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Orlando Weekly's guide to the 2013 Florida Film Festival

Central Florida’s annual festival of film and food returns for its 22nd year

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★★★

When I scheduled this film on my phone, autocorrect wanted to change it to “downcast” – clearly, Siri knew more than I did about what audiences are in for with this documentary. Downeast tells the too-familiar story of a town sent into an economic death spiral by the closure of a local business. In this case, it’s Stinson Seafood, the last American sardine-canning concern, which closed and put most of Gouldsboro, Maine, out of work. When a Boston-by-way-of-Italy businessman comes into town with a plan to buy the cannery and open a lobster-packing plant, it seems prayers have been answered. All the ways in which they are not unfold in this spare 78-minute doc. Capitalism: It’s a bitch.

Downeast is hard to watch, not just because of the soul-crushing subject matter but also because filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin allow the information to unfold from the mouths of the natives, with very little exposition and no narration. (Although it must be said that Redmon and Sabin specialize in depressing tales: See their 2007 Kamp Katrina and last year’s Girl Model.) The gut-punch story is leavened somewhat by slow-paced but visually poetic oceanside sequences.

The two screenings of Downeast will be preceded by American Tintype, a lovely four-minute short about an archaic form of art photography by local-until-last-month filmmaker Matt Morris. – Jessica Bryce Young

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FAME HIGH

★★★★

There’s nothing completely unique about this film, which follows four students (Zak, Ruby, Grace and Brittany) through a school year at “Fame High,” the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, a rigorous public school that helps talented teens prepare for careers in the performing arts. Parents from all around LA – and even as far as the Midwest – try to get their precocious kids into the school, in the hope that they’ll get the ass-kicking training they need to polish their acting/music/dancing/theater careers. Although the kids are surprisingly professional in their approach to balancing career with teenage life, it becomes clear that the stress of being forced to grow up too fast takes its toll – and comes just as much from controlling parents as from within.

Grace struggles with not just the modern-dance techniques she needs to hone to get into Juilliard, but also with her traditional Korean parents, who won’t let her date and would prefer to see her become a doctor or professor rather than a dancer. Brittany faces the guilt that she and her mother left her two sisters and father behind (temporarily) so she could attend this school and have a shot at a singing career. Ruby expresses frustration that she just wants to be a teenager and “kiss boys,” but she feels pressure from her parents – both of whom are busy theater professionals – to follow in their footsteps. Zak is a talented pianist, but his father’s obsession with his son’s career distracts him from being able to focus on finding his true talents.

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