Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Returns with 150 Movies

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Hard to believe, but the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival began back in 1987.  Now, 32 years later, the 2019 edition will run a little over two weeks, from November 1 to 17. FLiFF is known for its over-the-top parties accompanying their screenings. The first week alone has a pool party/screening of the Elvis Presley “classic” Girl Crazy which was filmed on location in Fort Lauderdale.

Themed parties aside, some movies in the festival’s lineup  stand out. What follows is a closer look at the more interesting titles screening at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival:

Safe Spaces

Another affluent white people talking in New York City movie. They’re a dime a dozen, and festivals love ‘em. The rest of the world? Not so much. I’m fine with them. Most important is what’s built on top of the familiar foundation. This one has the plus of a good cast. The likable Justin Long stars and Fran Drescher is featured in a supporting role. Yes, The Nanny is in this one, in a rare dramatic turn. I’d check it out just to see her sans the over-the-top makeup, hair, and personality we’re so used to. The story has Long, an adjunct professor, experiencing a confrontation in his classroom that puts his job in jeopardy. With that stress pending, he spends time reconnecting with his family and his grandmother who is in the hospital. This one’s supposed to have quite a bit of humor to ease tension and a ton of awkwardness. Hopefully, it actually has something intelligent to say on top of the jokes.

From the Vine

Joe Pantoliano, character actor extraordinaire best known for his role in The Sopranos, stars in this one, the closing night film of the fest. Much like the previously mentioned movie, Pantoliano’s character faces a life crisis and goes home to reconnect with his estranged family. The twist here is that his hometown and family are in Italy. Once there, he attempts to revive his father’s vineyard and reshape the dying town’s economy in the process. It’s always nice to see Pantoliano in a starring role, and this could be a sweet, light, crowd-pleaser with some nice location work.

Balloon

It probably won’t mean much to anybody outside of Germany, but Balloon is directed by Michael “Bully” Herbig. In Deutschland, though, where I spent a chunk of my formative years, he’s a well-known comedian who fronted a popular Saturday Night Live-esque sketch comedy show, the Bully Parade. Back in 2001, he made his directorial debut with a lowbrow comedy western, Manitou’s Shoe, that tore up its homeland’s box office and is still the highest grossing German film of all time. It was a silly movie, but it had surprisingly good production values and a sense of style.

I’m curious, therefore, about Balloon, his latest film, which sees the director stretching his ambitions and making a fact-based drama about two families trying to escape East Germany in the early 80s with a self-made hot air balloon. The trailers suggests a straightforward docudrama, but with the Stasi (East German secret police) closing in on the families after their failed escape attempt leaves a trail of breadcrumbs behind, this one has a fair shot at reasonable suspense. Between that, the fascinating time-period, and Herbig’s turn behind the camera, this Balloon might be worth catching.

White Snake

Sorry David Coverdale fans, this is not the long awaited documentary about the 80s hair metal band that gave us “Here I Go Again.” No, this one’s a CG animated film from China. It comes from Light Chaser Animation, which is being touted as “…one of China’s premiere animation studios” by the film’s website. I’ve found no proof of this. At least, they haven’t done anything we’d easily recognize. A claim to fame is an animated movie by them about cats called…well, Cats. That one looks suspiciously like The Secret Life of Pets right down to the same font style for its title. So why am I including this one here? Because it’s an animated film, I have a soft spot for animation, and mainstream film festivals don’t feature too many animated movies.

And the animation does look reasonably glitzy, what with dragons and other fantasy elements flitting across the colorful screen. It’s a story of star crossed lovers, one a woman with amnesia who’s unaware that she’s a snake spirit, the other a snake hunter (natch); the couple embarks go on an epic journey to unravel the woman’s mysterious past. The story’s based on a popular Chinese legend, but when selling these movies to westerners, they’re always touted as based on a super popular this or that. To our Chinese readers, is any of this true? With its rights scooped up by GKIDS, the fastidious distribution company that has built quite the library of great animated movies (the American rights to Studio Ghibli’s amazing films belongs to them), this one might be a pleasant surprise.

There’s plenty more films screening at the festival outside of the above highlights, and there’s all of those aforementioned parties (did I mention there will also be a toga party after a special screening of Animal House?). Click here to see the entire catalog.

 

Pavel Klein

Pavel Klein is a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle and author of the film-centric blog WritePavelWrite.com