Film fest rolls its opening credits

You try doing something nice for someone, and look what happens.

For years, regular Joes have complained that it's almost impossible for them to attend the opening-night film of the Florida Film Festival. They've charged that the limited seating at Maitland's Enzian Theater and the precedence given to patrons have made the event more of an insider conclave than a public observance.

That's why The Anniversary Party, which kicked off the 10th annual festival on June 8, was screened at the larger Annie Russell Theatre on the Rollins College campus. The result? Numerous empty seats that kept the desired atmosphere of mutual celebration at arm's length. So much for egalitarianism. Woe betide the joker who tells me that he went to see the Backstreet Boys instead.

Happily, the strong audience reaction to "The Anniversary Party" compensated for the less-than-spectacular numbers (and for the flaws of a sound system that was still being tweaked). The film's seriocomic portrayal of California-living inspired hearty laughter that was all the richer when it was unintended. Faced with a Left Coast view of life's little traumas, the festivalgoers largely recognized that "The Anniversary Party's" cast of angst-ridden actors and filmmakers was a crew to laugh at, not with. (When even a Winter Park crowd thinks you're decadent, it's time to re-evaluate some priorities.)

The opening-night party that followed at Enzian was typically swell, and marked the first sighting of guest Joe Pantoliano. Dressed in pink slacks and a matching tie that were pure Baskin-Robbins chic, the actor held court in a corner of the theater, where he accepted compliments, told stories and showed off his toenails (painted silver for a current role), all between puffs on a good stogie. Remember when the Enzian went nonsmoking? Ah, those halcyon days.

Pantoliano was more conservatively attired for last Sunday's "Brunch With Joe," which included a screening of the lesbo-a-go-go crime caper "Bound." The ensuing Q&A had the humor and honesty of a great festival visit. On his 40 films: "I think I've been in about five or six of them that have been pretty good." And why did he choose "Bound" as his festival showcase over the instant classic Memento? "You can pay to see that."

Plenty of people paid to see Saturday"s "Midnight Shorts," always one of the festival's most popular programs. Director Jeff Perlmutter, whose nom de screen is Jeffrey Pee, ate up the public reaction to his animated short, "Mute & Motormouth in Birth of Abomination," a truly tasteless comic vignette about a crack whore, a troubled pregnancy and a messy stab at fellatio. Perlmutter and his wife got self-promotional by parading around the Enzian with yellow balloons that bore the invitation, "Blow us!"

"I couldn't be more proud," said Perlmutter's father, also in the audience.

Just as emotional was the sobbing of a packed house during Saturday afternoon's showing of the moving Chinese elegy The Road Home at Annie Russell. (The sound problems were receding, but thank God for subtitles anyway.) That plank-to-the-forehead barely recovered from, it was over to Bush Auditorium for the affecting transsexual memoir Southern Comfort, which got the tear ducts flowing all over again. Though each year's festival is replete with guests, parties and other grabs for attention, it's still the films that pack the biggest wallop. Of the eight weekend screenings I saw, each landed its own particular blow, so to speak. Where's my balloon?

Keep it reel

For continuing updates from the Florida Film Festival, log on to The Rushes (by me). And if it's real-world interaction you crave, show up Saturday morning, June 16, at Enzian, where a panel of Florida film reviewers (including me) will discuss the touchy relationship between writer and reader. The idea is for us to explain what we do and how we do it, but I won't mind if you instead treat it as your last chance to call for a critical reappraisal of Bring It On.

The 'Fire still burns

Theater buffs will welcome the revival of the SoulFire Traveling Medicine Show, the company formed by local stage veterans John DiDonna and Rus Blackwell. SoulFire debuted strongly with Faith Healer last January at Zoë & Company, but missed this year's Orlando International Fringe Festival due to a personal emergency. The company's second coming finds it in new digs: the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's Studio B, where SoulFire will perform two plays before returning to Zoë next fall.

June 21 marks the opening in Studio B of "Killing Time," a two-character murder mystery by Britain's Richard Stockwell; the second half of SoulFire's "killer summer season" arrives Aug. 21 with "Killer Joe," Chicago playwright Tracy Letts' dark comedy about the sex, violence and conniving within a white-trash family. Reportedly, Letts penned the piece after reading a newspaper article about a real-life clan who lived in Florida.

Thanks, shy-town. And how's your voter fraud coming along these days?

Sprocket ride

Is there enough filmmaking going on in Central Florida to warrant an entire radio program about the subject? Jerry Eisinger and Mark Ferrera think so. They're about to become the hosts of "The Film Guyz," a weekly chat-in that begins airing at noon Thursday, June 14, on WORL-AM (660).

Two to three guests per week will discuss various aspects of the movie biz in an hour that's meant to assert the viability of local production, Eisinger says.

As cinema commentators, the pair bring artistic and business experience to the table. Ferrera has performed numerous roles in independent films, and Eisinger is giving the radio program momentary precedence over the production of his feature script, "Hope 63" `The Green Room, April 5`. Yet he stresses that "The Film Guyz" isn't merely a bulletin board for his own fund-raising campaign. After all, no one would willingly listen to one hour of begging every week. (Other than Anna Nicole Smith, I mean.)

Johnny, we hardly knew ye

Sincere condolences to the friends and family of University of Central Florida film professor Jonathan Mednick, who died of a brain aneurysm June 7, at the age of 43. In the short time I knew him, Jonathan's kindness and courtesy impressed me greatly. I can only imagine the sadness felt by those who had the privilege of knowing him better.


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