Hospitality night 

What's that old saw about being careful what you wish for? The organizers of the Florida Film Festival have long hoped that Gov. Jeb Bush would grace their noble undertaking with his presence, and they got the next best thing this year, when First Lady Columba Bush agreed to help inaugurate their 11th annual showcase of indie-cinema excellence. Mrs. Bush's appearance last Friday at Maitland's Enzian Theater was intended to help celebrate the opening-night film, "Sunshine State," and to publicize the creation of the Zora Neale Hurston Institute for Documentary Studies, a University of Central Florida initiative that will uphold the African-American heritage via film, digital media and TV.

There was only one hitch: With the Hurston press conference wrapped and show time mere minutes away, Mrs. Bush still hadn't arrived at the theater. A progress report was proffered by the Enzian's staff. "She's at Fairbanks now," we were told. As in Inn? No, as in Avenue.

The lure of metal night at the FBI somehow resisted, the diminutive dignitary arrived just as the hourglass was running out. Her people issued an edict that she would make a brief statement to the assembled press (I counted three of us), but would answer no questions.

"I love movies, so this is a great occasion for me," was about all Mrs. Bush could get out before a TV reporter flouted the gag rule by lobbing an inflammatory, way-off-topic question about the governor's housing policies. Everyone else's jaw went slack.

"I'm not a politician. I'm just here to enjoy the film festival," the spouse-in-chief parried. An alien sensation coursed through my body, and I knew I was feeling sympathy for a member of the Bush family. Or maybe I was just annoyed that someone else had stolen my thunder: I had toyed with the idea of asking the notoriously customs-skirting first lady if she had anything to declare. Ah, what might have been.

Walking on "Sunshine"

The worst over, politicos and peons alike settled in for "Sunshine State," which was well-received despite its butt-bruising 141-minute length. An afterparty on the Enzian grounds rolled out the proverbial red carpet to even more luminaries. Local gender-bender Miss Sammy drew admiring gazes by wearing a dress made out of real celluloid -- footage from a Steven Seagal film, to be precise. Not only did the outfit set flashbulbs popping, but I'll bet it inaugurated a new movie-industry catchphrase. Years from now, up-and-coming directors will be heard to swear, "I'm going to get my film into a festival if I have to get a drag queen to wear it there!"

Forced perspective

The pleas for attention were even more overt at the following evening's "Midnight Shorts" program, wherein filmmaker T. Arthur Cottam promoted his 6-minute comedy, "Beer Goggles," by tossing packages of beer nuts indiscriminately into the crowd. (Weeks earlier, Cottam had courted the press with PR mailers that included crushed cans of Keystone Light. I can't wait until he makes a film about quality footwear; I need the shoes.) Meanwhile, animator John Goras handed out pieces of original artwork to drum up interest in his own short, "Chirpy," which depicts a horse having carnal knowledge of a small bird for a seeming eternity.

During a Q&A with the stunned audience, Goras revealed that the cartoon skin flick was not his (shall we say) virgin project, but rather the follow-up to his first film -- "which I don't really show anymore," he demurred.

What on Earth could embarrass a man who spends his time producing 9,000 individual drawings of a Tweety Bird stand-in getting it on with Seattle Slew? Pressed for an answer the next day, Goras said that the pic in question was "Undying Countess," a 5-minute short about a drunken vampire hunter. The film was riddled with problems, he admitted, and he had once thought of revising it before ultimately deciding that "enough is enough."

He appeared to have no idea why I was laughing.

We've created a "Monstar"

The winner of the self-image sweepstakes, though, has to be UCF student Glenn Sterling Abbott, whose sci-fi musical, "Monstar," closed Sunday's three-hour program of student films from seven Florida educational institutions. The film went over big, just as it had last May, when it was shown at Enzian as part of a showcase of UCF senior thesis films. Perhaps emboldened by the latter success, Abbott advertised last Sunday's festival screening by circulating a press release in which he kvetched that the film had only been awarded a grade of "B" by the school's short-sighted faculty. While other junior directors busy themselves with folderol like r?eacute;sum?eacute;s and loan repayments, Abbott has hit on the grand truth that getting to act like a sore winner is the deepest pleasure his chosen career will provide. Move over, James Cameron.

More sour grapes, inside news and irresponsible speculation await you at, where the daily doings at the Florida Film Festival are gone over in minute, even lurid detail. To paraphrase a certain first lady, I'm not a politician. I'm just here to enjoy the bad behavior.

Final four

Spoken-word poets Rubin Drew, Amy Steinberg, Dujuana Neville and Jibreel have been named to represent Orlando in the National Poetry Slam, to be held Aug. 13 through 17 in Minneapolis, Minn. The four members of Team Orlando were selected via the May 30 Broken Speech Grand Slam at Guinevere's Coffee House, a contest between the victors of three previous semifinals. (Aesthetic air-raid siren Sandra Monday, who was among the first poets to secure a place in the Grand Slam, had to drop out due to illness.)

In tangentially related news, the heretofore unknown Jacob Alzamora won the June 1 Drunken Spelling Bee at the Back Booth, ending a neck-and-neck battle with "The Drew Garabo Show's" Melanie by correctly spelling the word "sarcophagus." Alzamora celebrated his victory with the requisite humility and decorum: He paraded up Orange Avenue, waving his trophy in front of suitably impressed blondes while accosting friends and strangers with the jubilant announcement, "I just got wasted and won a spelling bee!"

Alzamora is a University of Florida student who is currently at home on summer break. At press time, competitors from Florida State University were still trying to find the Back Booth.

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