The Big Picture: Film Festivals Spotlight Florida’s Diversity

    By Jodi Mailander Farrell

    The sun isn’t the only light shining in Florida. Since “Moon Over Miami” cast its Technicolor glow in 1941, the state has had a long-standing love affair with film.

    Today, there’s a film festival in every region practically every month, stretching from Jacksonville’s World Arts Film Festival to the southernmost Key West Film Festival.

    “The weather is gorgeous … It’s not only a draw for visitors, but also for celebrities, who come to the festivals and enjoy Florida while working,” said Ana Morgenstern, who co-founded the Miami-based film blog, Independent Ethos, with husband Hans Morgenstern, vice chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle.

    Have a special interest? Florida has a film festival for that.

    Women’s films, children’s films, films by and about Jewish or Christian culture, LGBT films, Bollywood films, horror flicks, movies with a focus on the environment, and films in Spanish, French, Portuguese and more than a dozen other languages are all part of the mix. Florida is even home to the first American festival dedicated to virtual reality and interactive storytelling.

    Grab your popcorn and find a festival happening near you.

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    The audience voting for their favorite films at Silver Springs International Film Festival by Ocala

    - Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

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    Lining up to see films at Silver Springs International Film Festival by Ocala

    - Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

    By Brandon D. Shuler

    Think mountain biking, and Florida may not immediately come to mind. But it should.

    Florida not only has a vibrant mountain biking community, it also can boast hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails that welcome the beginner and challenge the best mountain bikers in the world.

    In fact, the International Mountain Biking Association, a non-profit advocacy group that teaches best trail management practices and works in the halls of Congress to provide equal access for mountain bikers in our nation’s wild spaces, rates two of Florida’s trails—Santos Trailhead  and Alafia River State Park—their highest trail designation: Epic.

    There are five criteria that qualify a trail to be epic, and Alafia and Santos meet them all:

    •   Demanding, mostly single-track trail experience in a natural setting

    •   A true backcountry riding experience in remote settings

    •   One that is technically and physically challenging

    •   More than 80 percent single-track

    •   At least 20 miles in length.

     

    SANTOS TRAILHEAD

    Pulling into the car park at the Santos Trailhead, deep in the tall Florida pines right outside of Ocala, it’s apparent you’re in the backwoods of old Florida. What is not so apparent is that you’re also ground zero to some of the best mountain biking in the American southeast.

    Santos is the center of Florida’s mountain biking universe for good reason. Although the American mountain-bike scene appears to orbit the steep trails of the American West, Santos all alone on the East Coast was the first trail system to earn the IMBA Epic trail designation since it “emerged as a model trail system, with flowing singletrack, bombproof wooden structures, a bike skills park with progressive challenges and jaw-dropping technical features at the Vortex quarry.”

     

    THE SANTOS RIDES

    Vortex

    Carved from an old quarry, the Vortex Trail is world renowned. With belly-taking drops, the famous Banana Hammock wood feature, and rocks and roots thrown across an already challenging up-and-down trail, the Vortex is the centerpiece of Santos and wraps right around the Santos Trailhead.

    Bryar Patch

    Bryar Patch is a short, but taxing trial right of the central connecting trail, Blue Highway. A quick loop section, about a mile, has a number of challenging wood features, one a bridge about 8 inches wide. These wood features make a lot of riders nervous and challenge the handling skills of even the best riders, but it’s the switchbacks and speed you can carry through the section that make it the most fun. With some 180-degree switchbacks and loose sand, it is easy to lose your front tire and find yourself sliding. The speed and experience are great warm ups for the more technical trails like Vortex and Anthill.

    Twister

    Twister is for the speed demon in you. The trial is a slight downhill with very few technical sections, unless you consider a couple of hammocks that with speed can launch you skyward technical. The trail has one wooden feature switchback that can be the highlight of the run. At just under three miles, this is a great warmup trail before moving to the more technical aspects of Bryar Patch and then the black expert trails of Vortex or Anthill.

    Anthill

    Anthill is short, but challenging. With its rocks and short, steep climbs, it can rival some of the hard technical trails of the American West. The trial has rocks galore and more switchbacks and walled climbs than you can imagine. In the summer, the trails can get really dry and slippery, adding to the challenge. You may even find yourself standing on the pedals in your lowest gears wondering if you should get off and push. It’s the kind of trail that leaves you wishing for something easy to cool down on, like Spider Kingdom North.

    Spider Kingdom North

    Spider Kingdom North is a little over three miles and has easy to intermediate sections that are perfect for a warmup, cool down, or spin with a group of mixed abilities. Word to the wise: Note the name. Early mornings can result in all kinds of spiderwebs across the trail and, therefore across your face. The trail is a gentle climb that meanders through pine forest and provides some striking views in the winter, including deer and the occasional turkey. It’s a fun ride and well worth slowing down a bit to take in Florida flora and fauna.

     

    STAR ATTRACTIONS

    Florida Film Festival, held in April near Orlando, is the state’s only Oscar-qualifying festival. Premiering the best in current independent and international cinema, the 10-day affair features approximately 170 films in theaters in Maitland and Winter Park. A series of parties, lectures, brunches and a farmers market are all part of the experience.

    Miami International Film Festival, held in early March, is the preeminent Ibero-American film festival in the United States, presenting films in English and Spanish at theaters in Miami and Miami Beach. Started in 1984, it attracts more than 400 filmmakers, producers, talent and industry professionals. About 70,000 people turn out for the 10-day festival.

    Orlando Film Festival, held in October, focuses on independent cinema, with more than 1,000 entries from filmmakers in more than 30 countries. The festival screens over 200 films at the Cobb Plaza Cinema Café theaters in downtown Orlando, with Q&As with the filmmakers in attendance.

    OUT OF INDIA

    India International Film Festival, presented in Tampa’s historic Ybor City in August by the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce, connects a community where over 35,000 people of Indian origin live. The three-day festival presents more than 20 films, music videos, and documentaries from around the world at Muvico Centro Ybor.

    Near Orlando, Beyond Bollywood South Asian Film Festival, co-presented in October by the Asian Cultural Association, showcases diverse images of the Indian subcontinent, it's culture and heritage through acclaimed independent films as part of Enzian Theater’s cultural festival circuit.

    KEEPING IT BRIEF

    Tally Shorts Film Festival, held in February at Tallahassee’s Challenger Learning Center Downtown Digital Dome Theater and Planetarium, embraces the medium of short film, with two days of viewings grouped by such themes as kids and family, horror and thriller, documentary, historically-based dramas, sci-fi, animated and comedy. More than 300 are submitted for review.

    Love Your Shorts Film Festival raises appreciation of the art of the short film in Sanford every February at the 1923 Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, one of Florida’s historic theaters. Films of up to 30 minutes each in a variety of categories, including documentary, sci-fi and comedy, are presented, along with film workshops.

    The Miami Short Film Festival, held every November, receives 850 submissions from more than 40 countries and hosts screenings of films that range from one to 15 minutes in Miami Beach and Coconut Grove.

    Manasota Films LLC celebrates the short, "one-shot" film in its international Single-Take Challenge film event, held in Davenport in central Florida each October.  In this unique event, all the films are shot in one continuous, uninterrupted take, with no edits or cuts.

    THE FEMALE PERSPECTIVE

    Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival partners with the Sarasota Film Festival in April in Sarasota to present the best in new, innovative women-made and women-centric films from emerging and established filmmakers around the world. The growing festival receives over 500 submissions and presents 25 films at Regal Cinemas.

    The Women’s International Film & Arts Festival, held in June in Miami, is a six-day festival with workshops, film screenings and parties at sites throughout the city.

    LGBT THEMES

    The Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is a three-day extension of Tampa’s gay pride celebrations in October. 

    The MiFo LGBT Film Festival spans South Florida with its 10-day Miami edition presenting more than 65 films in April-May and a two-weekend Fort Lauderdale edition showcasing more than 50 films in October.

    The Pensacola LGBT Film Festival, held every October since 2012, features documentaries and fiction films with LGBT themes and directors and actors to expand the Gulf Coast region’s diversity and acceptance of diverse identities.

    JEWISH CULTURE

    The Miami Jewish Film Festival, which is the largest Jewish cultural event in Florida and the third largest Jewish film festival in the world, presents feature-length and short films throughout the city in January.

    The Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival runs from late January through early February in multiple theaters across Palm Beach County, with extended events throughout the year.

    Enzian Theater, Central Florida’s independent cinema powerhouse in Maitland outside of Orlando, co-presents the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando in November, with the theater’s outdoor Eden Bar offering spinach and cheese knishes, latkes, Hebrew National hot dogs and tzimmes.

    The Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival, growing every year since 1995, presents films that challenge conventional notions every March.

    HUMAN & GLOBAL RIGHTS

    John Paul II Inter-Faith Film Festival, or JP2IFF, is an international festival that looks at film “through a spiritual lens” every November in Miami. Inspired by Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, it shows feature and short films from filmmakers of all religious backgrounds to express unity in human-rights values.

    Cinema Verde International Film Festival started in 2009 at The Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville to raise awareness of environmental concerns and sustainable solutions. Held in February, the three-day festival features more than 40 films about climate, water, waste, energy food and other issues, with an accompanying EcoFair.

    Global Peace Film Festival, held in September in Orlando, is dedicated to films as catalysts for change and conflict resolution without violence. The films it presents take on such issues as human trafficking, historic and modern-day wars, fair and equitable trade, and domestic violence.

    KIDS AND FAMILIES

    Miami International Children’s Film Festival, a weeklong event in December at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, partners with the New York International Children’s Film Festival to feed families and kids hungry for alternatives to mainstream, commercial movies. There are workshops, parties, discussions with filmmakers and family fun with balloons, music and face paintong on the outdoor plaza.

    FILMS IN OTHER LANGUAGES

    Brazilian Film Festival of Miami, held in September, celebrates Brazilian cinema abroad in theaters in Miami Beach, including free outdoor screenings at the New World Symphony’s SoundScape park. There are also before and after parties, a fashion show and happy hours.

    French Film Festival, held in April by Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, features about a half-dozen films outdoors and indoors (some free) in French with English subtitles.

    France Cinéma Floride in Miami in November spotlights new French films at Miami Dade College’s historic Tower Theater in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood.

    FRIGHTFUL

    Freak Show Horror Film Festival, which occurs near Halloween in late October in Orlando, celebrates the international horror genre. Started by Fear Film Studios owner Robert J. Massetti, the three-day showcase screens at the Premiere Cinemas 14. Filmmakers compete for the coveted “Freaky” award in nine categories, including best special FX makeup, best short and best Florida feature.

    WEST COAST ATTRACTIONS

    Sunscreen Film Festival, held in late April through early May, attracts over 20,000 to watch indie films in St. Petersburg, with a sister festival held in Los Angeles in the fall. MovieMaker magazine voted it one of the “25 Coolest Film Fests” in the country. Its roster of participating stars has included John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Billy Dee Williams. 

    Gasparilla International Film Festival, held at the end of March and early April since 2007, shows screenings primarily at Muvico Centro Ybor in Tampa’s historic Ybor City. 

    The Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival champions low-budget indies in the same area every December at the Britton 8 theaters near Tampa. 

    Further south, the Naples International Film Festival curates 50 narrative, documentary and short films in November at Artis-Naples and Silverspot Cinema.

    EAST COAST ENTERTAINMENT

    Held in June, the Vero Beach Wine + Film Festival is being hailed as the new “Summer Sundance.” It promises over 85 multi-award-winning films including U.S. and Florida premieres, filmmaker and industry talent from all over the world, as well as dining with directors and screenings at 10 top-tier theatre, restaurant and museum venues around the city.

    MIAMI-CENTRIC

    The Borscht Film Festival, held every other year in December, was created in 2004 by New World School of the Arts high school students as a collaborative dedicated to telling Miami stories. It commissions films and web experiments designed to redefine the perception of Miami, with viewings in theaters and cultural centers around the city.

    Rewind/Fast Forward is a three-day film and video festival in March by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Images Archives at Miami Dade College. It dives into Miami’s strange, seductive history through unique news films, vintage documentaries, travelogues and Miami-crafted analog art films.

     

    Places to Remember

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