Here's mud in your lens 

There are plenty of reasons for a moviemaker to compete in the annual Florida Film Festival: Prestige. Schmoozing opportunities. Ten days of balmy climes.

Now the festival has found another way to say, "Thanks for playing." Its newest, most precious prize? Genuine Florida swamp land!

It's called the Florida Forever Filmmaker Award, and no, it's not an early April Fool's Day gag. When the festival's 10th-anniversary edition commences June 8 through 17 at Maitland's Enzian Theater, the visionary whose entry is deemed the most eco-conscious will receive a conservation easement (in his or her name) to 10 acres of land adjoining the Green Swamp. According to festival president Philip Tiedtke, the award will demonstrate "that Florida's swamp land is no longer a punch line, but a natural resource vital to us all."

If you ask me, the day that swamp land ceases to work as a punch line is the day we should all move to South Carolina. But Tiedtke may be on to something: Many of the the filmmakers I've met at past installments of the FFF have been fascinated with our local "color." One even said that his sight-seeing trip to a sinkhole was a hands-down highlight of his week in Orlando. And he didn't even get to put his name on it.

In a related story, the winner of the festival's Grand Jury Prize will now receive $100,000 in goods and services from local cinema-related firms. The list of donors includes the Universal Studios Florida Production Group, Kodak and Haxan Films. There's no word if Universal's package includes props left over from its old "Swamp Thing" TV series.

Splatter but wiser

We won't be seeing Troma Entertainment president Lloyd Kaufman this weekend after all. The seasoned gore peddler has canceled his trip to the MegaCon 2001 convention at the Orange County Convention Center and his Saturday meet-the-filmmaker session at Enzian `The Green Room, Feb. 15`. "Prior commitments" was the reason given, though an inability to secure airfare that didn't cost "an arm and a leg" was also mentioned. Fill in your favorite dismemberment joke here.

Neither is the Oscar-nominated Before Night Falls on Enzian's weekend radar. Tentative plans to open the film this Friday, March 2, have been scuttled due to the continued popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Enzian folks hope to launch "Before Night Falls" in the next two weeks, but don't hold them to it.

Bulk up, little camper

I received a phone call last week from Steve Gardiner of Torch Productions, who was checking in to refute rumors that his theater company had gone under and he had skipped town. (I had heard no such rumors, but c'est la vie.) Though Gardiner's call came in from California, he stressed that he was only there as a patient at an eating-disorder clinic, which he entered two days after his recent production of "Love, Sex & the I.R.S." closed at the Parliament House.

"I don't have a problem with coming out of the closest as a male with bulimia," Gardiner volunteered. It was his stressful experiences in the maelstrom of Orlando theater, he said, that caused him to shrink from 260 to 145 pounds last year.

The date of Gardiner's return is unclear. ("I will not be coming back fat, but I will be coming back healthy," he vowed.) But he said that his business license is still in effect, and that he'll present "Lend Me a Tenor" at an undetermined location when he does come home.

Gardiner also asked if I would spread the word that eating disorders know no gender boundaries. And now I have.

Turn for the verse

The weekly Broken Speech Poetry Slam at the University of Central Florida is hurtling toward its April 24 final bout. But before the grand-prize winner is named, a couple of special events are planned. There's a "Tag-Team Slam" April 10, in which six two-man teams will do stanza-spewing battle; better still is the March 27 "Dead Poets Slam," which already has competitors signing up to perform in character as famous writers who died at the hands of others, God or even themselves. "Broken Speech" producer/ host j. bradley says that seven personas are already taken, including Walt Whitman, Charles Bukowski, Jim Morrison and Sylvia Plath. (I'd keep a close on eye on the last two.) Students and nonstudents alike may participate; to sign up, call (407) 380-7067. And remember: Picking Jewel is just wishful thinking.

Les Liz

It looks as if the Orlando Science Center still holds some allure as a site for live drama. Though Trilemma Productions claimed to have encountered plenty of hassles when it staged "Sister Calling My Name" at the OSC's Darden Theater last autumn, Fall River Productions plans to perform two staged readings of Lizzie -- a musical drama about accused axe murderess Lizzie Borden -- at the Darden on April 14.

Written by Rich Charron and Michael Wanzie (and known until recently as "Precious Lizzie"), the show has been in development for about five years, says co-producer Kenny Howard. Its OSC unveiling is a teaser for a full-blown production. Howard credits the city of Orlando and Commissioner Ernest Page, both co-sponsors of the show, with helping to secure the Darden as a location.

Thus far, Howard says he's avoided the obstacles that dogged Trilemma, like rent increases and inconsistent access to the facility. It helps that "Lizzie" is only coming to the OSC for one matinee and one evening reading; its week of rehearsals will be held at Theatre Downtown.

Final cuts

Orlando's moviegoing deadpool claimed another victim last week when United Artists put its Florida Mall theater out of its filthy-carpeted misery -- right in the middle of the exclusive engagement of the locally shot romantic comedy Olive Juice. Undaunted, distributor Doubble Troubble Entertainment moved its film to UA's Movies at Marketplace in Orange City. "Olive Juice" will soon move on to Las Vegas, where showings begin March 9 ... Start placing bets that Sak Comedy Lab's "Foolfest" will become an annual event. Last week's debut edition was well attended and smoothly run, especially for a start-up franchise. But the real story was the emergence of Chicago sextet Mission: IMPROVable as full-fledged heartthrobs. After three visits to Orlando, the young, gifted and damnably cute improvisers have enough groupies here to rival a boy band. Rumors are flying about the fellas' stint at this year's Fringe: Will they augment their regular show with a festival-closing spoof of other Fringe programs? Will their Aaron Krebs undertake a comedic duet with a certain Sak-tress? Or will they just sit in their hotel rooms and chuck TV sets out the window?

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