YEAR ONE 


;How many movies do you; need for a film series to become a film festival? Thirty? Twenty? Ten?

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;Would you believe six? Yes, there are exactly a half-dozen feature films in the first edition of the Orlando Film Festival, a three-day event that kicks off Oct. 19. No, that doesn't sound like very many compared to Enzian Theater's Florida Film Festival, which lasts 10 days and presents some 50 or so feature films each year. But then again, the FFF is heading into its 16th year.

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;"There was a lot of uncertainly as to where, exactly, we were going to be showing films," says festival co-founder Kurt Bauerle. "And we wanted to make sure that we bit off the exact amount that we could chew."

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;Bauerle had hoped to have more movies to chew on, and to be able to show them in the multiplex that's being constructed in the PremiereTrade Plaza. But that's not ready, so the number of feature films is smaller than expected, and those films will be shown at other downtown venues instead. And that's another thing: While the FFF is based at Enzian Theater in Maitland, the OFF will proudly be a downtown-Orlando event.

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;"There's this sweeping renaissance going on downtown," says Bauerle. "We wanted to do our part to make sure that the arts keep up with the development, and there's nothing, in our view, that has a broader appeal than film."

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;Like the FFF, the OFF will be focusing, at least in its inaugural year, on American indies, as well as showing student films and shorts. So just how good are those six feature films that will make up the heart of the first year of the Orlando Film Festival?

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; SCHEDULE;

Cocktail Reception

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with screening of Off the Black

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6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Arts Factory; $100

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Off the Black

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1 p.m. Saturday

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at City Arts Factory

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The War Tapes

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7 p.m. Friday

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at City Arts Factory

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5 p.m. Saturday

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at City Arts Factory

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Tideland

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7:30 p.m. Friday

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at the Downtown Auditorium

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Candy

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9: 30 p.m. Friday

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at City Arts Factory

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3 p.m. Saturday

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at City Arts Factory

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The Cassidy Kids

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9:45 p.m. Friday

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at the Downtown Auditorium

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An Evening of Food and Film

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10 p.m. Friday at Kres Chophouse & Lounge; free, reservations required

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Family Friendly Shorts

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10 a.m. Saturday

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at Winnie Palmer Hospital; free

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Short Film Showcase

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with encore presentation of LOL

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7:30 p.m. Saturday at City Arts Factory

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free

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Venues:

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City Arts Factory (29 S. Orange Ave.)

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The Downtown Auditorium

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(36 W. Pine St.)

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Kres Chophouse & Lounge

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(17 W. Church St.)

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Winnie Palmer Hospital

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(83 W. Miller St.)

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All screenings are $5 unless otherwise noted; reservations for “An Evening of Food and Film” should be made through Kres at (407) 447-7950.

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For more information, visit www.orlandofilmfest.com

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;Off the Black

;;With his growl of a voice, studied slouch and knowing eyes, Nick Nolte has acquired an undeniable knack for playing aging losers. And that's exactly what writer-director James Ponsoldt calls upon him to do in Off the Black, a life-affirming (i.e., overly sentimental) story about, I suppose, redemption. Nolte is Ray Cook, a dissolute umpire who makes a controversial call and promptly finds his house toilet-papered by pissed-off high-school kids. Ray manages to catch one of them, a basketball player named Dave (Trevor Morgan of Mean Creek). Soon enough, they come to terms: If Dave will accompany Ray to his 40th high-school reunion and pretend to be his son, Ray will let the boy off the hook. Timothy Hutton appears as Dave's father, a remote presence in the boy's life since the family was abandoned by Dave's mother. Like Hutton's character, the film overall is rather mopey. It would be a lot harder to watch without Nolte, whose gruff (but not too gruff) manner tends to keep the film from sinking into a pool of self-pity. "I'm not happy," says Nolte's character, "but I wear it well." You've got to give him that.

;;The War Tapes

;;Filmmaker Deborah Scranton was given the chance to be embedded with the members of the New Hampshire National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. Instead, she chose to have several guardsmen equipped with lightweight video cameras so that they could record their own experiences of the war. The result is this revealing and affecting documentary, easily the best film in the festival. Scranton put The War Tapes together from what the troops themselves had recorded, along with footage she gathered at the home front. The scenes in Iraq bring you close to the action as no other movie quite has. It's not just the constant threat of violence that gets to you, it's also the mood of the troops, which seems so ambivalent with regard to their mission as to sometimes border on the absurd. Asked about the politics of the war, for example, a squad leader adopts a sober tone as he speculates that recent developments in the region may inspire a new era of freedom and democracy. A moment later, his tone shifts just slightly as he adds, "Then, after that happens, maybe we can buy everyone in the world a puppy."

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;Candy

;;This Candy isn't sweet, but it's far from flavorless. Newcomer Abbie Cornish stars in the title role, a beautiful art student who takes up with Dan, a troubled poet played by Heath Ledger. Both are heroin addicts, which complicates their relationship, among other things. The couple rely on theft, prostitution and chronic mooching to get by. Like many movies about substance abuse, this one has a not surprising downward arc, but there are some intriguing moments along the way. Ledger shines in a sequence in which his character works a complicated credit-card scam. (You may wonder if someone like Dan could possibly be enough of an actor to pull it off, but it's obvious that Ledger is.) As a chemist, and a sort of father figure, Geoffrey Rush adds some flaky grace notes. Ledger and Cornish convince you that their characters are in love — and also in thrall to their drug of choice.

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;Tideland

;;Terry Gilliam is a genius. Sometimes. For every Brazil, there's at least one Brothers Grimm. His latest, Tideland, falls squarely into the latter category. Based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, it's the story of life beyond boundaries. Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly appear as Noah and Queen Gunhilda, a pair of addicts, but neither sticks around very long. The focus is on their 10-year-old daughter, Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who finds herself stranded in the home of her dead grandmother. It's a through-the-looking-glass world presided over by Dell (Janet McTeer), a loon from Noah's past, and Dell's mentally challenged brother, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher). Much of the film concerns a truly sick romantic relationship — complete with kissing, by the way — between Dickens and little Jeliza-Rose. There's also the matter of Noah's corpse, which remains on the scene for some time. Like much of Gilliam's work, good and bad, Tideland is grotesque and disturbing. Too bad it isn't more than that.

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;The Cassidy Kids

;;Remember The Cassidy Kids Mysteries, that popular Saturday-morning TV series loosely based on the adventures of a group of five kid detectives? No? Well, there wasn't any such show. But this movie asks us to believe that there was and that now, 25 years later, the "real" kids who inspired it are reuniting, as grownups, to share their memories for the DVD box set of the series. Director Jacob Vaughan and his screenwriters have concocted an intermittently amusing film that scores satirical points off the differences between the "real" Cassidy kids and Cassidy kids of the program. (The show's producers, for example, decided the series would have more appeal if one of the kids were Chinese.) As the plot thickens, it becomes a darker tale of secrets and lies that neither the show's fans nor the Cassidy kids ("real" or fake) had ever suspected. Unfortunately, the acting is spotty, and the production values are far from impressive.

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;LOL

;;The good thing about LOL — pretty much the only good thing, by the way — is that it captures with remarkable authenticity the listless, inarticulate, technology-obsessed spirit of America's current crop of 20-somethings. Actually, "technology-obsessed" isn't quite the right term because, as the film clearly demonstrates, these people use electronic devices like laptops and cell phones the way earlier generations could use forks and knives without fear of being called cutlery-obsessed. It's just natural for the characters in this film to be more focused on technology than on the other people in their lives. And to the extent the film has a satirical point, that's it. The problem is that producer/director/editor/co-writer/cinematographer/star Joe Swanberg doesn't seem to realize that a movie about tedium and the sort of inexpressiveness that leads a person to use "like" after every third word can't get by simply by being tedious and inexpressive. Swanberg also seems not to understand that a film about people who are overeager to embrace technology ought to do something to suggest that the film itself recognizes, like, other values.

film@orlandoweekly.com

More by J.B. Mitchell

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