Enzian Theater hosted the inaugural Florida Film Festival in June 1992. To Hal Lipper, film critic for the Tampa Bay Times, the “upstart” fest appeared at first glance to be superfluous: “Just what Florida needs,” Lipper wrote, “another film festival.” And to be fair, with well-established annual events already taking place in Miami, Jacksonville, and Sarasota, a new festival screening films at a 250-seat art house theatre in Maitland hardly seemed worth acknowledgment. Yet, Lipper conceded this festival “is different.”

Enzian’s proximity to the production facilities at Orlando and Disney, its connections to film programs at UCF, Full Sail, and Valencia (referred to by Steven Spielberg as “one of the best film schools in the country”), and $400,000 of private funding from the Tiedtke family certainly helped the festival get off the ground.

But it was a surprisingly strong inaugural lineup that helped cement the Florida Film Festival as a destination for film lovers: Events at the 1992 fest included appearances by Oliver Stone, Drew Barrymore, Joel Schumacher, and a special screening of 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still with director Robert Wise.

Nearly 32 years later, the scale and ambition of the Florida Film Festival seems only to have grown; more than 160 films from 37 countries will be screened at this year’s festival across just ten days (April 12 – 21). For even the most vigilant and enthusiastic of cinephiles, that’s an awful lot of movies.

We’ve put together this list in an attempt to highlight some of the films we’re most excited about from this year’s lineup and to provide a roadmap for what organizers promise to be a “roadtrip for yer mind.”

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Opening Night Film

Rachel Hendrix

PHOTO VIA FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL

This year’s festival kicks off with the first new film from acclaimed director Victor Nunez in over a decade. The film stars Golden Globe winner Lori Singer as the titular Rachel, a novelist and creative writing professor at a Florida university whose grief over the sudden passing of her husband is exacerbated by the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nunez, a Florida native, was a member of the founding boards of the Independent Feature Project and the Sundance Film Institute and currently teaches writing and directing at Florida State University. Like his other Florida films, Rachel Hendrix is a profoundly empathetic portrait of loss and perseverance.

Showings:


Narrative Features Competition

An intimate portrait of a queer athlete; a body horror film about the search for a missing cat; a frantic, neon-drenched neo-western; a comedy about vestibulectomy. The thirteen distinctive films that make up this year’s Narrative Features Competition demonstrate an artistic commitment to pushing the boundaries of storytelling.

If you’re looking to dip your toes into this year’s festival, we strongly recommend starting here, if only out of convenience: All of the films in the competition are screened twice, and scheduled during evening showings.

The Way We Speak

A series of tense debates provide the frame for this methodically-paced and beautifully shot film from Ian Ebright. Actor Patrick Fabian (Better Call Saul) delivers a riveting and understated performance as a man whose obsessions and ambitions may cost him everything.

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Riley

Riley is a powerful coming-of-age film about a highly-disciplined high school senior and star athlete (played by Jake Holley) whose queer identity places him in direct conflict with his athletic pursuits. Holley and director Benjamin Howard will be in attendance for both screenings of the film.

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All I’ve Got & Then Some

Based on a true story, All I’ve Got and Then Some follows a day in the life of Rasheed, an Atlanta-born standup comedian/rideshare driver living out of his car and pursuing his dreams in Los Angeles. Directors Rasheed Stephens and Tehben Dean will be in attendance for the April 19th screening of the film at Regal Winter Park Village.

Showings:

Booger

After her dead friend’s titular cat runs away, Anna grows desperate to find him, even as her life and body are in a state of rapid decay. This debut feature from director Mary Dauterman channels David Cronenberg and early-Darren Aronofsky to create a film that is unsettling and paranoid, but also very funny and unexpectedly profound.

Showings:

Hellbent on Boogie

This heartfelt family drama about a wayward son returning home and hatching a plan to help his autistic sister achieve her dreams of becoming a professional dancer takes elements from Dirty Dancing, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Florida Project to create a uniquely sentimental and undeniably Floridian experience.

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Lady Parts

Writer Bonnie Gross and Director Nancy Boyd bring their personal experiences to this unflinching, yet hilariously relatable look at the often taboo topic of women’s health and sexuality.

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New Life

This paranoia-inducing debut from John Rosman (recognized by Filmmaker as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film), pits characters Jessica and Elsa against each other in a terrifying game of cat and mouse. Expect plenty of twists turns, and escalating tension in this exhilarating action-thriller.

Showings:

Paradise

This exciting and kinetic debut feature film from director Max Isaacson twirls like a kaleidoscope through a multitude of genres including comedy, thriller and neo-western. The result is a fun, bloody, and neon-drenched tale of revenge anchored by Tate Donovan and Sex Education’s Patricia Allison.

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Peak Season

PHOTO VIA FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL

Newly engaged twentysomethings Amy and Max leave the hustle and bustle of New York City to vacation in Wyoming in this romantic dramedy from directors Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter. The film is a bucolic look at love and the importance of connection set against the stunning backdrop of Grand Teton.

Showings:

Ramona at Midlife

Single mother Ramona finds herself at a creative and existential crossroads as she contends with middle age and the discovery that her life as a former literary celebrity is subject of a new film. The film is a fresh take on the classic story of a midlife crisis thanks to a witty screenplay from director/writer Brooke Berman.

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Florida Features

Naked Ambition: Bunny Yeager

Who is Bunny Yeager? She was the first female photographer for Playboy, popularized the bikini, invented the selfie, discovered Bettie Page, and paved the way for the American feminist movement and the sexual revolution.

With Naked Ambition, Filmmakers Kareem Tabsch and Dennis Scholl address that question by directing their lens on “the most famous photographer that you’ve never head of.”

The film features interviews with Dita Von Teese, Larry King, screenwriter Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, The L Word), and archival interviews with Hugh Hefner and Bettie Page to bring the Florida-born Yeager’s trailblazing story to life.

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Mountains

Surely there’s no film in this year’s lineup more emblematic of the spirit of the Florida Film Festival than Mountains – the debut film from University of Central Florida alumni and former Enzian employee, Monica Sorelle.

Set in Miami’s Little Haiti, the film offers a compelling cultural portrait of South Florida and the impacts of gentrification on a working-class immigrant family. Mountains has received unanimously positive reviews after premiering last year at the Toronto International and Tribeca Film Festivals, drawing comparisons to 2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco and even Sidney Poitier’s A Raisin in the Sun. Sorelle and Writer/Producer Robert Colom will be in attendance for both screenings of Mountains at this year’s festival.

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International Showcase

Sleep

This psychological nightmare about newlyweds and disturbing “nocturnal behavior” is the debut feature from South Korea’s Jason Yu – former assistant director to Bong Joon-ho (Parasite). Ironically, I wouldn’t expect to get much shut-eye after seeing this one.

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Midnight Movies

Infested

Of the entire festival lineup, you’re unlikely to see a film that sticks with you longer than
Infested – especially if spiders aren’t really your thing…This French import from director Sébastien Vanicek follows small-time hustler Kaleb who’s passion for bugs leads him into a waking nightmare and relentless, unstoppable arachnids. That’s a big, old NOPE for us.

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Spotlight Films

The Feeling That the Time For Doing Something has Passed

Nestled in the Spotlight Films block of Florida Film Festival – a category typically reserved for more “mainstream” and star-studded affairs – is this idiosyncratic comedy about a thirty-something woman navigating an exceedingly awkward BDSM relationship.

Coming off warm receptions at both Cannes and TIFF, The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed will likely be one of the festival’s most talked-about selections.

Showings:

Ezra

This charming movie about a New Jersey stand-up comic and his 11-year-old son on a cross-country road trip includes a surprisingly robust cast, including Robert De Niro, Bobby Cannavale, Whoopi Goldberg, Vera Farmiga, and Rainn Wilson. But the real star is 11-year-old William Fitzgerald, who plays the titular Ezra.

Showings:

Thelma

June Squibb (Nebraska) plays the lead in this action-packed thrill ride (yes, you read that right) about an aged woman seeking revenge against a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson. The film also stars Richard Roundtree in his final on-screen role, Parker Posey, and Clark Gregg.

Showings:

Wildcat

Four-time Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke directs this Flannery O’Connor biopic which boasts a star-studded cast including Vincent D’Onofrio, Steve Zahn, Liam Neeson, Cooper Hoffman, and his real-life daughter, Maya Hawke, as the Southern Gothic literary icon herself.

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Animated Shorts Competition

“Inner Freak” from Dereke Cuneo and Kate Monig

This year’s animated shorts competition features thirteen stylistically distinct films from some of the world’s most creative artists.
Entries include Discoteque by Masashi Yamamoto, a frenetically sketched romance between two male lovers who eat each other and dance on their flight to a giant disco ball in space and Inner Freak from Derek Cuneo and Kate Monig, a surreal portrait of a socially awkward and sexually repressed young woman who accidentally conjures the spirit of her inner freak into a drawing on her hand. This year’s entries can be seen together in one scheduled block, which will screen twice during the Festival.

Showings:


An Evening With

Appearances by up-and-coming and established film stars have long been an intrinsic part of the annual Florida Film Festival lineup. This year, the festival is hosting two marquee events with guests Natasha Lyonne and John Cleese. Cleese will be in attendance for a special screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Sunday, April 14, and Lyonne will be part of a special 25th-anniversary screening of her 1999 cult queer comedy, But I’m a Cheerleader on Friday, April 19. A special Q&A with the guests will immediately follow both events.

Tickets:


Closing Night Retro

Foxy Brown

Florida Film Festival is celebrating 50 years of Foxy Brown with a special screening of the genre-defining film during the festival’s final night. The tale of a voluptuous vigilante with a black belt in barstools, Foxy Brown inspired and empowered generations of film lovers and filmmakers, thanks to an arresting and star-making performance from Pam Grier. Be warned: with a stunning new digital restoration of the film, tickets to this screening are likely to sell out quickly.

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Mike Donohue

Strategic Partnership Director of Bungalower Media

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