Last year’s Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival opened with a gamble: a little-known French film with no box-office stars that was not only shot in black-and-white, but came with another layer of anachronistic provocation. It was a silent movie. The Cinema Paradiso audience was nevertheless captivated by “The Artist,” affirming locally the buzz that would follow globally as it went on to win the best-picture Academy Award.
FLIFF CEO Greg von Hausch says picking “The Artist” as his 2011 curtain-raiser was a no-brainer from the moment festival senior program director Bonnie Leigh Adams came away raving to him after a Cannes screening last year.
“I think this is what people want from a film festival. A gamble. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win,” he says. “I think we won big last year.”
If you are looking to get a first look at a film that Von Hausch expects to go on to major mainstream success, he’ll point you to this year’s opener, the nostalgic girl-group musical “The Sapphires” (pictured), without hesitation.
“It’s a real crowd-pleaser. It’s a ‘Rocky’ story, where you’re pulling for the underdog,” he says. “The girls are really cute, and there all those great tunes from the ’60s. It’s a lot of fun.”
There at least 27 things to like about the 27th annual edition of FLIFF. Here’s one random list:
Get your Motown on for this based-on-a-true-story slice of life during wartime. Four gorgeous young Australians are convinced to bring music to American troops in the 1968 war zones of South Vietnam, where they dodge bullets but not love. Oct. 20-21.
A poignant, fact-based story about how writer Mark O’Brien, the subject of the 1997 Oscar-winning documentary “Breathing Lessons,” ventured outside his iron lung to lose his virginity at age 38. So, poignant, yes, but also hi-larious! With John Hawkes, William H. Macy and Helen Hunt. Nov. 3.
A modern look at youthful angst in Cuba. You may remember the sensation created when two of its stars, Javier Nunez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, disappeared in Miami on their way to the Tribeca Film Festival for a screening of “Una Noche.” The director, Lucy Molloy, will attend and the actors have an open invitation, yet to be accepted. Oct. 20-21, 26.
The delightful Fort Lauderdale actress who turned 13 on Monday will be on the red carpet for opening ceremonies Friday night. Bailee’s resume ranges from Disney’s “Bridge to Terabithia” to last year’s horror flick “Don't Be Afraid of the Dark” and the recent heart-warmer “Cowgirls n’ Angels,” screening at FLIFF Oct. 21, when Bailee will receive a FLIFF Star on the Horizon Award. Her next film, getting a prestigious holiday release, is “Parental Guidance,” with Billy Crystal, Marisa Tomei and Bette Midler.
When “Godfather” Oscar nominee was invited to come to FLIFF for a Lifetime Achievement Award, he responded: “Come on, I’m not finished yet! Can we call it a Midlife Crisis Award?” Caan, who recently joined the Season 2 cast of Starz’s “Magic City,” will be on the FLIFF red carpet Oct. 19.
“THE PRINCESS BRIDE”
Billy Crystal and Andre the Giant reunited, and it feels so good. The Rob Reiner-directed romp gets a free outdoor screening on the FAU Plaza, 111 E. Las Olas Blvd. Bring a lawn chair. Nov. 2.
“TALES OF THE NIGHT”
Revered French animator Michel Ocelot takes a crack at 3D with six vividly realized stories spun from fantasies conjured by a boy, a girl and an elderly technician in a dilapidated cinema. Nov. 3-4. Also for the kids is the animated sea turtle tale “Sammy 2,” well received at Cannes. Oct. 20-21.
“BUT NOT FOR ME”
A 1959 screwball comedy surrounding a May-December romance between sexy ingenue Carroll Baker and the legend Clark Gable. Baker will be presented with a FLIFF Lifetime Achievement Award after the movie. Nov. 4.
“ANY DAY NOW”
A couple wants to adopt a child and rescue him from an abusive home and a drugged-up mom in 1970s Los Angeles. But they’re gay. The consistently excellent Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt star in Travis Fine’s heart-warmer, which won the Best Narrative Feature Audience Award at Tribeca. Oct. 20-21
Guy meets girl in a bar. They wake up together. Yikes! This kinky comedy, starring Joel David Moore (“Avatar” and Dodgeball”) and Madeline Zima, is FLIFF’s Centerpiece Film, and director Stuart Archer will be on hand when the audience takes an after-movie walk along the New River to, where else, a bar. The Maxwell Room at the Downtowner will host this year’s FLIFF Centerpiece Party. Nov 1.
Dustin Hoffman's feature directorial debut, about four retired opera singers trying to put on a concert for Giuseppe Verdi's birthday. Stars include Maggie Smith, Albert Finney and Pauline Collins, Billy Connelly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon. Think of it as the “early Quartet,” screening Oct. 20-21.
“A LATE QUARTET”
Christopher Walken as a beloved and dying cellist? Paging Mr. Oscar! With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Oct. 23.
Tarik Lowe of “One Life To Live” and Lena Dunham of HBO’s “Girls” are part of this bittersweet buddy flick about two low-budget film editors who find their own lives could use some re-splicing, as well. Von Hausch singles this one out, too. “It’s really funny, a great New York comedy,” he says. Oct. 22-23, 27-28
“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK”
The festival closes with this dark rom-com starring Bradley Cooper, again expertly tightroping between hubba-hubba chick magnet and bromantic regular dude. With Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker. Nov. 10.
“SEX, LIES AND SURGERY”
Not a South Florida documentary, but a comedy from Artus de Penguern, who charmed 2001 audiences with the World Cup-set “Gregoire Moulin vs. Humanite.” This one is a soapy, over-the-top melodrama that Von Hausch calls “very, very funny.” Oct. 20-22, 27.
“SHE WANTS ME”
Seriously, who thought Charlie Sheen could FLIFF? Or who thought FLIFF could Charlie Sheen? This dark romantic comedy from 2008 FLIFF award winner Rob Margolies also boasts Hilary Duff and Wayne Knight. Nov. 8, 10-11.
From Oscar winner James Marsh (“Man on Wire,” “Project Nim”) comes a simmering thriller set among the IRA in early 1990s Belfast. With Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and Gillian Anderson. Oct. 26-27.
“AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT”
Finally, a witty satire on the scourge of reality TV. Plus, Salma Hayek on a large screen. Nothing better. Oct. 24-25.
In 1945 Germany, five children of Nazi SS parents leave Allied custody on a journey across their devastated homeland on the way to their grandmother in the north. The eldest sibling, Lore, soon falls under the spell of a young refugee, whom she has always been taught to hate. Oct. 27-28, 30.
Return of the prodigal South Florida jazz guitarist for a performance. 10 p.m. Oct. 26. (Also at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach Oct. 27.)
"NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D"
George Romero’s campy horror classic restored, colorized and in 3D? Boy, howdy! Oct. 26-31.
Twelve years after winning a FLIFF student-film competiton, Victor Viyuoh returns with the story of a 20-year-old Cameroon woman who bravely challenges the abusive husband she married at age 13. "Fascinating,” Von Hausch says. “I couldn’t take my eyes off it.” Oct. 21-23, 28.
Brent Chesanek mines the empty suburban creepiness of Orlando in “City World” (Nov. 3). South Florida retirement is profiled in the poignant “King’s Point” (Nov. 4), which is paired with “Santaland,” a study of a quirky community of Santa Clauses near Zephyrhills.
'ANDREW BIRD; FEVER YEAR'
An inspired and confessional rock travelogue with the inventive singer-songwriter. Oct. 23, Nov. 3.
Attack of the giant snail! That’s “Cargols!” from Spain. Also among the five shorts is the hip-hop horror of “Travis Porter: Red Rock.” Oct. 20, 31.
Robbers are on the run near the Canadian border in this thriller from Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky (2007’s “The Counterfitters”). Von Hausch says it “frightened the bejesus out of me” when he saw it in Tribeca. Stars include Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams. Oct. 20-22, 26
POLITICS AS UNUSUAL
The day before Election Day, FLIFF will screen “Party Crashers,” about grass-roots politics and the rise of the Tea Party, and “Grassroots,” a bittersweet comedy based on the true story of 2001 Seattle City Council candidate Grant Cogswell, an unemployed music critic who likes to dress up as a polar bear. On Nov. 6, attend Election Night festivities at Cinema Paradiso with your “I Voted” sticker and you’ll get free admission to “Mr. Cao Goes to Washington,” a profile of U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao’s term as the first elected Vietnamese-American congressman. The party will include election coverage on the big screen inside the theater and outside in the courtyard, plus food and drink specials.
IF YOU GO
The 27th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will take place Friday to Nov. 11, beginning with the Warren Henry Auto Group Opening Night VIP Celebration, which includes a red-carpet stroll by James Caan, Bailee Madison, Oscar-winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky and others at Sport of Kings at Gulfstream Park, 501 S. Federal Highway, in Hallandale Beach.
Where: The festival’s 200 films will screen at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale; Muvico Pompano 18, 2315 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach; Sunrise Civic Center Theater, 10610 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise
Cost: Most individual films cost $10, $8 seniors and students, $6 for FLIFF members. Events and parties are priced separately. ¿¿FLIFF memberships start at $75, $35 students.
Contact: FLIFF.com or 954-525-3456.