The stickman cometh

The mantle of the visiting dignitary sits uneasily on Ben Rock's shoulders. A few short years ago, Rock was an aspiring filmmaker whose amateur forays were highlights of the annual Brouhaha Film & Video Showcase at Maitland's Enzian Theater. For a time, he even worked at the facility.

A move to Los Angeles and one historic bundle of twigs later, Rock finds himself feted at Enzian's 10th fall overview of Florida films. (Dates are Nov. 11 and 12.) As the "sixth Haxan," he's been intimately involved with the creation and curation of the Blair Witch legend, from designing the original film's omnipresent stickman motif to overseeing cable-TV specials based on the horror franchise. One of those, "The Burkittsville 7," is the crowning glory of this year's Brouhaha program.

"I'm terrifically flattered," Rock says. "I just hope that I'm not displacing somebody who has made this cool little film that won't be seen."

Not likely

The screening schedule makes room for 38 Sunshine State projects, including 11 submitted by the consistently amazing Florida State University film department. But it's Rock's emeritus work -- an original production that supplemented the "The Blair Witch Project's" run on the Showtime channel -- that's the most likely to lure the masses. Bolstered by an additional eight minutes of previously unseen footage, it's being touted as a world-premiere "director's cut" -- a term the self-effacing Rock hopes is at least partially facetious.

Just don't call it a knockoff. "I wonder what ["Blair Witch Project" distributor] Artisan was thinking when they hired me to do it," Rock says, "because it's so weird."

In "Burkittsville," the writer/director/producer dispenses with the mystical aspects of Blair Witchery "in the first two minutes," choosing instead to explore the more earthbound doings of Haxan's serial-killer figure, Rustin Parr. Parr's shadowy past is probed by a film archivist played by Theatre Downtown alumnus John Maynard -- like Rock, a California transplant. ("A ton of the people who worked on "Burkittsville" were Orlando people," he says.)

Though he's the only member of the Haxan cabal to relocate to the West Coast, Rock's local ties remain strong: He's currently in town to perform executive-producer duties on Gregg Hale's "In Search Of" TV series. His back-and-forth itinerary puts Rock in a unique position to comment on our community's uncertain progress toward cinematic credibility -- a goal Brouhaha is meant to facilitate.

"I'm sad to say that I don't know if Orlando really registers on anyone's radar out there," he reports. "[But] this has been a viable production center for years. The proof is going to be in the pudding -- if we can pull it off and do it to their standards."

Base ten

Plans are already forming for the 10th-anniversary installment of that other Enzian extravaganza, The Florida Film Festival. And where better to start than with its promotional trailer?

In the last two years, the task of codifying the FFF'S multifaceted calendar into a single, stylized short has fallen to twisted animator (and perennial guest speaker) Bill Plympton. But for next April's event, a different creative tack is being taken. Craig Richards -- a longtime festival volunteer who also runs the Renaissance Big Diesel Digital production house on Universal property -- plans to compile a promo short from 60-frame video clips submitted by filmmakers across the country. The only stipulation: The segments must involve the number 10 in some fashion.

"It takes a lot of people to make a film festival," Richards says, and that may be why his collaborative vision for the anniversary trailer won out over competing proposals. The project is designed to enhance the FFF's national pedigree: Alternative-film mecca will help disseminate the call for entries, and the resulting trailer will be previewed at the January 2001 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

By design, Richards has no idea what he'll receive. (Let's see -- what comes in tens? Commandments? Little Indians? Polish baseball lineups?) But the format appeals directly to his background as a former student in the Marshall McLuhan Photoelectric Arts program at the Ontario College of Art.

"It's very McLuhan-esque," he says of the undertaking. "The art is the piece." Now say it nine more times.

Booth and nail

Most nightclubs would sell their souls to Elizabeth Hurley to host shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Not so The Back Booth, the ritzy music-and-beer den that opened two months ago in East Orlando's University Shoppes plaza. Occupancy issues almost killed the venue in its cradle last week, after visiting representatives of the Orange County Fire Department learned that no official body limit was listed on the club's license.

In an Oct. 26 inspection, a capacity of 49 customers was assessed, much to the relief of bar manager Andrew Gurjian and his partners, Pat Fatica and Ryan Marshall. Had the figure been higher than 80, the installation of a second door would have been necessary. Easier said than done: Any portal cut into the club's rear wall would have led patrons directly into the bathrooms of the neighboring UC7 movie multiplex.

The trio hopes to expand The Back Booth's outdoor seating area to handle any potential overflow. But Gurjian praises the inspector's fairness in arriving at the figure of 49, which he says is comfortably higher than the club's attendance on an average night.

"If he had said [the limit] was 25 people, we wouldn't have any options at all," Gurjian says. "We would have to sell books or something."

Biting wit

The Title of the Week award goes to "Shakespeare's Dog," a theatrical spectacular to be staged Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3 and 4, at Riverside Park in New Smyrna Beach. Based on a novel of the same name by Leon Rooke, the revue uses comedy, music, acrobatics and magic to depict the Stratford of the Bard's era -- as seen through the eyes of the village dogs. The furry, flea-bitten central characters are said to speak in "doggie Elizabethan verse that rolls in the dirt and pisses on your favorite stump."

While seating is inside Riverside Park, the performance technically isn't. Members of the Caravan StageBarge, "North America's only Tall Ship Theater," will enact the shaggy spectacle on the deck of the vessel Amara Zee as bipedal patrons watch from the shore.

Why the unusual arrangement? That's easy. Because dogs love water, silly.


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