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Florida Documentary Film Festival has moviegoers seeing stars

Tito Puente Jr., mambo bandleader and public face of the Florida Documentary Film Festival, will be staring down a big challenge Saturday night. He needs to persuade Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres to help perform "You Give Love a Bad Name" at the festival's awards ceremony.

"It's the best song, so it's my most important job," Puente, one of the festival's board members, jokes. "We'll stick to the karaoke version, since none of us have Jon's voice. We will do a whole big jam session at Mizner Park after the awards ceremony. He's a fan of my father's, so I think he'll do it."

The confluence of music and documentaries is part of the allure of the returning festival of 30 full-length and short films, which begins Thursday night and continues Friday and Saturday at Boca Raton's Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park. Torres, this year's recipient of the Contribution to the Arts Award (Willy Chirino and Carlos Santana are previous winners), given to philanthropic musicians, will appear at the star-studded ceremony. So will NBC/Telemundo anchor Mariana Rodriguez, "American Idol" semifinalist Tiffany Miranda and other Latin performers.

The festival's executive director, Monica Rosales, say music and documentaries are a "natural" pairing, especially when documentaries alone are "not the most exciting things."

"But once they're up here, visitors get to experience how personal it is," says Rosales, by day an eighth-grade history teacher in Miami. "They see what the documentarymaking process is like, and they get to meet the filmmakers, and they realize that they're not just seeing a movie. They're becoming part of the story. You're inspiring them to take a second look at the genre."

The stars are likewise prominent in Friday and Saturday's lineup. Actor Jeff Daniels' Chelsea, Michigan-based Purple Rose Theatre Co. is profiled in "The Purple Rose in Full Bloom"; "Seeds of Hope" follows actor Hugh Jackman's journey to Ethiopia to meet a coffee farmer; and "Gone South" draws on interviews with Neve Campbell, Alex Trebek and Harland Williams to describe the influence of Canadian celebrities in Hollywood.

Other guests on hand include retired Army Maj. Gen. Bernard Loeffke and Jacqueline Ripstein, featured in the documentary "A General's Dream," who will lead a post-screening discussion at 7:45 p.m. Friday. Cuban music historian and WGEN-TV host Eloy Cepero will discuss "In Love With Bolero" following the 6 p.m. Friday screening.

The Florida Documentary Film Festival will continue from 8:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, in Boca Raton. Tickets cost $7 per day. Call 786-493-8308 or go to Willowtheatre.org/DocMiamiFilmFest.

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