Saving a large, iconic entertainment event in the Age of COVD requires heroic action, so the 2020 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will enlist several: James Bond, Pope Francis, Robert De Niro, and the undeniable drawing power of Freddie Mercury and the Pink Ladies.
More than 170 features, documentaries and shorts will be shown during the 18-day run of FLIFF Nov. 5-22 — but this edition of the festival will be unlike any in its 35-year history. Because … 2020.
With film fans skittish about COVID safety, FLIFF has made an extra effort to bring them movies and stars they want, where they want them.
Its imaginative outreach this year may be best illustrated by a James Bond double feature screening by the Intracoastal Waterway to socially distanced audiences in yachts, kayaks and floating cabanas, complete with water-borne waitstaff.
Films also will be offered from Dania Pointe to Davie, sing-along style in your car, over a meal in a local restaurant, on a massive IMAX screen and on the phone in the palm of your hand.
Watching a film in a theater — that uniquely cathartic sharing of laughs, tears and fears — may be on its way out as an American tradition (see Regal Cinemas). FLIFF 2020 includes the option of experiencing a virtual festival at home.
But longtime FLIFF president and CEO Gregory Von Hausch believes we need the communal escape of the movies now more than ever and theater screenings, socially distanced and masked, remain the backbone of the festival.
“I think of it as the ultimate American art form, the motion picture,” Von Hausch says. “It can take you from Miramar to Pluto in the snap of a finger. I see movies as a part of our culture, as a part of our living experience. It’s a mirror to us. … So we’re doing everything we can to keep that magic alive.”
With apologies to James Bond, if FLIFF and its band of supporters have been shaken by COVID, they also have had their resourcefulness and imaginations stirred. Here are the main events and new and familiar ways to enjoy the best of the FLIFF 2020.
FLIFF 2020 opens with a zany comedy, “The Comeback Trail,” starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman, Zach Braff and Delray Beach resident Kate Katzman.
Due to COVID, instead of the traditional opening night red-carpet at the Hard Rock Live, there will be two screenings Nov. 5-6 at Savor Cinema (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale) and Cinema Paradiso (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood), each at half capacity.
Written and directed by George Gallo (he also did the critically lauded indie films “Local Color” and “29th Street”), “The Comeback Trail” is set in 1970s Hollywood and follows two hard-luck movie producers (De Niro and Braff) indebted to a crime boss (Freeman) and an insurance scam involving the “accidental” death of an aging western-movie star (Jones). You have never seen De Niro like this. “The Comeback Trail” opens in theaters nationwide on Dec. 18.
On Thursday, Nov. 5, Katzman will receive FLIFF’s 2020 Star on the Horizon Award onstage at Savor Cinema before a 7:15 p.m. screening of “The Comeback Trail.” Katzman also will take questions from the audience following the film, then join a post-screening party nearby at the River House. Tickets for the film and party cost $75 (members $60).
At the 7:15 p.m. Nov. 6 screening at Cinema Paradiso, Gallo will appear onscreen to introduce the film and the audience will be served a little pre-show champagne and appetizers. Tickets cost $50 (members $35).
On the waterfront
Social distancing South Florida style is the theme of the Bond-athon on the water of Sunrise Bay at the Coral Ridge Yacht Club on Nov. 14.
The night will include two floating screens, one showing the classic “Goldfinger” at 7 p.m. and another showing “Casino Royale” (the 2006 Daniel Craig version) at 6:30 p.m., with sound transmitted by radio. (It’s not a sing-along version, but feel free to duet with Shirley Bassey on the iconic “Goldfinger” theme song.)
Ticket prices vary by vessel: Boats start at $100 for 34 feet and under (price covers everyone on it); you can rent a kayak ($70), paddle board ($80) or canoe ($90), or float up on your own for $25. Aquabanas also will be available, accommodating parties of five and less for $100.
Coral Ridge Yacht Club will have food and drink available for delivery by dinghy. Order in advance for a discount, or night-of at regular prices.
Boaters are encouraged to dress the 007 part (your vessel, too) for a contest to be judged by the Winterfest Boat Parade team.
On Nov. 21, longtime FLIFF supporter Steven Savor will host a boat-in screening of the 2004 comedy-thriller “After the Sunset” (South Florida native Brett Ratner directs Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek and others) on Sunset Lake off the Las Olas Isles, followed by an after-party at Savor’s Villa dePalma. Bring your own boat, rent one or do the open-bar VIP aboard yacht Savoir-Faire. Tickets start at $100 per person.
FLIFF introduces its relationship with the new Dania Pointe retail development on Nov. 7 with a drive-in screening of the punk-rock romance “Dinner in America,” starring newcomers Emily Skeggs and Kyle Gallner, and produced by Ben Stiller. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., with the film at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $35 per vehicle.
“This one is not for everyone,” says Von Hausch, calling the Sundance hit “hysterically funny in a dark twisted way.”
Dania Pointe also will be the setting for a sing-along drive-in screening of the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 (paired with the 54-minute indie comedy “The Ride”). On Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m., the venue will host the hip-hop-flavored travelogue to India “Heartbeats.” Cost is $35 per vehicle.
On Nov. 12, the Coral Ridge Yacht Club will host a sing-along drive-in celebration of Sandy, Danny, the Pink Ladies and the T-birds with a 7 p.m. screening of “Grease.” The club will have food and drink available (order in advance for a discount and carside delivery). Cost is $35 per carload.
FLIFF’s mid-festival Centerpiece Film is “Francesco,” a documentary on Pope Francis that arrives on a wave of headlines for his endorsement, in the film, of civil unions for gay couples.
“Francesco” was directed by Oscar nominee Evgeny Afineevsky, who screened his powerful “Cries From Syria” at FLIFF in 2017.
“Francesco” will have screenings at 5 and 7:45 p.m. Nov. 13 at Savor Cinema and 10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. Nov. 14 at Cinema Paradiso. The latter screening on Nov. 13 will be bracketed by an introduction by Afineevsky and a Q&A and party afterward.
Tickets cost $30 for film and party (members $25). Tickets for other screenings cost $18.
Dinner and a movie
In another new feature, four films will be shown in socially distanced seating at local restaurants during FLIFF, with a ticket covering the movie and a three-course prix-fixe dinner, tax/tip included (drinks extra).
“Heartbeats,” which stars Krystal Ellsworth as a college student and hip-hop dancer who finds love and a new style of dance in India, screens during dinner 6-9 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Tipsy Boar (1609 Harrison St., Hollywood) with Ellsworth and producer Andrea Chung (also a producer of “The Comeback Trail”) attending. Cost: 46.75.
The film also will have two other dinner screenings: Nov. 10 at Marando Farms & Ranch (5151 SW 64th Ave., Davie), again with Ellsworth and Chung attending. Cost: $40. Also, Nov. 18 at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach. Cost: $60.
At the Tipsy Boar on Nov. 11, writer-director Linas Phillips will host a 6-9 p.m. screening of his cringe-y comedy “The Ride,” which follows a 40-year-old ride-share driver, living with his mom, as he offers unwelcome spiritual guidance to his passengers. Cost: $46.75.
Revered comedy “The Big Lewbowski” will be shown during the 6-9 p.m. dinner on Nov. 16 at Tiki Tiki, former Jimbo’s Sandbar (6200 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood). Cost: $45.
Another cultural touchstone, “The Shawshank Redemption,” will be shown 6-9 p.m. Nov. 19 at GG’s Waterfront (606 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood). Cost: $45.
FLIFF 2020 will wrap up with the world premiere of the family-friendly IMAX feature “Ancient Caves” at the AutoNation IMAX 3D theater at the Museum of Discovery and Science (401 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale).
Directed by Emmy-Award winning cinematographer Jonathan Bird, host of the public television program “Jonathan Bird’s Blue World,” the film will be shown at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Nov. 22, with Bird taking part in a Q&A.
Narrated by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), the film weaves science and adventure as young paleoclimatologist Dr. Gina Moseley travels the globe on a mission to unlock the secrets of the Earth’s climate in the most unlikely of places — caves.
With COVID safety in mind, there are new ways to access FLIFF films this year.
All Virtual pass: FLIFF’s All Virtual pass allows access to films and livestream events with filmmakers and for the duration of the festival. Early bird discount is $95.
All Access pass: This level offers unlimited virtual access and in-person admission to all movies, filmmaker events and parties (excludes Nov. 14 boat-in film) for $300.
Tickets to individual FLIFF screenings are available only in advance.
To purchase tickets and passes, and survey a complete list of films, schedules and locations, call 954-525-3456 or visit FLIFF.com.
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