2012 Florida Film Festival
The 2012 Florida Film Festival's brightest star is Central Florida itself. Are we ready for our close-up?
Published: April 12, 2012
Girl Model (3 Stars) If you've ever assumed the life of an international teen model is nonstop glamour, prepare yourself instead for a real-life hunger game. Nadya, a 13-year-old Siberian girl, wins a cattle call for new faces and gets sent to Japan with the guarantee of modeling work that will help take care of her family back home while ensuring she herself doesn't have to be stuck there. But from the minute she gets off the plane, she finds little more than a claustrophobic shoebox apartment and what looks like a near-total lack of adult supervision in a country where the standard of beauty appears to have been set by pedophiles. As counterpoint to this tale of disillusionment, the doc gets periodic doses of context from Ashley, whose own experiences in the industry have left her a self-loathing wreck. Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin are FFF vets whose Mardi Gras: Made in China established their insight into the area of exploitation, but Girl Model does little more than open a door to a fascinating subject; Ashley's story in particular cries out for a more illuminating treatment. – SS (6:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)
Dog Years (4 Stars) Written, directed by and starring actors Warren Sroka and Brent Willis, Dog Years cleverly uses as its backdrop the Tokyo not seen in Lost in Translation: the ugly, industrial side where corporate lifers and foreign-exchange teachers exist in the perpetual purgatory of time-killing video games and touristy spiritual destinations. Willis plays Japanese-American Ben, a bitter loner adrift in his late mother's homeland. When Ben connects with Elliot (Sroka), his beta-male half-brother, the two become begrudging (for Ben, at least) allies, and gradually the drab city comes alive with stolen memories. The low-budget film could have crossed over with a little more cash, but as a passion project, it stands tall. – JS (7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)
The Sheik and I (4 Stars) When American filmmaker Caveh Zahedi was commissioned by the United Arab Emirates to make a film about “art as a subversive act,” they got more than they bargained for. The project, initially a terrorist lark, grew into a quasi-musical documentary that left authorities (including the omniscient sheik) upset by its arguably blasphemous tone. Zahedi doesn't shy away from embodying the arrogant Western stereotype, but he raises fair points about the nature of censorship. Frustrating and fascinating in equal measure, and a kindred spirit to Operation Filmmaker (FFF '08), Sheik is worth seeing for the bigger conversations it's likely to spark. – WG (8:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)
Paul Williams Still Alive (3 Stars) Mostly plodding, occasionally transcendent, this strangely voyeuristic, semi-authorized, semi-tolerated look into the mundane present-day life of legendary songwriter and perennial '70s talk-show personality Paul Williams (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “The Rainbow Connection”) has a credible, if thin, case to make – that Williams should be held in the same regard as other songwriters of his time like Paul Simon – yet doesn't quite know how to make it. The self-absorbed Stephen Kessler is too obsessed with the agitation his omnipresent camera creates in Williams and his family, but the way the filmmaker melds YouTube clips, old VHS tapes, home movies and licensed material is resourceful and new, as if he conjures Williams' rise-and-fall narrative out of thin air. There's more to filmmaking than editing, however, and Kessler's field work needs some fine-tuning. – JS (9 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)