Florida Film Festival 2022

Beam yourself up to the 31st annual fest

Exclusive to MeierMovies, March 17, 2022 (with updates throughout the fest)

The 31st annual Florida Film Festival will be held April 8-17 at Maitland’s Enzian Theater and on two screens at Regal Winter Park Village.

This year’s fest marks a return to normalcy, as patrons will not be required to wear COVID masks and films will be shown at the two traditional locations for the first time since 2019. (The pandemic forced the closure of Regal in 2019 and 2020.)

The festival will screen 167 films from 37 countries, with 24 being world premieres and 121 others having another type of premiere status (U.S., East Coast or Florida). (Total submissions came from 108 nations, a festival record.)

William Shatner is the one celebrity guest. He will be in attendance for a screening of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (promoting the festival’s ecological theme) on April 15 and will participate in a Q&A session. Tickets go for $150, and, no, that’s not the time-travel, inflation-adjusted price. That’s today’s money. (Scroll to the bottom of this page for photos of the event.)

The opening-night film is Pre Fab! Directed by Todd Thompson (whom festival attendees might remember as the helmer of Woman in Motion from the 2019 fest), this world-premiere documentary profiles Colin Hanton, the original drummer of the Quarrymen, a little skiffle group from Liverpool which morphed into the biggest band in the history of music. The opening-night party will be held about a mile and a half south, outdoors at the new Winter Park Events Center.

To honor Peter Bogdanovich, who died in January, the closing-night retro film will be the screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc, from 1972, which stars Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand. It will be the only film presented in 35mm.

Tickets will be a hot commodity, as Enzian’s capacity (160) is still not back to its pre-pandemic max of 220, according to Matthew Curtis, programming director. The capacities of the two Regal houses are 190 and 130.

For more information, including the full line-up of films, parties, forums (which will be held at Winter Park Public Library) and ticket options, visit FloridaFilmFestival.com.

On a personal note, this will be my tenth time covering the fest. (Cue the confetti.) Though I’ve been attending off and on for more than 20 years, my initial journalistic foray was in 2013. (Here’s a look back at those reviews.) My coverage this year will be a bit different, as I’ll be writing exclusively for this site (with reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes). And after years of slumming it as a press member, I have splurged and purchased a Film Lover pass, which I highly recommend. So I’m prepared to sit back, relax, have a drink, cover what I want (or don’t want) and be first in line to the screenings. Regrettably, though, I seem to have little money left over to splurge for Shatner. So if I can’t make it to his special event, tell Bill hi for me and remind him to steer clear of gremlins, mystic seers and glass eyeballs.

The feature films

Below you will find an index of my capsule reviews. Click on the film’s name to read the review. Movies appear in alphabetical order, and all images are courtesy of the Florida Film Festival. Click here for a guide to star ratings and here for a color/symbol key. These movies represent just a small portion of the overall program, so to find the feature film (or block of short films) that’s right for you, peruse the festival website.

Ali & Ava (2 ¼ stars on 0-5 scale)

Avec Amour et Acharnement (With Love and Fury) (a.k.a. Both Sides of the Blade, or Fire) FL  (1 ½ stars) — not reviewed

Digger FL (2 stars)

Dual (3 ¼ stars)

The Duke (3 ¼ stars)

Hatching FL (2 ½ stars)

Jack Has a Plan (3 ½ stars)

Juniper (3 stars)

The Justice of Bunny King (4 stars)

Path of the Panther (3 ½ stars) — not reviewed

The Phantom of the Open (3 ½ stars)

Pre Fab! (3 ½ stars) — not reviewed

Resurrection (3 ½ stars) — not reviewed

River (4 ¼ stars) — Beautiful and profound, director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary, which is the sequel to her 2017 Mountain, is probably the closest thing to a spiritual experience you will have at this year’s festival. (And it demonstrates yet again that the Enzian Theater needs a 4K projector.)

Stay Prayed Up (1 ¼ stars)

The Territory FL (4 stars)

Tigre Gente FL (3 ¾ stars)

What’s Up, Doc? (3 ½  stars)

 

The short films

A Cartoon of a Cat Sleeping

A Cartoon of a Cat Sleeping (3 stars) — This simple but delightfully funny film by Randall Christopher preceded Fab Four! on opening night. Featuring the same characters (Kleeman and Mike) as his 2013 short, Backyard Jam, this seven-minute movie isn’t as weighty as Christopher’s Oscar-qualifying The Driver Is Red, from 2018, but it’s infused with slapstick energy and joyfully unpretentious silliness.

Shorts Program #1 (“Keep On Moving”) and Shorts Program #2 (“Come See About Me”): Though both programs have stand-out films — Skim from program #1 and In the Water (both 3 stars) from program #2 — I can’t recommend the entire blocks, as the overall quality isn’t on par with past years, especially considering programs #1 and #2 have often been the festival’s “prestige” collections for domestic narrative shorts.

Skim

Honorable mentions go to Dear Mama and A Significant Problem from program #1 and Hysterical and Hold Up from program #2. Dishonorable mentions go to the lighting in several of the shorts (or maybe it was a projection and/or file rendering issue), which was sometimes so dark that it was difficult to see anything at all.

I was also struck by how many “boxes” the shorts programs (and some of the features) have attempted to “check” in terms of inclusion and diversity. Presenting a variety of topics and styles and cultures, in addition to including the works of a diverse group of filmmakers, is a noble thing and has been since the dawn of cinema — one could argue that Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in 1895 was a social film — but not if one sacrifices quality or adopts quotas. To be clear, I’m not claiming that’s what the festival has done. Programmers must engage in the exhaustive and often thankless task of filling a program, and these films might represent the best of the submissions in a world in which moviemakers are increasingly focusing on political and social issues. But as for me, I like my movie meals made of quality, with a side order of social justice, and not the other way around.

Shorts Program #5 (Animated Shorts: “Tell Me Is It True”), as a whole, is also not as impactful, either emotionally or aesthetically, as I had hoped. Be it story, voiceover, pacing, tone or the actual craft of animation (which is skewed toward sketchy, primitive hand-drawn, or a style that resembled that), the block left me more disappointed than inspired. Still, as with any Florida Film Festival program, there are gems, and the stand-outs in this block are the mesmerizing and experimental Fulcrum (4 stars), by Timothy David Orme, and the blissfully odd Oldboy’s Apples (4 stars), by Brad Hock, featuring stop-motion creatures that are just begging to be touched, despite their creepiness. An honorable mention goes to Conner Griffith’s Still Life (3 stars), which will etch itself on your brain.

How Do You Measure a Year?

Over the last several years, the 4X Real Program has contained multiple films that went on to receive Oscar nominations. Let’s hope that holds true for the 2022 program, as Jay Rosenblatt’s How Do You Measure a Year? (5 stars) might be worthy of not just a nom but the top prize, which would be sweet redemption considering Rosenblatt was robbed of the Oscar last month when his When We Were Bullies documentary lost to The Queen of Basketball. (His doc, along with Lead Me Home, were far better.)

How Do You Measure a Year?, following in the grand tradition of the greatest doc series of all time, the Up films, chronicles the life of Rosenblatt’s daughter over 17 years. It sounds simple (if time-consuming), but in Rosenblatt’s hands, the doc slowly morphs into a profound study of humanity from ages 2 to 18. And who says time travel isn’t possible?

Chucky enjoyed attending Midnight Shorts.

The other three films in the 4X Real program (Neurodivergent, Seasons and Time & Temperature) should also be commended (3 stars), but Measure is the standard by which all other doc shorts at this year’s festival should be, well, measured.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Midnight Shorts, which I’m proud to say I survived. This odd assortment of on-the-fringe films are essentially critic-proof, so I will refrain from passing judgment except to single out the Taiwanese horror film Part Forever (3 stars), directed by Alan Chung-An, which rose above the gross-out comedy and gratuitous violence of many of the other shorts to reach genuine nightmare status.

(This article contains a discussion of only a small amount of the festival’s short films. For all my ratings, go to my Movie Lists page.)

 

Projection

The Enzian uses a 2K lamp projector for almost all its projection, switching to its 35mm platter projector for film prints. (Only the Closing Night Retro movie, What’s Up, Doc?, will be shown on that.) Though Regal Winter Park Village does have several of the superior 4K projectors, the cinema will be using 2K  projectors in the two festival auditoriums. However, those 2K projectors are laser projectors (with 24,000 lumens, according to Regal management), which sometimes produce brighter images with better color contrast than lamp projectors. (I was unable to confirm the Enzian projector’s lumens.)

Some attendees of the advance festival screenings (for press and passholders) voiced concerns that a few films looked very dark on the Enzian screen. Clearly a few of the films were shot darkly, but that might not fully explain the darkness. Deanna Tiedtke, Enzian’s director of public relations, told me the Enzian performed a pre-festival servicing of the projector and changed the bulb on April 4, which means the films should look brighter than during the advance screenings.

“Rest assured,” Tiedtke said, “we are continuing to look after our beloved projector.”

That’s good news because, for overall atmosphere, Enzian is one of the coolest cinemas in the nation. Nevertheless, films that are shot darkly (especially Digger and Ali & Ava) might look a bit better at Regal, especially considering that Enzian has more ambient light than most theaters. (It’s a restaurant too, so house lights are kept on their dimmest setting during the movies to assure server and patron safety.)

 

An Evening with William Shatner

The festival held a screening of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at the Enzian on April 15. William Shatner introduced the film and reemerged upon the movie’s conclusion for what amounted to a one-man show, sans a moderator (whom Shatner rejected at the last minute), plus a few haphazardly selected questions from the audience. Shatner answered some of the questions but mostly used the queries as chances to launch into more monologues about everything from Skittles in space, to elephants and termites, to the meaning of the universe. It was full-force Shatner.

 

 

 

 

 

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