A slight break in Florida power

What's the worst enemy of the Florida filmmaker? Is it a shortage of funds? A lack of ambition? A dearth of talent?

Nah ... it's just lousy wiring.

Electrical nightmares bedeviled last weekend's Brouhaha Film & Video Showcase, bringing the ninth annual festival of independent statewide productions to a screeching halt minutes after it began. The Saturday-afternoon audience had just viewed the charming "Psycho Lego" -- a three-minute spoof of Hitchcock's shower scene, as performed by computer-animated toys -- when the projector went dead inside Maitland's Enzian Theater. A faulty transformer had called it quits, plunging the building into darkness.

"This is just such a ploy to get beer sales up," one audience member cracked.

Disaster couldn't have struck at a worse time. This year's Brouhaha boasted a strong slate of entries, including some customarily artful endeavors from Florida State University and a handful of promising homegrown efforts.

It all looked good on paper as we peered at our festival programs, which were illuminated by the key-chain flashlights the theater proffered as a palliative. Forget those Blair Witch Project "stick-man" pins everyone was wearing a few months ago; these trinkets were the promotional mementos of the year.

The power was restored two hours later, and we were able to sample the afternoon's highlights, including "Five Miles From Heaven," a drama about squabbling toll collectors that was the film debut of Orlando director Patrick Fatica and writer Andrew Gurjian.

And then the juice cut out again, bringing the day to an early close. Whatever lick-and-a-promise miracles the electrician had performed were only temporary. The three remaining, unseen films were shifted to Sunday's schedule.

Flow and Eddie

The air of disappointment carried over into the subsequent filmmakers' party at the nearby Copper Rocket Pub. Stacee De Palo and Frank Longo, both recent graduates of FSU, drowned their sorrows at the bar, disheartened that they would miss the rescheduled showing of their thesis film, "Fighting Eddie." (They were headed home to Miami the following morning.) As De Palo filled me in on the duo's plans to move to Los Angeles next May, Longo stuffed change into the pub's jukebox, exorcising his frustrations with headbanging metal.

They would no doubt have felt vindicated by Sunday's glitch-free proceedings: "Fighting Eddie" absolutely killed the crowd, with sustained, dialogue-drowning laughter greeting its expertly tuned comic portrait of feuding rednecks. Whatever fate awaits De Palo and Longo in the City of Angels, I'll bet that waiting on tables is not a part of it.

An increased prevalence of Orlando-bred works ensured that the two-day program amounted to a fun, running game of Spot the Celeb. Yes, that was Peg O'Keef, the former executive director of the Florida Film Festival, playing a gypsy queen in "Lou's Lousy Day," the first short film from Discount Comedy Outlet. Elsewhere, Richard "Thunder" DeMarco riffed on his day job as executive director of Artisans Guild of Orlando by impersonating a gallery patron in "Shades of Passion," an incest tale written, produced and directed by University of Central Florida student Barbi Veitch.

The most surprising performance was Cold Cut Trio frontman Jef Speciel's portrayal of a pontificating motorist in "Five Miles From Heaven." The first-time actor was so convincing reciting Gurjian's poetic monologues that he would easily have won a Dwight Yoakam Crossover Award had the Enzian offered one.

Higher voltage

All told, this year's films were more consistent in quality than has previously been the case. Haxan Films' success has clearly been a shot in the arm, inspiring emerging talents to mount ambitious projects and existing players to raise their sights a bit.

Alternating-current screwups notwithstanding, the atmosphere at Brouhaha was infinitely more professional this time out. In 1998, directors and their friends filed out after their own films unspooled, showing blithe disinterest in their contemporaries' work. Last weekend, almost everyone stayed the course -- except for a few viewers who left just before Sunday's climactic screening of "Angel 25," a documentary in which director Patricia Rodriguez went on a quest to rediscover her Cuban roots. They missed their chance to hear Rodriguez's relatives complaining about -- wait for it -- the island's frequent power outages.

More typical were Mike Goodge and Sam Gaffin, whose sci-fi trailer, "Buster Kane, Defender of the Universe," was shown on Sunday. Though their puppet-filled short accounted for less than three minutes of Brouhaha's total running time, they were present and accounted for at every other screening, not leaving the premises during Saturday's blackout.

The all-for-one attitude was so exemplary that I would gladly take the entire bunch on a camping trip into the forests of Maryland. So what if it's been done? We already have the flashlights.

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