2014 Florida Film Festival: Saturday, April 5

FFF2014LogoMy first hurdle this morning was packing my bag. I planned to bring my one purse that is big enough to fit my iPad. But I also wanted to bring a shawl (mostly to save my spot if I need to go to the concession stand or the bathroom), my current knitting project and book to entertain myself between sessions, a notepad in case I want to take any notes in the dark while watching a film, my glasses in case my contacts are irritating my eyes and I want to take them out, and of course all of the standard purse items like keys and phone and wallet. Once I accumulated everything, the purse wasn’t big enough. I brought my messenger bag instead, and since I was bringing it anyway, I tossed in a couple bottles of water. One hint I got from the Passholder sitting next to me last night is that a lot of people pack food, everything from snacks to a full picnic, and that this is an okay thing to do. I wasn’t prepared to do that today, but I might going forward, and if I do the messenger bag is definitely required!

I again arrived far earlier than necessary. I like being early, especially since this is my first year and I don’t know how everything works yet. I chatted with a very nice 80-something volunteer for a while. She’s been volunteering for 18 years! I asked her for hints, and she said that I should not miss “the film about the museum.” She looked furtively around and whispered, “Penis museum.” During orientation, volunteers were shown part of the film, and she thought it was hilarious. I assured her that I was planning to see it.

Locally Fresh!

I was, unsurprisingly given my excessively early arrival, the first person to walk into the theater. There was a bit of annoying confusion regarding whether or not I needed to have a ticket. The Enzian Theater manager happened to be at the door, and waved me when he saw my pass. Then a volunteer stopped me just as I got in the door, saying all attendees to this event needed a ticket.  The theater manager told her all I needed was the pass.

The waitress came to take my order, and I finally discover how this event was going to run. Three short documentaries will be shown. In between, there will be cooking demonstrations on the stage and attendees get to taste. The first demo is a bruschetta, the second is some sort of pork dish (which I won’t be eating as I am a vegetarian), and the last is a drink. I ordered a quinoa wrap, which was good, but too salty. I tend to be overly sensitive to salt and think that most restaurant food has too much of it, so take my opinion with a grain of salt!

After I ordered, and while waiting for my food, another volunteer came over to check to see if Passholders had tickets to this event. To my right, a couple with Platinum passes showed their separate tickets for this event. When she came to me, I said this event was included. She asked if it was on the back of my pass; it isn’t. I explained I had called a couple weeks ago specifically to find out if this event was included, and was told that it was. I also pointed out the theater manager, explained that he was at the door when I came in, and that he said I didn’t need a ticket. She said she would double-check and get back to me. She never came back. The event was not sold out, so I could have gotten a ticket if I needed to, but it was a little annoying.

After a quick welcome, the first documentary aired. This one was about East End Market. This is a new Market that opened in spring 2013, not far from Leu Gardens, in the Audubon Park section of Orlando. I went to the Market for the first time a few weeks ago, and had been following the project while it was in development. It’s a pretty cool concept. East End Market is a small food market with individual spaces for different purveyors. During the documentary, East End Market Founder and Developer John Rife referred to it as a curated experience. This is an excellent description. Most of the food is locally produced. Exceptions include the cheese market and a small grocery that sells mostly but not entirely local food. The documentary also featured Olde Hearth Bread, one of the vendors in East End Market, and a supplier of bread to the Enzian. East End Market includes a sit down restaurant, meeting space available for rent, and a raised bed garden in the front yard. It is a cool place.

After the first documentary, Cameron Corwin (lead chef at Enzian) and Marcus Mahone (sous chef) took the stage to make Parmesan Tomato Crostini. I took notes on all the cooking, but discovered on the way out that I needn’t have done so as volunteers were at the door passing out a recipe sheet, which I scanned for you.  Locally Fresh Recipes

In addition to describing and demonstrating the recipe, the chefs gave a few pointers that aren’t included in the recipe. Corwin described how to make your own flavored oils. Vanilla oil is made by heating the oil with a sliced vanilla bean, putting it back into a bottle and shaking the bean into the oil, then sticking it in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can also infuse olive oil with other things like herbs or garlic. Flavored olive oils should be refrigerated after making and will last for 2-3 months in the refrigerator. Another hint for the crostini: if your bread is really soft, you can freeze it for a couple hours before slicing, which will make it easier to slice. During the demo, volunteers handed out samples to all attendees. I could definitely smell the vanilla, but when I took a bite, I could not distinguish the distinct vanilla taste. The crostini was sweeter than this kind of dish usually is, and I believe this is due to the influence of the vanilla. I would have guessed there was something unusual in the crostini, but not figured out what it was. I did not like it; I prefer a more acid (balsamic vinegar!) rather than sweet counterpoint to the tomatoes and cheese.

The next documentary was about Palmetto Creek Farms. This farm raises Hereford hogs. I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian; I eat dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal products, but no flesh. No pork or seafood of any kind or chicken or beef, etc. But I care about food production in general, so I listen to a podcast called The Beginning Farmer, produced by Farmer Ethan Book of Crooked Gap Farm in Iowa. Their primary product is Hereford hogs, a heritage breed, so I’ve learned a lot about them over the last year of listening to the podcast. What I did not know is that Hereford hogs are freaking adorable! I picture pigs as naked and pink. Hereford hogs are covered with a coat of hair, that looks a lot like a cow, and they are red heads! Their backs and sides and faces are entirely ginger, with a lining of white all the way around.

Totally adorable, right?

Totally adorable, right?

Palmetto Creek Farms has been raising Herefords for 8 years, and they are the first farm in Florida to raise this breed. The documentary said they have 45 to 50 sows with piglets per 30 acres. The goal of their farm is to be a low-stress environment for the hogs. They do not use, or even own, electric prods. When they move pigs from one location to another on the farm, they walk them rather than run them, and move them along by guiding the herd from the back. While genetics affect meat quality more than anything, they believe a low-stress environment leads to better pigs. They do notch ears to identify pigs. Right ear is the litter number and the left ear is the individual pig. Sous Chef Mahone is in the film, telling us Enzian uses these pigs because marbling is better and flavor is excellent.

The demo after the Palmetto Creek Farms film was a cuban sandwich. The only hint that isn’t in the recipe is about the griddle plates. Chef Corwin said you can buy griddle plates for your stove top. During the demo, they had a griddle plate on top of a single gas burner. I have a glass top stove and am going to have to see if they make griddle plates that work on the glass surface because I’d love to be able to get those pretty char marks on some of the things I cook!

Since Farmer Jim Wood was in the audience, most of the Q&A after the demo was directed to him. One person asked what happens when you get attached? I was wondering about this too; in the documentary, the farmer talked about how exciting it is when the sows give birth. “The little pigs are like puppy dogs,” he said. Rule # 1 for not getting attached: Don’t name the pigs. Rule #2: Compartmentalize on production day.

The next question was about the mating system used on the farm. Is it always the same sow and boar? Answer: they currently have 60 sows and 6 boars on the farm and they rotate which boar is with a particular sow.

How many litters will a sow have? The goal is 8 weaned pigs / litter. If a sow falls below that level, she’s sausage. Sows are bred for the first time at 8-9 months. The first litter is usually above average. The second litter is usually the highest, then they start decreasing in numbers. The important thing is not how many piglets she gives birth to, but how many she weans. Only the weaned pigs make it into production.

How do you feel about mass production farming? My system of farming is a wonderful system of farming, but if we tried to feed the world with this system, we’d starve because you would have to take land out of production for animal feed and put it into production for animals, leaving us without adequate land to grow the animal feed needed to raise the animals. (I have major issues with this assessment, but I won’t get on my soapbox for a change.)

The next documentary is about Lake Meadow Naturals, an egg producer. Farmer Dale Volkert first got chickens as a 4H project. His father sold the males for meat, but let Dale keep the females to sell eggs. When Dale’s son was in college, friends of his came home for a weekend and only out of 32 would eat the eggs. They were warm. They actually came out of an animal! So now they have open farm days on weekends so people can see where their eggs come from, and according to their website, on Fridays and Saturdays, customers can pick their own eggs right out of the coop. The farm uses a distributor to sell their eggs, so Dale didn’t know at first that Enzian was a customer. Then he was here for an event and discovered that his eggs were on the menu! This farmer had another commitment, so wasn’t there to answer questions.

After that documentary, Benjamin Buckingham, lead bartender at the Enzian took the stage to show us how to make a strawberry gin fizz. Fizzes use eggs in the drink. If a drink recipe uses egg white, it is fizz. If it uses both yolk and white, it is a Royal. If it only uses the yolk, it is a flip. Fizzes are really all about shaking. First, you shake it without ice. Then you add ice and shake some more. While he was shaking the fizz, Buckingham talked about the history of fizzes and the safety of eggs in a drink. The combination of citrus, sugar, and shaking cooks the eggs enough for them to be safe to eat (Key Lime pie uses this same principal; that filling isn’t cooked and relies on the citrus to cook the eggs). Safe handling and storage make a difference. Choosing good quality products, like organic eggs, helps with safety (I have my doubts about this; salmonella is salmonella and the fact that an egg is organic doesn’t in and of itself mean that it hasn’t been exposed to a naturally occurring bacteria.) Keep eggs refrigerated. Just before using, wash the exterior of the egg with water (I’ve heard conflicting information on this; since eggs are porous, washing them is just as likely to move bacteria into the interior of the egg as it is to wash it away). Fizz cocktails first became popular in the early 1900s in New Orleans. Fizzes always contain some form of spirit, some sort of citrus, and some sugar. The first one in New Orleans called the Rainbow Gin Fizz. Bartenders were required to shake the Rainbow Gin Fizz for 7 minutes. The drink got so popular, that the bar ended up hiring 20 bartenders to do nothing but shake gin fizzes! I don’t generally drink alcohol. Perhaps one glass of wine a year, but usually less than that.   I did try the strawberry gin fizz. For science. The egg whites lay on top of the drink as a foam, and it’s kind of odd. I taste the bitters far more than the strawberry. I wouldn’t have guessed the drink contained strawberries if I hadn’t seen him put them in there.

A short Q&A followed the demo. Do you have other odd ingredients in drinks here at the Enzian? Lots of fresh produce. They make ginger beer in house. Can you use a blender rather than shaking the fizz by hand? Yes. Because they had to make so many for this event, they used their industrial mixer!

Locally Fresh! Farmers Market

The Farmers Market was held on the lawn outside the Enzian and included a dozen or so different vendors. Olde Hearth Bread was there (I bought a chocolate sweet bread, which I haven’t eaten yet), along with two other East End Market vendors, Local Roots (a distributor of organic products, and one of the distributors used by Lake Natural Farms) and a booth selling handmade soaps. Homegrown Co-op, an Orlando grocery store and co-op, had a tent. I picked up some flavored salts at one booth and talked with a local honey producer that I had not met before. I even tasted a little honey straight from the hive!

Druid Peak

Website IMDB @druidpeakfilm on Twitter
Directed by: Marni Zelnick
USA, 2013, 111 minutes
In English
Southeast Premiere

This review contains spoilers

Owen’s (Spencer Treat Clark, Borachio in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing) friend dies in a car accident, which Owen feels responsible for causing. Owen’s mother decides she can’t cope with him so ships him to Wyoming to spend the summer with Everett (Andrew Wilson, Coach Beck in Rushmore; most recently Mike Shin in The Big Year; also, older brother of Owen Wilson), the father Owen has never met. Everett works for the National Park Service on the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program. The first day he’s there, Owen steals his father’s handgun and some bullets and hikes a couple hours into the wilds, planning to kill himself. He has the gun to his temple, when he comes face to face with a wolf. Not only does Owen not kill himself, but he also becomes obsessed with the wolves, and as the summer goes on, he makes substantive observations that are added into the scientific databases compiled by everyone who studies the wolves. Add in the anger of rangers who believe the wolves are killing their cattle, the delisting of the wolves (this means the wolves are no longer protected as an endangered species), the subsequent issuance of hunting licenses for the wolves, a possible romance between Owen and Zoe (a rancher’s daughter), and a little back story on Owen’s father and why he left when he found out Owen’s mother was pregnant with Owen.

I really enjoyed this movie. I grew up as a nature geek, hiking in the woods and camping with my birdwatcher father. Our father always told my sister and I that we could have our own pair of binoculars as soon as we could pronounce the word properly, and we got them when I was about 6 or 7 (I still have those binoculars, though I have upgraded since and don’t use them often). When I was a kid, I wanted to be a natural scientist when I grew up, living in some remote place and observing animals, like Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, or Farley Mowat. Therefore, this movie hit all the right nostalgia notes for me, and I was willing to forgive its faults.

Still, the faults are there. The acting sometimes feels stilted, though you could also interpret this as natural reticence between a sullen teenager and a father who is quite used to living alone in an isolated setting. Plus, they’ve never met before. The pacing of the movie did bother me. I did not have an adequate sense of the passing of time. Most of the movies feels as though it could have happened in a single week, rather than over the course of an entire summer. Finally, towards the end, there is one conversation where Everett is explaining how the ecology and landscape of Yellowstone changed after the reintroduction of the wolves and, even to a very sympathetic person like me, it came across as rather preachy.  A movie like this could easily have been preachy throughout, so while I noticed the little bit of preachiness, it didn’t particularly annoy me.

As I said, I was willing to forgive these flaws. The film is ultimately a sweet story about redemption, healing, and growing up.  It also made me want to go back to Yellowstone. It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve been there!

After the film there was a short Q&A with Executive Producer Maureen Mayer. The film does not have distribution yet. Someone in the audience shared about reading an article that the wolves changed the course of the river by changing the grazing patterns of the large herbivores in the park. Mayer told us this is called a trophic cascade and there’s a video on youtube about it:

Someone asked if the actor playing Everett is really a park ranger. Answer: No. How difficult was it to get Fish and Wildlife & the National Park Service to work with you? It took some time and many conversations to get the appropriate permits. They made an effort to leave as gentle footprint as possible while filming 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, for just under a month. Is this a true story? No. Everett is based on Doug Smith,  a ranger with whom the film’s writer / director did research. Does the film have an official relationship with the International Wolf Center in Minnesota? They are Facebook friends, but there is no official communication with the International Wolf Center. This isn’t a movie about wolves, it is a movie about people. We don’t want to be seen as wolf advocates. (I think that’s a splitting of hairs; the point is to sympathize with Owen and Everett, and they care a great deal about the wolves.) We think there is another character in this film, and that’s the landscape, the geography, and the wildness within yourself. (The scenery is absolutely stunning, but I didn’t feel that it moved the story forward in any way; it was just the background. For this reason, I would not have considered it a character.) How did you find the music? Was it created for this film? The music supervisor found already recorded music. Some through Marnie (the Writer / Director) and some through Bang Productions. No soundtrack is available.

SPOILER The wolf that Owen comes face-to-face with at the beginning of the film is killed towards the end. Someone in the audience asked about how that scene was made. The film was supervised by the Humane Society and no animals were harmed in the making of the film. The wolf that is killed is a trained wild wolf. The blood on him is fake blood. Usually, the wolf would be brought to the filming location and trained there for a week before shooting. Due to budget and permitting constraints, they were not able to do that for this film. The wolf had little stone markers and behaviors that he needed to hit, and they did the best they could with what they were able to film.

One of the biggest issues I had with the film was this scene. I figured this scene was coming as soon as Owen first met the wolf in the beginning of the film. As someone who is still traumatized by the death of the wolves in Julie of the Wolves, which I read when I was 8 or 9, I thought I’d probably be crying when we got to here. While Owen and Everett were superb in the scene, the wolf wasn’t. He was adorable, and he looked like exactly what he was: a trained animal with a little fake blood splashed on him. As a result, the scene did not have the emotional impact that it needed.

SPOILER In the film, Owen suggests to his father that they do a fundraising campaign to buy radio receivers to give to the ranchers around the park. That way, if wolves are getting close to ranches, ranchers could move their cattle and / or contact the park rangers before any animals were killed. The cost to reimburse ranchers for dead cattle is $1500 / head and a receiver costs $700, so this is potentially a money-saving proposition for the Park Service and / or Fish and Wildlife (though this is never stated so clearly in the film). During the Q&A, someone asked if that solution is actually used? Answer: No, because of concerns that some might use them for hunting. Obviously. It was my very first thought when Owen suggested it, and I was shocked Everett accepted the idea and didn’t even discuss the hunting ramifications.

Recommended

Faces from Places – Louisiana: La Boucherie

Directed by: Bastien Dubois
France, 2012, 3 minutes
In French with English subtitles
Southeast Premiere

I was unable to find a trailer to embed. This short preceded After Winter, Spring. It is an animation using water color paintings, along the lines of the county fair scene in Mary Poppins. For most of it, a Cajun woman explains the tradition of la boucherie (a pig roast where several families get together to cook, and sing or play music while waiting for the roast) to her white, male companion while the pair are fishing. At the end, there’s a quick glimpse of the event itself. If you are already familiar with the idea of la boucherie, this short doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but it is pretty.

Recommended

After Winter, Spring

Website IMDB
Directed by: Judith Lit
USA / France, 2013, 74 minutes
In English and French with English subtitles
Southeast Premiere

(I just love the little boy with his own work overalls, and appropriately sized wheelbarrow.  So cute!)

The filmmaker grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. As a child, she watched her grandfather and father decide to sell of sections of the farm because they could no longer afford to farm in the same manner as they had in the past. She shows us a photograph of that childhood farm, surrounded by large fields, and tells us that large field in the foreground was sold and turned into a housing development. She now lives in Perigord, France, a farming community that feels similar to her Pennsylvania childhood, on a farm that she operates. This film takes us into the lives of several of her neighbors, all farming using traditional methods.

The Perigord region has been cultivated for 4,000 to 5,000 years. The terrain of the region makes it difficult to farm with the kind of very large equipment used in other areas. The farmers in the film include a dairy, a vineyard, a foie gras goose farm, a polyculture (tobacco, grains, etc.), a subsistence farmer, and an organic vegetable farm. The filmmaker’s own farmhouse is shown briefly, but the film does not give us any details about her farm. All the farmers, except the organic vegetable farmer, have lived in the area their entire lives and grew up farming; the youngest of those is in his 60s. The organic vegetable farmers are a couple in their late 30s who are tired of the rat race and want to live a more rural, laid-back kind of life.

All the farmers are worried about the future of agriculture in the region. The film clearly shows us that farming is hard. It isn’t just the physical labor, but also the economics. The farms specialize in order to get the best financial return, but it isn’t enough. The dairy farmer tells us the wholesale price of milk is 200 euros, but his costs are 260 – 280 euros. The milk union strikes for better prices. The foie gras farmers can’t make ends meet with just that product, so they start a restaurant on their farm and give farm tours. The organic vegetable farmers can’t make ends meet either, so he takes a one year contract as an engineer in Venezuela, leaving her behind to run the farm. Despite these hardships, the farmers love the work they do and the lives they live, and wish that younger people were interested in carrying on their traditions.

A note for those who are squeamish, particularly about animals: the film does show how the foie gras farmers force feed corn to the geese, a chicken having its throat slit by hand with a penknife and then the cleaning off of the feathers, and an already dead hog being scraped to remove bristles.

I loved this film. Food production is something I care about, and yet this kind of portrait of traditional farming is something I have not seen on film before. The film does not overly romanticize or pull back from the challenges, and it is never preachy. Instead, we are shown the story of these people and this place, mostly in their own words. We assume that spring will follow winter. But with all these farmers in the winter of their lives, and no one in the spring of their lives there to take up the reins, will this traditional farming be lost?

Highly recommended

For No Good Reason

IMDB
Directed by: Charlie Paul
UK/USA, 2012, 89 minutes
In English
East Coast Premiere
Rated R

Ralph Steadman is an artist who has done some apparently iconic cartoons covering major news and sports events in the 20th Century. He worked closely with Hunter Thompson, including drawing the illustrations for Thompson’s novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Together, the pair invented the idea of Gonzo journalism, which Steadman defines for as having the following characteristics: (1) Find an event; (2) immerse yourself in the event; (3) after the event, write about it in such a way that you become the story.

Most of the film is a conversation between Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman, as the pair hang out in Steadman’s work space. We watch Steadman work and he pulls out his published books and discusses how he created the work in them. Mostly, they talk about the past, particularly Hunter S. Thompson and the relationship between Steadman and Thompson and how the two got along, or didn’t. Old footage of Thompson is spliced in between some of the segments, as are interviews with others who know Steadman and knew Thompson.

One cool thing about the film was the animations.  In between film segments, and for a couple minutes at the end of the film, we saw animations of Steadman’s work.  It looked like they took old works of Steadman’s and animated them so that a little of the piece appeared at a time, giving you the feeling that you were watching Steadman create them in front of your eyes.

I went into this film knowing nothing at all about Steadman or Thompson. I saw it because it was the only one that fit into this time slot in my film viewing schedule. I found it fascinating to watch how Steadman actually worked, and to hear his thoughts on his methods and the value of his work. Other than that, I didn’t care about anything in this film. Although Steadman tries to convince us that the film is really about his artwork rather than about him personally, it came across as self-indulgent rambling.   It also seemed as though Johnny Depp had his own agenda for being involved in this film — processing Hunter Thompson’s suicide.  As a result, the film sometimes skewed towards discussions of Thompson, even when Steadman did not seem interested in talking about him.

I’ve spoken to others who enjoyed this film much more than I did.  Those who enjoyed it were familiar with the work of Steadman and Thompson, and therefore quite interested in this glimpse into the lives of these two men.  Unless that describes you, this film is

Not recommended

Dom Hemingway

Website  IMDB
Directed by: Richard Shepard
UK, 2013, 93 minutes
In English
Rated R

The film opens with Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) bare chested, arms straight out to the side, bracing against the sides of his jail cell, soliloquizing about the exquisiteness of his most pleasurable appendage.  I confess that after his first declaration of exquisiteness, my immediate thought was, “I bet it is, Mr. Law.” As the soliloquy continues for another couple minutes, including a declaration that his private part should win medals, I caught myself thinking, “Well, you know, there’s this museum in Iceland…” Later in the film, we get a brief glimpse of the member in question, but it is too brief and from too far a distance to make an independent assessment of its exquisiteness.

Dom Hemingway is just getting out of jail, having served 12 years because he refused to snitch on his boss. He expects a reward, and gets it. Sort of. Hemingway is angry, and feels that nothing works out for him. Jude Law plays the character with the kind of rarely contained anger, animalistic movement, redfacedness, and popping neck veins expected from Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Hemingway is a despicable man, the kind who upon release from prison makes a beeline for the man who married Hemingway’s ex-wife, and nursed her through her final illness, and beats him to a pulp for marrying her at all. Yet he is endearing at times, mostly due to the fact that he keeps trying very hard to be a badass, but failing more often than he succeeds. The question is, will his luck change? And will he?  Unless he changes, he will never have a relationship with his daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clark,  Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones), or her son.

The movie is unexpectedly funny. Most of the humor comes from pushing Hemingway’s dialogue and behavior to farcical levels, and a few visual pranks.  None of the humor takes away from the violence of the film, but it is a welcome bit of relief from that violence, and a hint that there is at least the possibility of redemption for Hemingway.

One small visual gaff: We are never told the year the movie is set in, but based on costuming, the prevalence of cocaine as the drug of choice, and the mention that electronic safes were invented while Hemingway was in jail, I assumed it was 1970-something. In one flyover view of London, the London Eye, built for the millennium celebration, is visible.

This film earns its R rating in every possible fashion: a little nudity, a little sex, a little cocaine use, a lot of violence (though only a little blood; most of the violence is threatened or implied), a lot of profanity, and a lot of drunkenness. This may mean it’s not the film for you, but otherwise,

Recommended

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