Films have proven to be such effective communication tools that many people are making their own. Whether they're shooting home movies or penning the great American screenplay, it seems everyone is itching to get into the movie business. But film festivals separate the true artists from the hacks. Once a year, Orlando's Florida Film Festival provides a home for those artists.
The Florida Film Festival (FFF) was founded in 1992 by Enzian Theater owners Philip and Sigrid Tiedtke (pronounced “tiki”). Located in Maitland, The Enzian is the local art house cinema dedicated to showcasing independent and alternative films. FFF is an extension of the venue's mission, but it has grown into much more. In its eleven years, FFF has evolved into one of Central Florida's more popular events and was ranked as the #8 film festival in the world by the Ultimate Film Fest Survival Guide, which is considered the Bible of film festivals by most in the industry. Unlike some of the bigger fests, FFF maintains a cozy, low-key atmosphere that many find refreshing.
What makes the festival so cozy? Attribute it to the people behind the scenes who devote themselves to all facets of the festival. The Enzian staff works hard year-round in order to provide two weeks of film fun. Several of them travel around to other festivals, checking out the new trends and scouting possible spotlight films; others stick to home-based duties such as writing grants, taking ticket reservations, and getting corporate sponsors. In addition to the regular staff, FFF manages to pull in about 160 volunteers each year. "Our volunteers are the heart and soul of the festival," says festival director Sigrid Tiedtke. "Some of them live in other parts of the country but schedule their vacation time around the festival so they can help out."
When you think of film festival volunteers, you may envision hordes of ticket-takers and ushers, but FFF volunteers do so much more. Rich Grula has run the gamut in festival volunteering, serving in positions from critic for the Orlando Weekly to Marketing Director to member on film selection committees. When asked if he still enjoys working with FFF after seven years, Grula says, "Almost every single minute, although it's more fun being a selections committee member than Marketing Director."
Being a selection committee member may sound like fun, but the process is fairly rigorous. FFF aims to present only high quality films and with a thousand or so entries to choose from, one volunteer could easily donate twenty hours. "[We look for] films that interest us and feel unique, heartfelt, or challenging. There's a minimum expectation of production quality, but it's far more likely that a great but technically incompetent film gets chosen as opposed to a lame but professionally done effort," says Grula. "We tend not to be as purposefully dark or difficult as some festivals, although there's always some weird stuff programmed."
What types of films can you expect at FFF? Grula estimates, "We usually show over 100 films a year, but of the entries for competition, we show about thirty to forty shorts, ten documentary features, ten narrative features, maybe eight to ten documentary shorts, eight to ten international shorts, and a half dozen international features….The mix changes every year." The “mix” also includes animation, celebrity films, and spotlight films—spotlight films have already obtained distribution and aren’t permitted in competition.
As a festival committed to quality productions, FFF already stands out from other film festivals, but Tiedtke and staff take one step further. FFF goes the extra distance and offers additional goodies such as free seminars, celebrity events, galas, and theme nights. The 12th annual festival promises to offer even more-earlier. FFF has generally been held in early to mid-June, but this year it’s making a big jump to early March. “Our weather in early March is gorgeous. That time of year is also less crowded on the festival circuit,” states Tiedtke.
FFF also encourages communication between aspiring and established filmmakers. There are plenty of networking opportunities between screenings, Q&A sessions, and other events. “People meet people at the Florida Film Festival and end up collaborating on projects. We provide filmmakers with that chance for interaction.…It’s part of what we do, and we do it well,” says Tiedtke. Even if you’re not in the film industry, you can still hobnob with professionals or just check out films you might not otherwise get a chance to see.
Don’t expect the FFF to disappear anytime soon. With a dedicated staff, prime location, and rising popularity, the festival will be a prime event on Orlando’s social calendar for years to come. Sigrid Tiedtke has no intentions of giving up, stating, “We have more fun than most people get to have, whatever their job[s] may be. It’s really exciting!”