By Harriet Howard Heithaus | email@example.com; 239-213-6091 | naplesdailynews.com October 20, 2015
Pass the popcorn, Southwest Florida. You now have five film festivals vying for your munch time.
The Center for the Arts Bonita Springs is the latest to organize one — four days of close to 70 films, including short subjects, over 26 screenings, beginning Feb. 12.
It will be the third layer in a stack of dates for movie lovers this season:
- The seventh Naples International Film Festival Nov. 5-8.
- The Bonita Springs Film Festival, in its second year, Nov. 5.
- The debut Bonita Springs International Film Festival, Feb. 12-16.
- The Fort Myers Film Festival, six years old this year, April 7-10.
- Fort Myers Beach Film Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary, April 20-24.
Could five of them breed cinema exhaustion? “I’ve been asked this many times in the 15 years I’ve been involved with films. I never feel competition. I only feel excitement and support,” said Janeen Paulauskis, volunteer director of the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival. Paulauskis sits on the board of the Bonita Springs Film Festival as well as her own.
“We may get one (movie) that will screen at Fort Myers or Naples as well ours. But you’re generally looking at 300 films a year among us that are not repeated.”
Each festival has an underlying principle that sets it apart, representatives say. The Fort Myers Beach Film Festival takes community engagement as its focus, featuring a free screening of two first-run movies on the beach, where it distributes a schedule for its other films. It also sponsors an elementary student filmmaking class using each year’s theme. The young filmmakers get a free screening of their films on the closingday.
“It’s such a thrill for them to see their work on a big screen,” Paulauskis said. “Life’s so scary, and if they have something they can get excited about, it makes a huge difference.”
Further, she said, the community feels a kinship when festival films make it to general distribution. Among those that have is “A Short History of Decay,” starring Linda Lavin and Emmanuelle Chriqui, which screened at the 2014 festival. The upcoming feature “ Wildlike” is another.
Paulauskis didn’t have a count of how many people attend the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival. But she said the Beach Theater, whose owner, Nick Campo, is a strong festival supporter, sells out at least once each festival. She credits Pat Berry, director of the now-defunct Marco Island Film Festival, and Campo as her mentors in what has been the area’s longest-runningfilm fest.
Attendees come from as far away as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and some directors return even when they don’t have a film in contention, she said. Thisyear, the festival won four “Sun-sational” awards among groups with budgets of less than $50,000 from the Florida Festivals and Events Association.
Eric Raddatz, executive director of the Fort Myers Film Festival, sees its mandate as “fresh and edgy.,” drilling down to one serious issue each year. It screened “When I Fall,” a poignant firsthand account of multiple sclerosis that later won an Emmy after airing on PBS. Another festival offering: the harsh documentary on American education, “Most Likely to Succeed.”
“I want to believe these kinds of films make a difference. The films we’re playing have the kind of stuff that makes you want to do something. And we try to deliver them in an intelligent way,” he said.
Another hallmark of the Fort Myers festival: Three locations for screenings, which brought films to different areas of the city for the 2,000 people who attended last year.
This festival is a profit-making one, and Raddatz said it didn’t share its budget publicly.
Shannon Franklin, NIFF executive and artistic director, responded to questions via email in between meetings before Naples’ rapidly approaching festival. NIFF’s calling card, she wrote, is variety “sowe can be sure to have something for everyone.”
Trends materialize in each year’s entries, she said. “One trend we saw this year was a number of films that focused on extraordinary people that are truly legends and pioneers in their respective fields.”
A film about the life of astronaut Gene Cernan, “The Last Man on the Moon,” is its red-carpet opener. Among other films are “Paul Taylor: Creative Domain,” “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” and “King Georges,” profiling star chef Georges Perrier.
The Naples festival, which drew 6,000 last year to Silverspot and Artis—Naples screenings, fields workshops and directorfan socials in its $280,000 budget. Fundraisers and events cover the 80 percent of its costs that ticket sales cannot, Franklin wrote.
In Bonita, two festivals
Relating the year-old Bonita Springs Film Festival to the newcomer Bonita Springs International Film Festival is “like comparing the sun and the moon,” said Antonio Correia, chair of the Bonita Springs Film Festival. “They invite people from all over the world. We invite people from all over the county.”
Neither he nor representatives from the Center for the Arts Bonita Spring expressed concern about confusion between the two.
“After contributions for the prizes ($250 to $1,000 in three categories), our budget is literally zero,” he said. The other festival has an $87,000 budget, although still uses a good number of volunteers.
The Bonita Springs Film Festival’s mantra is “small and simple,” putting amateurs and professionals in the same arena with fiveto 15-minute works that must be built around a designated location in Bonita. “We think of ourselves as a postcard for the city,” Correia said.
It’s a postcard with an airmail stamp. After the film festival featured the Bonita Nature Place as its first-year location, visitors to the park increased 1,000 percent, he said.
And its gala screening of the winners’ films last year filled the 220-seat Prado cinema room.
“We had people sitting in the halls,” he marveled. “That was a crazy party.” It may be even crazier this year. The festival’s 30 entries is close to double the 19 it received in 2014.
The new Bonita Springs International Film Festival, on the other hand, will be a four-day screening of every entry it accepts in 12 categories. Among those are youth- and teen-produced films, animated films, shorts and Florida films, as well as standard fiction/ narrative and documentary works. Cash prizes will range from $250 to $1,000.
This festival has two essential purposes, said Tom Falciglia, co-chair with Susan Bridges, executive director of the Center for the Arts Bonita Springs.
The first is a christening of CFABS’ newly minted Moe Auditorium and Film Center at 10150 Bonita Beach Road. The other is a tribute to what the center sees as a solid audience base for cinema in Bonita.
“When we started our film series (‘Films for Film Lovers’) in 2008, we did one a month for three months. Now we’re every Monday, and in addition we’ve signed on with the Southern Circuit of Independent Films for showings on the first Tuesday of the month,” said Falciglia.
Films will be shown in the 400-seat Hinman Theater and the 200-seat Karin & Robert Moe Film Center.
“We just spent lots of time studying what was being done out there. We then looked back at our existing audience and our demographics here in Southwest Florida,” Bridges said, responding to emailed questions.
“(The) big point that ultimately surfaced in our discussions is that we, as an organization, (are) all about the arts, all the arts. So, we began looking at the idea that our Bonita Springs International Film Festival might see the majority of our films showcasing an artistic connection of some kind, beyond the fact that film is an art form in itself.”