Pui Chan, the documentary, won Best Documentary and Audience Favorite

Ron Howard and his Oscar nominated daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, were at the Central Florida Film Festival (CENFLO) over Labor Day Weekend. OK, so maybe they weren’t physically there, but the movie he executive produced and she directed, When You Find Me, was not only there, but later won for Best Short Film.

Over the course of the Friday-Sunday festival, more than 80 features, shorts and documentaries from 14 states and eight foreign countries were shown to more than 2,000 film fans and movie industry folks. Held each Labor Day weekend for the past eight years, this was the third time it was sponsored by the City of Ocoee’s Community Redevelopment Agency (administered by my husband, Russ Wagner) and held at the newly-expanded West Orange Cinemas (WOC) in Ocoee.

MovieMaker Magazine recently named CENFLO in the “Top 25 Film Festivals worth the entry fee.” That may account for the increasing quality and quantity of entries, but from what I saw and heard, I think it’s the casual friendliness created by the festival’s founders and hosts, (Executive Director) Bob Cook and his wife, (Technical Director) Ginger Cook. One NY actress who’d flown in for the festival said it’s the first time she’d been to a film festival that directors, producers and film distributors were so accessible to the talent. It set the tone for a fun weekend where everyone mixed and mingled.

I didn’t see all the films and didn’t even see all the ones I wanted due to overlapping schedules and so many films… so little time. I paused only to sip on the house cabernet, munch on WOC’s signature freshly-made chicken salad sub sandwich, or to head over nightly to the Sabal Hotel for an afterglow party of free beer from sponsor Stella Artois, wine and karaoke. The Saturday night cocktail reception hosted by the City of Ocoee’s CRA always adds zing to the event. This time, four look-alike celebrities (Jack Nicholson, Capt. Jack Sparrow, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth—brought in by Gregg Thompson, who hosts the annual Sunburst Convention) posed for photos and did meet & greet.

I won’t even tell you that I enjoyed all the films. In fact, some of them left me with that “huh?” feeling. But I did find a lot of gems that had me dabbing at my eyes, laughing out loud, or just being amazed at what someone with spectacular imagination can pull off with a low budget. I’ll name them in case you have the chance to see them someday.

Student shorts:

Knights of the Playground (FSU) – a charming tale of pre-teen playground rivalry over a girl.

Merry Christmas (Columbia University) – Glad I brought my tissues for this one. In its 5-minute length, it took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. If you aren’t an organ donor, you’d sign up after watching this one.

Incest! The Musical (Chapman University) – the subject matter creeped me out, but so cleverly done. Original tunes sung by an attractive set of H.S homecoming-titled royalty who find they love one another in an untraditional manner. What will their parents say?

My License (Ft. Lauderdale Jr High) – the animation was simple, but what do you want from an 11-yr-old’s first film? She’s been accepted into 58 film festivals this year alone.

Medic (FSU) – when the pressures facing a paramedic become too much

Flower Story (UCF) – didn’t “get” the story, but the two-year project created gorgeous graphics and imagery. They won for Best Student Film.

Leak (Israel) – a dramatic tale of how far a mother will go to protect her young daughter from her pedophile father. Another creepy subject matter film, but very polished and consistent in delivery.

Elliot Spark (Canada) – another tear jerker as a prison warden’s hard demeanor is a cover for her personal anguish.

The Eyes of Heaven (FSU) – an all-too familiar story of third world wars creating an orphan and the adjustments made when he’s adopted by an American family.

 Shorts:

The Shot (UK) – The director scored big with a female martial arts champion from his hometown being willing to star as an assassin. The story is punchy with sardonic wit and lots of martial arts stunts.

Non Farai Del Male ((Italy) – The title in English means Do No Harm. This story was simply divine. In fact, it won for Best Foreign film. Acting was strong. The plot twisted and turned. I kept thinking of the detective lead as a Peter Falk Columbo-type with his questioning musings and moral resolution.

When You Find Me, the Howards’ film, is finely crafted. You’d expect it would be. The music hums, transitioning smoothly from one scene to the next, unlike so many of the other films… which created a jarring effect. The story is about two sisters and how the tragedy of losing their mother at an early age molded their relationship. The underlying story is rooted in believing in life after death.

The Bunglers – this one was described as a dramatic short. I thought it more humorous. It’s a tale of bumbling hit men who think they’re supposed to assassinate a (flamenco) dancer instead of a mobcompetitor named Danzer. This story also took several twists and had some wonderful dancing as an extra bonus.

Documentaries:

Pui Chan: Kung Fu Pioneer (Orlando) – This film won both Best Documentary and Audience Favorite. Director Mimi Chan’s first film provides insider looks at her father, the man who overcame life-crushing years in China before his escape to America and the establishment of his Kung Fu Temple in Orlando. Pui’s determination, skills, agility, and moral perseverance command fierce loyalty from students and family. His family’s strength, courage, fortitude and seemingly endless supply of energy sate this film with heart. It also didn’t hurt any that Pui’s family and entourage of supporters filled the theaters or that their company’s signature Lion Dance was performed at both film showings.

Kinderblock 55: Return to Buchenwald – This is about four survivors of the children’s block of the Buchenwald concentration camp. As I’m Jewish, I feel a need to see that people survived and have made lives for themselves. I always cry watching these films and this was no exception.

Dancing with the Trees – It’s about an amazing Frank Gehry-designed museum built in Biloxi. The film documents what it took for this small city to fund the building, and how Hurricane Katrina destroyed the building before it opened. The never-say-can’t townspeople and local government rallied, and with Gehry’s help, the museum was rebuilt.

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI, for which she is on the Membership Advisory Council and the Industry Advisory Council. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com

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