef) Cat Cora, a luminous presence at various opening weekend events made a whirlwind tour to all three dinners!

Lest you think the FFF was all about off-screen food events, two docs in the fest are decidedly related to the art and science of cooking and eating. Jennifer Grausman & Mark Becker’s “Pressure Cooker” (also screening in Sarasota and Nashville) was a charming and engrossing look at a class of inner-city Philadelphia high school students enrolled in the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program. The stakes for this group are high and watching these kids become engrossed in the world of cooking (a passion of mine, as well) is heartwarming and exciting, to say the least. If you don’t shed a tear during the climactic awards ceremony, check your BP, because you’re probably dead. [Editor’s Note: “Pressure Cooker” was recently picked up by newly formed distributor, BEV Pictures.]

A more macro look at how the rise of so-called “California Cuisine” shaped the way we thought about food and the effect food has on our health are some of the heady and important subjects raised in Chris Taylor’s “Food Fight.” Winner of the 2008 IDA audience award, “Food Fight” presents a terrifying future for America’s children if they continue to eat the way they are but offers an all-too easy remedy: eat locally (and I don’t mean the McDonald’s closest to your house). Local family farms and farmers markets are under threat from big agriculture business and the health of the world is being affected drastically. For example, a report from the Centers for Disease Control predicts that one in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes. If they’re Hispanic, the odds rise to 1 in 2. Shocking numbers and Taylor’s film should be required viewing for every legislator and parent in the United States.

Montana Bison Carpaccio with Laughing Bird Shrimp Salad, Soft Egg Yolk, Rye Croutons and Wild Ramps. Photo by Mark Rabinowitz.

Sticking with the food theme, Monday presented an all-Italian program at the Enzian with six Italian shorts followed by the “Olive Garden Italian Cinema Celebration,” wine and cheese tasting which was then followed by a film from the festival’s “Forbidden Films” section, Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” It was a pleasure to see Fellini’s masterpiece projected in such a magnificent way (and accompanied by excellent pepperoni pizza and red wine)! Unfortunately, this was the last film I was to see in Orlando, as I had to hop in the car for the trip across I-4 and down I-75 to Sarasota. However my brief but excellent visit to the FFF made me determined to do my part to make sure they don’t overlap with Sarasota in 2010, as I’d love to be able to attend both in a more substantive way next year! The 2009 Florida Film Festival continues through April 5.

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