The Brigadoon of Film Fests
by Norman Mark
Every two years, like a short-cycle Brigadoon for cine-maniacs, the Floating Film Fest gathers a couple hundred movie maniacs and sails into uncharted seas of celluloid adventures.
The Millennium FFF left Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 1, aboard the magnificent Maasdam, a Holland America ship that combined friendliness with efficiency and charm. In three Holland American cruises, I have never had a bad day on board any of their ships. The Maasdam featured the finest wines, the most delicious food and a staff that was always going out of their way to make the trip even more enjoyable.
That Floating Film Festival visited Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, Aruba, Nicaragua and transversed the Panama Canal before disembarking in Costa Rica. When we were at sea, we saw three films a day, morning, afternoon and after dinner. When we were at anchor, there were only two films, allowing us to explore the ports. None of the films had been in wide release, all of them were fascinating.
The next Floating Film Festival 7 has already been announced. It will leave San Diego on February 16, 2002, aboard Holland America's beautiful MS Statendam and will sail the Mexican Riviera on a ten-day film festival odyssey. Stops include Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and Puerto Vallarta. Prices range from $1900 to $3300, air fare not included.
The FFF was the dream-fantasy-fulfillment of Dusty Cohl, a Toronto developer/attorney/co-creator of the Toronto Film Fest. While watching cruise boats leave Miami, Dusty, who always sports a beard and a black cowboy hat, thought it would be great to gather like-minded people for a film fest on a cruise boat. The FFF was born.
During the Year 2000 cruise, Roger Ebert, who is one of the presenters at the festival, led two, two-hour sessions analyzing Citizen Kane. The film was intimately parsed in sessions that provided background, insight and even greater appreciation of the genius of the film's director Orson Welles.
That Floating Film Festival included "Citizen Cohl," a tribute to FFF founder Dusty Cohl. The affectionate short subject began with the famous close up of lips saying "Dusty Cohl" instead of "Rosebud."
Famed interviewer and writer Studs Terkel had a delightful Q&A session with Ebert. Studs criticized the current media penchant for revealing and dwelling on the sexcapades of the famous. He asked, "What business is it of me or anyone else what they do in their private lives?"
Studs also revealed that he would have liked to have talked with George Bernard Shaw and Greta Garbo, was disappointed with Marlene Dietrich, and said of his interview with the mime Marcel Marceau: "I couldn't get a word in edgewise."
Bill and Thalia Zane, professional actors, founders of a school for medical technicians and the parents of Billy Zane, the villain of the film Titanic, engaged in intense late-night discussions of which films were triumphant or terrible. The Zanes were among the winners of the bi-annual FFF trivia quiz. One question asked if the following titles were real or phony: The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik Yak, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, and Sorority Babes in the slimeball Bowl-o-Rama. A trick question because all the titles were from actual (if not exactly terrific) movies.
When the votes for best films were tallied, the critics and the audience agreed on two of the movies (all of which should be in a local specialized video store by now):
Two Family House, the story of a married Italian landlord who falls in love with his Irish tenant. Produced and directed by Raymond DeFelitta, who attended the FFF, the film won the audience prize, was third in the critic's estimation and got a lucrative distribution deal at Sundance.
Shower, a comedy from China, placed second among both the audience and critics. It is the four-star story of a decrepit Beijing bathhouse, the family that runs it and the forces of modernization that threatens it. It's now in your local video store in the foreign film section and I recommend it.
The Color of Paradise, an Iranian film about a blind boy and the father who didn't want him, took the critics' first prize. When this beautifully filmed, emotional movie ended, there wasn't a dry eye in the theater.
The least popular film by far was the disgustingly violent Hungarian film The Alchemist and the Virgin, in which the virgin told the huge wrestler she was dating that she would have sex with him only if he jumped off a 10-story building or cut off his leg with a chain saw, which he did. If there is ever an American version, I'm sure it will include the song "What I Did for Love."
Other memorable films included:
Unforgettable, a Canadian documentary about the memories of the senior citizens. One person said, "The secret to a long life is to keep breathing." American television networks never aired this insightful and delightful documentary.
The British film East Is East, starring Om Puri, was about a Pakistani man who wanted his English family to adhere to ancient traditions.
The Cup, a film from Bhutan, was the often humorous boys in a Tibetan monastery who want to watch a World Cup soccer match on television.
Croupier was a suspenseful film about a writer working in London casinos. The ending was a complete surprise.
When we were on shore, we found a perfect, little world-class bar in Nicaragua, traversed the Panama Canal and marvelled at its engineering (see link below), and generally had perfect cruise-tour days. Then we would board the ship, eat well, enjoy the Holland America facilities, ad watch another movie.
Now we're looking forward to the seventh Floating Film Festival, when once again the movies we see will be much more important to us than the ports we visit.
Think of it: films and fellowship while cruising the world. A perfect 10 days and when it was over, I didn't want it to end. But then, neither did I want to see The Alchemist and the Virgin again.
Norman Mark, the former movie critic and entertainment reporter for NBC Chicago, now lives in San Francisco.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information about the upcoming Floating Film Festival 7 in 2002 call Rosemary Durham at Brotherton Travel, 1-800-772-4101.
"Found a World Class Bar