2021 Florida Film Festival: 10 movies with Sunshine State ties

Kathleen Christiansen, Orlando Sentinel
·9 min read

The 30th Annual Florida Film runs through April 22 at Enzian Theater in Maitland as well as online. Like previous festivals, there are many films with Sunshine State ties that will screen throughout the event. Here are a few.

‘Florida Woman’

Miami native Catie Skipp’s documentary “Florida Woman” explores the life of Mary Thorn, a former professional wrestler from Florida who fought the state to save her pet alligator.

“ ‘Florida Woman’ is a documentary portrait that peels back the curtain on the media’s portrayal of Mary Thorn,” said Skipp, noting the film “ultimately reveals the humanity behind the viral headlines.”

The 30-year-old, first-time director said she could not think of a better place for her movie to premiere than the Florida Film Festival.

Watch it: The world premiere of “Florida Woman” is part of the Florida Films lineup at 10 a.m. April 10.

‘Sharkbaby’

Director Steven Shea — who was raised in the Florida Keys, lived in Orlando for 15 years and currently resides in Los Angeles — said two-minute short “Sharkbaby” is “an absurdist look at highbrow cinema.” It follows a woman who has an immaculate shark conception.

“I was inspired by attending last year’s Florida Film Festival by all of the animated shorts and ended up teaching myself animation during the COVID lockdown,” the 40-year-old filmmaker said, noting it took him four months to hand draw and color each frame. “Luckily, I had a lot more spare time with everything shut down.”

Shea said he’s honored to be a part of the prestigious festival.

“When I was a student at Valencia College, I had volunteered at the Florida Film Festival to immerse myself in the industry,” he said. “It’s amazing to come back and to be included with other peers from around the world.”

Watch it: The world premiere of “Sharkbaby” is part of the Midnight Shorts at 11:59 p.m. April 10.

‘Personal Story of Chef Tawatchai’

Orlando resident Channarong Buapim’s “Personal Story of Chef Tawatchai” is about Thai-born, Orlando-based chef Tawatchai Chavitranurak, who embraced his identity and culture by showcasing it through his culinary creations.

“I hope this film will inspire others to follow their heart and aspirations,” said 23-year-old director Buapim, who is also from Thailand.

Buapim said the opportunity to participate in the fest has exceeded his expectations and he hopes to turn this project into a miniseries.

“I have a passion for storytelling and feel strongly about growing my artistic vision,” he said. “This is another step towards my goals as a filmmaker and perhaps as a future film director.”

Watch it: The U.S. premiere of “Personal Story of Chef Tawatchai” is part of the Food Films lineup at 11 a.m. April 11.

‘A Night in Camp Heebie Jeebie’

Animated short film “A Night in Camp Heebie Jeebie” follows a group of Jeebie Scouts who swap scary stories on a stormy night. But the girls soon find out there might be some truth to these tales.

“This film was inspired by people who don’t feel like the hero actually looking like the hero to someone else, so I hope these girls look like the heroes to everyone who sees it,” said director Dylan Chase, a Tampa native.

Chase has submitted works to the Florida Film Festival in the past, but to have one screen “feels like such affirmation in this dream career that I have been so lucky to pursue.”

“Being a Florida-grown filmmaker has always been a piece of my story that I’m proud of,” the 28-year-old said. “I went to film school in Florida, I cut my film teeth in Florida, and now it’s almost as if Florida is letting me know it recognizes my efforts ... ”

Watch it: The Florida premiere of “A Night in Camp Heebie Jeebie” is part of Animated Shorts: “Tutti Frutti” at 6:30 p.m. April 14.

‘Searching for Ana Velford’

A middle-aged mother of two reflects on her decision to immigrate to the United States about 30 years ago in “Searching for Ana Veldford.”

“The film seeks to explore the marginality and crises of identity which so often accompany the immigrant experience in the United States,” said director Ronald Baez, a 32-year-old Miami native. “Ultimately, the film is a love letter to immigrants and their stories, shedding light on how it truly feels and what it means to be an immigrant.”

Baez feels the film’s inclusion in this year’s festival is especially meaningful to the immigrant community.

“Being able to celebrate the remarkable stories and lives of immigrants on such a platform is an opportunity I’m very grateful for,” he said. “I’m hoping the Festival’s reach allows immigrants across the country to see that their everyday stories are supremely noteworthy and of deep interest, even to Oscar-qualifying platforms.”

Watch it: The world premiere of “Searching for Ana Velford” is part of the Sunshine & Swampland: New Florida Shorts at 10 a.m. April 17.

‘Short Shorts’

American Muslim teenager Fatima uses clothes to inform her identity as she struggles to appease both her family and friends in “Short Shorts.”

“The film highlights the little ways we divert from our upbringings and how it feels to exist in-between cultures,” said 24-year-old director Karina Dandashi. “I spent my formative middle school years in Winter Springs much like Fatima — trying to find myself amongst the noise of people’s expectations. I never dreamt that years later I would be privileged enough to channel those emotions into art and bring it back to the city and state that inspired it all.”

Dandashi said she is excited about her film’s Florida premiere.

“Having ‘Short Shorts’ playing at such an important festival means that its message gets to be shared to a wider audience and hopefully be seen by young girls who can relate to the character and her situation,” she said.

Watch it: The Florida premiere of “Short Shorts” is part of the Sunshine & Swampland: New Florida Shorts at 10 a.m. April 17.

‘Sitting Still’

Orlando resident and “Sitting Still” director Frank Volk describes his film as an expressionistic piece that details the anxiety and isolation of “watching the world fall apart through a phone screen” in 2020.

“For the film, I wrote a computer program, aping pointillism, that deconstructs the image and reconstructs it with individual white pixels on a black background arranged in higher and lower densities to approximate the original image,” said the 24-year-old who graduated from University of Central Florida, where he studied film and computer science.

“It’s an honor to be included among such talented Florida filmmakers,” Volk said. “It’s validating and motivating to see your film on the big screen.”

Watch it: The world premiere of “Sitting Still” is part of the Sunshine & Swampland: New Florida Shorts at 10 a.m. April 17.

‘Joining the Birds’

“Joining the Birds” is a Florida-based realism drama about a 16-year-old longing for her mother’s affection.

Director Carrie Carusone said being part of the Florida Film Festival is “an absolute dream.”

“I’d been to the festival as a smaller role in another film, so to have my own film play at a place that is full of love and encouragement but also is the HUB of Florida Cinema means more than anything,” said the 23-year-old Tampa resident who is originally from High Springs.

Beyond the festival, Carusone has big plans for her film.

“I put my heart and soul into this film and hope to one day turn this story into a feature-length film,” she said.

Watch it: The East Coast premiere of “Joining the Birds” is part of the Shorts #3: “Ain’t No Sunshine” lineup at 12:45 p.m. April 17.

‘Takes Four Years to Grow Coffee’

Winter Park resident Omar Young explores how Puerto Rican coffee farmers struggled to pass on family traditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in “Takes Four Years to Grow Coffee.”

“Puerto Rico means so much to me, and for the last four years, I have been determined to make a film about the many changes brought forth by Hurricane Maria,” the Lima, Peru, native said. “Back then, I had just returned to college to get my degree in film production, and I remember telling everyone that would listen, ‘I am going to make a documentary about Puerto Rico as my capstone film, and it’s going to premiere at the Florida Film Festival!’”

Achieving that goal has been a “dream come true” for the 28-year-old director.

“I poured my heart and savings into it,” he said. “This film is made entirely out of love, dedication and admiration for the coffee farmers in Maricao, Puerto Rico. I hope to amplify their voices and make many more fall in love with their craft.”

Watch it: The world premiere of “Takes Four Years to Grow Coffee” is part of the Documentary Shorts Competition at 3:30 p.m. April 17.

‘Morning Sickness in the USA’

Director Cristine Brache shares the story of her grandmother, who was quarantined in 1961 after seeing a doctor for nausea in “Morning Sickness in the USA.”

“Having immigrated to the US from Puerto Rico, doctors suspected she had an infectious disease and put her in quarantine in a mental asylum,” said Brache, a Miami native who splits her time between the Sunshine State and Canada. “The reason for her nausea was later revealed to be pregnancy.”

Being included in the Florida Film Festival “means the world” to Brache.

“Having exposure for my work is important for an emerging feature film director,” the 36-year-old said. “That it’s in my home state is all the better.”

Watch it: The East Coast premiere of “Morning Sickness in the USA” is part of the Sunspots: New Visions of the Avant-Garde lineup at 9:30 p.m. April 22.

For more information about the festival and to buy tickets or passes, go to floridafilmfestival.com.

Want to reach out? Email me at kchristiansen@orlandosentinel.com. Find more fun things on Instagram @fun.things.orlando and Facebook @fun.things.orlando.