FFF combines in-person, virtual cinema

From The Orlando Weekly, April 7, 2021

Just eight months after the Florida Film Festival became the first major movie fest to be held in the Southeast United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is returning to its traditional April timeslot.

The festival will again be held at just one location, Maitland’s Enzian Theater, because its pre-COVID partner, Regal Winter Park Village, didn’t announce its reopening in time to coordinate with Enzian. This means that, like last year’s event, movies will be shown on just one screen. So to accommodate the 164 films, the 30th annual fest will again last 14 days (April 9-22), instead of its pre-COVID format of 10.

The festival will again be a hybrid event, with all films screening in-person and all but three also available online for Florida residents. And to guard against coronavirus, Enzian will institute the same safety protocols it has been using for the last year: mask requirements (when not eating and drinking), spaced-out seating, reduced capacity and temperature checks. Social gatherings will be scaled back, as they were last year, but Enzian still plans three parties and two Sunday brunches, in addition to live music at Eden Bar. And perhaps most importantly, attendees will be able to meet filmmakers, about 60 of whom are expected to attend.

Though no in-person celebrity events are planned, Karen Allen will participate in a Zoom Q&A session following a screening of John Carpenter’s Starman, and Isabella Rossellini will do the same following a showing of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

The lineup comprises 36 features and 128 shorts representing 31 countries, with 151 films having premiere status (world, United States, Southeast or Florida). Those were curated from roughly 2,200 submissions from 95 nations.

Ashley Jones and John Amos star in Because of Charley, this year’s opening film. (image courtesy of Florida Film Festival)

Though the international scope is undeniable, the opening-night offering, Because of Charley, was produced, filmed and set in Central Florida. In fact, it’s the first COVID-compliant film shot in the Sunshine State. Directed by local filmmaker Jon Binkowski and starring a cast of locally well-known actors, the movie tells the tale of two stepfamilies holed up together during Hurricane Charley in 2004 and features veteran actor John Amos (Good Times, Roots, Die Hard 2), who plans to attend the screening. (The film is not available online.)

“There is always a very concentrated effort to make sure that the best films being produced in Florida are showcased at the Florida Film Festival, but we don’t program to a quota for Florida, just like we’re not programming to meet quotas for any other category,” says Matthew Curtis, programming director. “We have over 30 films this year with Florida connections. This is the third straight year that the Florida Film Festival has opened with a filmmaker based in Central Florida or [a film] shot in the state. We are also extremely proud of the content in the Sunshine & Swampland program, as we think it represents the strongest and most unique program in that block’s history. Florida films or films made by Florida filmmakers are featured in all manner of categories from narrative features, doc shorts, narrative shorts, animated shorts, experimental shorts (Sunspots), food films, and midnight shorts, and we are very proud of that. We are also proud to see alumni and former staff members from Florida State University, Daytona State, Ringling, the University of Central Florida and Full Sail represented in this festival.”

Ticket options include a single film or shorts block ($12), a five-pack ($55), a 10-pack ($105) and a 20-pack ($200). All passes (matinee, binge, film lover and producer) are sold out. Visit FloridaFilmFestival.com for more information. And to guide you through your copious choices, we present the following reviews of films we were allowed to screen in advance.

For film reviews, go here.

© 2021 Orlando Weekly MeierMovies, LLC