Are you ready for the sequel?

Last year, the Orlando Film Festival made a modest debut with a program of a half-dozen feature-length films and a bunch of shorts. When the smoke had cleared, the event had racked up between 800 and 1,000 admissions – maybe not great but, all things considered, not so bad, either.

Year two represents a big bump. The four-day festival boasts 11 features, eight feature-length (or nearly) documentaries and, again, a whole lot of shorts. The films will be shown in downtown Orlando, at the CityArts Factory and the nearby Gallery at Avalon Island (formerly DMAC). Best of all, admission to all films is free.

That’s right: Free.

“We just really wanted people to enjoy our festival this year,” says Emma Cockrell, executive director. “We want people who might not be able to get to a movie theater to come and enjoy `the movies` in downtown Orlando.”

This year, adds Cockrell, the event’s organizers selected their films from more than 500 submissions. Directors Sidney Lumet (Serpico) and Paul Schrader (Auto Focus, Affliction) are represented on the schedule, as are such actors as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway.

Festival films with local connections include Lejos de la Isla (a documentary about the Cuban revolution), In Marjorie’s Wake (a documentary about author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) and Greetings From the Shore (a coming-of-ager featuring Orlando’s Kim Shaw), as well as a couple of shorts. And perhaps because war has become such a major factor in all our lives, three festival documentaries deal with that theme. (Besides, it takes place over Veterans Day weekend.)

Actors and filmmakers representing many festival films will be present at post-film Q&A sessions. The biggest name expected to show his famous face is Joe Pantoliano (aka Joey Pants, of The Matrix and The Sopranos), whose festival offering, Canvas, concerns a man (Pantoliano) whose wife (Marcia Gay Harden) is schizophrenic. D.B. Sweeney, who directed and stars in the road-trip comedy Two Tickets to Paradise, may also appear with that festival film, although that has yet to be confirmed.

Movies may be the festival’s focus, but its larger purpose is to support culture and commerce in downtown Orlando. In fact, the OFF’s presence in the heart of the city helps to set it apart from the far more established Florida Film Festival, which is based at Enzian Theater in Maitland.

“We just want to get people down there enjoying the downtown Orlando lifestyle,” says Cockrell. “And if they can see a great film at the same time for free, we’re happy to provide that service.”

— J.B. Mitchell

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

(10 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Sunday at CityArts Factory)

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a real estate broker with a smack addiction and a dangerously impending IRS audit. Ethan Hawke is his divorced, constantly indebted brother who can’t afford to pay for a field trip for his daughter. Hard up for cash, the men settle on a plot to knock off their parents’ small Westchester jewelry shop. It’s the kind of plot that’s guaranteed to go smoothly, with no deaths and a clean break – but, of course, it turns into a deliciously morbid disaster, leading to more death, debt and destruction than either brother thought possible. It makes the marital kidnapping in Fargo look petty, revealing disturbing areas of the human condition. Unflinchingly violent and explicitly carnal, this is Sidney Lumet’s ballsiest, most visceral film in decades; the 83-year-old craftsman directs with the hipness and energy of a 21-year-old. I’m not sure if the movie’s point-of-view-changing, chronologically shifting, Pulp Fiction-y structure adds anything to the inherently compelling story, but either way the film is loaded with operatic gravity and noirish fatalism. Albert Finney contributes a heartbreaking performance as the brothers’ father. (R)

John Thomason


(5:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at CityArts Factory)

In Canvas, Marcia Gay Harden provides her usual effortless, workman-like immersion into the character of Mary Marino, a paranoid-schizophrenic painter sent by her family to a mental hospital by the end of the first act. For the next hour-plus, you tend to forget she’s in the movie; her intermittent appearances at birthday parties and holidays serve as loud punctuation in this gentle sleeper. Joe Pantoliano is charming as John, her hardworking husband and the father of their young boy, Chris (Devon Gearhart), whose enterprising interest in sewing is the film’s most interesting facet. Canvas’ elliptical structure allows for few surprises, and the sentimental music only makes the emotionally drippy narrative even drippier. Shot in South Florida, writer/director Joseph Greco’s movie is visually pedestrian, but, like John and Chris’ quest to build a sailboat in their backyard by the end of spring, Canvas has such a scrappy, underdog affability that it’s easy to overlook its flaws. (PG-13)


The Karaoke King

(3 p.m. Thursday at CityArts Factory; followed by Q&A with filmmakers)

Leading off the Orlando Film Festival with a lighthearted step, this charming comedy by local indie filmmakers Caius Productions reimagines the cultural juggernaut of karaoke as born in an “Orlampa” bar called Lil’s, with the bar’s transvestite co-owner (a wonderfully droll performance by Ron Zarr) as its Prometheus. In the course of one night, the longtime reigning “King,” Eddie Bowman (Ken Weiler), is pushed into the dilemma of deciding between the comfort and small-time glory of his karaoke crown or his ultimatum-dishing girlfriend. Stocked liberally with a string of campy antiheroes, the modest but well-executed film revels in the kitsch of karaoke as well as the hodgepodge of the Central Florida setting (Lil’s is a karaoke bar, strip club and pool hall) without being patronizing. The possibility that Eddie’s successor could be his lifelong nemesis, a recent star of a show called American Icon, reinforces this cult flick as a knowing, winking mirror of popular culture. (NR)

Bao Le-Huu

Taxi to the Dark Side

(8 p.m. Thursday at Gallery at Avalon Island; 10 p.m. Saturday at CityArts Factory)

Brian De Palma’s controversial, forthcoming Redacted isn’t the only new film that focuses on U.S. government–sanctioned abuse under the auspices of the War on Terror. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room director Alex Gibney’s latest polemic, Taxi to the Dark Side, is a shattering exposé of the Bush administration’s endorsement of torture of suspected terrorists, from Bagram to Abu Ghraib to Gitmo. Gibney uses the story of a supposedly innocent taxicab driver who died while incarcerated in Bagram, Afghanistan, to launch into an increasingly vitriolic journey into torture methods, the elimination of habeas corpus and the many legal loopholes the administration has exploited to subvert the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. As a result, the film shows how an archaic practice like waterboarding can become a part of the contemporary political vernacular, and the movie even implicates 24 in further propagating torture. The horrifying photos from Abu Ghraib, censored by the mainstream media, are shown uncut here and resemble less a military interrogation than a scene from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s repugnant Salo. That the United States is endorsing the same kind of barbarism it’s alleging to combat is just one disturbing revelation to take away from this should-be argument for presidential – or vice-presidential – impeachment. (NR)


Two Tickets to Paradise

(8 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday at CityArts Factory)

Three middle-aged guys attempt to solve their midlife marriage/relationship crises with a therapeutic road trip. Sound familiar? Two Tickets to Paradise – a skosh better than the abhorrent Wild Hogs and a lot worse than City Slickers – is an alpha-male fantasy about three beer-swilling, wisecracking jocks (John C. McGinley’s deadbeat gambler, D.B. Sweeney’s neutered rocker and Paul Hipp’s lonely loser). Through a spastic road-movie paradigm of contrived hijinks, they learn the true meaning of friendship. The “two tickets,” won by Hipp in a company raffle, are for a championship bowl game in Miami, a destination reached only after multiple suicide attempts, friend-against-friend brawls and fart jokes. These are manly men having manly conversations about manly things, so the movie’s stop at a Hooters is par for the obnoxious man-child course. But in the end, you’ll need a handkerchief – that is, if you can get past the movie’s constant genitalia jokes and don’t mind the lazy breakdown-of-the-characters scene, in which they psychoanalyze themselves for the viewer’s benefit. If there were a Worst Cameo of the Year award, Ed Harris would win for his role as a mystically grouchy carnie. (R)


The Walker

(6 p.m. Thursday at Gallery at Avalon Island)

Like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Walker is a murder mystery with a Southern Gothic flair; at times it’s almost anachronistic. The film is rooted in contemporary politics, but the thick Southern drawls and historical settings provide an old-fashioned ambience that’s as far removed from the Beltway as can be. Woody Harrelson, in arguably the role of his lifetime, is a gay Washington “walker” (a high-class escort for society women) who becomes both suspect and detective in the case of a murdered lobbyist. Paul Schrader – who also wrote the literate screenplay, his first in eight years – mounts a handsomely directed production whose biggest asset is its local color and distinctive lingo. “He makes obsequiousness an art form,” mutters Lily Tomlin’s Abigail Delorean about her sycophantic server. It’s lines like these that make this steely, if
ultimately programmatic, film full of surprises. (R)


The full schedule of OFF movies and show times can be found in the Nov. 1 issue of Orlando Weekly and at

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