Florida Film Festival starts tonight — a “muted” anniversary?

When it launched, twenty years ago, the Florida Film Festival was the only game in town, pretty much the only game in the region and the only festival on its given week on the calendar. A lot has changed in independent film and the Fla. Film Festival in those years.

Other film festivals, including ones in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and a more star-studded affair in Sarasota this very same week – became competition for films and film talent.

Money for indie films has grown harder to come by,  doing nothing for the quality of the fare being submitted to such film festivals. Many studios have done away with their indie film divisions, others have scaled back their purchases of indie fare.

Times are tight for non-profits in general. And studios and filmmakers are increasingly reluctant to lend their films, free of charge, to film fests.

And as all that was happening, the Florida Film Festival morphed into more of a food, wine and film festival, losing focus.

That confluence of those events show up in this year’s lineup – a few top drawer documentaries (“Project Nim” feels like an Oscar nominee) and a lot of middling to bad ones. Is it just me, or has that entire documentary genre fallen into formula, with a ridiculous number of filmmakers trapped into stretching thin subjects out for 90-120 minutes? I can’t recall ever watching more docs in a short span that could not get to the POINT.

A precious few notable fiction features this year – foreign films, mostly — and others that might charitably be called “filler” in the 165 movie/nine day festival. Not a “wow” title in the lot. “Winter’s Bone” was last year’s biggest “wow.”

The festival felt a bit muted in tone considering this is a red letter anniversary year, and that feeling was there long before Alan Arkin was scheduled to appear, and then abruptly had to cancel the next day. Fortunately, they landed Edward James Olmos. But he was just here, publicly feted by Rollins College at two events last October.

So there’s just  not a lot of “heat” to the FFF this year.

The fact that they’d done even more buildup this year than usual — their oddly timed event “unveiling” of that hot-dog logo right as the competing Orlando Film Festival was kicking off now seems like bravado they didn’t deliver on.

But there are plenty of good films — half a dozen good to very good docs, half a dozen decent features, a passable samurai movie, a decent Belgian immigration drama and French period piece comedy set in the 70s.

I’ll post best bets for those days and nights that warrant them. Opening night certainly qualifies (They don’t always have a good opening night film). “Project Nim” is at the Enzian tonight. Worth checking out if you can score a ticket.

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