FFF 2004 Diary – Days One and Two, Part 1

For what is I believe the 10th year running, I am attending and covering the Florida Film Festival for a variety of publications. This year I am primarily doing reviews for OrlandoCityBeat.com and FilmThreat.com, though I may also be contributing to other publications. As always, I maintain that the FFF is in the first rank of great film festivals of the southeast US and one of the best indie showcases in the whole of the country.

As I did last year on my other blog, Anarchy in the AM, I’ll provide a quick rundown of the films I saw this year in not-quite-real-time (usually about 48 hours after the fact). This year I was again able to get a huge jump on the 135 films being shown at the festival by attending press screenings as well as the festival proper. As of Monday, I had seen a total of 46 films (of various lengths), and thus I’m well on my way to topping my record last year of 70 films seen in just over three weeks.

The festival kicked off Friday night with a fete for actor-director Campbell Scott and his new film Off The Map. I’d seen Scott two years ago with a likable production of Hamlet and felt then as I do now that he’s even better behind the camera than he is in front of it. The party afterwards was a smash, with good food and a chocolate fountain one could dip things in — and free wine(!). Having already gone to many films in the days leading up to it, Friday is kind of a big blur (made more so, no doubt, by the free wine), so let’s move on to Saturday.

Saturday was a good Portrait of a Typical Festival Day in the Life of a Film Critic. I arrived at the Enzian around noon (having already screened another non-festival movie earlier that morning) and left at 2am the following morning. The first program was the surprisingly-strong Family Shorts, nine short films and not a single dud in the entire bunch.

They started off playing it safe with Creature Comforts: Cats or Dogs?, an animated interview with the creatures of the title pontificating about which is better. This comes from Aardman Studios, they of Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and the Angry Kid series, so of course the working-class accents of east-end London and points north make for extra hilarity (along with the occasional moment of difficult-to-understand dialect).

Seven’s Eleven was nothing more than a kid version of Ocean’s 11, with a group of kids plotting an elaborate scheme to relieve a local convenience store of its excess candy. This romp, though cheap and shot on garish video, was a hundred times better than the commercial stinker Catch That Kid, which is similar in premise.

Tim Tom was the first of two stunning pieces of animation that blew the audience away. A cunning and incredibly stylish mix of computer animation and live action, the soundtrack (by Django Rheinhart!) blended perfectly with the piece in a polished, B&W homage to the Merrie Melodies style of slapstick.

Jumping back to traditional animation but with a delicious twist on the “women behind bars” genre was Penguins Behind Bars. Fish jokes abound, and the plot is played perfectly straight, but by making the characters all penguins, you get high comedy.

I almost cried during I Want A Dog, a small animated musical about a girl who keeps fighting for her right to have a pet in increasingly imaginative ways. Beautifully done, sensitively realised and touching.

Showa Shinzan tries to slap a delicate feel on computer animation, using Renderman software that is highly reminiscent of early Pixar shorts to tell an interesting tale of the birth of a mountain and the growing up of a little girl. The deliberately slow pacing is probably too slow for the youthful audience it’s aimed at, but it’s an excellent effort.

Trust the Scots to bounce things back to modern speeds with the whimsical Inside An Uncle, in which a young man discovers that adults are actually powered by … kids! Imaginative and fun.

Colorforms is a wonderful little delight starring Dora the Explorer herself, Kristin Di Pietra, as a messy little girl who meets her match. I don’t want to say more than that about it, but it’s just a perfect piece of cinematic confectionary.

The Family Shorts finale’d with Lorenzo, the first new piece of strictly-traditional Disney animation in ages and quite possibly the best piece of cartooning they’ve done in-house in the last forty years. Yes, it’s that good — a stunning tour-de-force of music, animation and whimsy that recalls everything that used to be good and magical about Disney’s unique brand of animation. Look for Lorenzo as the opener to a future Disney feature, but don’t miss it if you’d like to see what Disney (even without Pixar) is really capable of when they try hard enough.

There’s a lot more celluloid to cover on Saturday alone, so stay tuned for Part Two!