the jacksonville film festival lives

by jon bosworth
Maybe you’ve heard the rumors, or maybe you’ve just paused and wondered what that vacuum in your cultural life was. Weren’t you getting excited about something around this time last year? Ah yes, the Jacksonville International Film Festival!
“We really didn’t know what we were going to do this year until at the last minute Winn-Dixie came through as a major sponsor and some board members grabbed the bull by the horns. The economy, of course, doesn’t help it,” said Jesse Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Film Festival. “Although it’s important to have a film festival, this struggle presented an opportunity to evaluate the long-term goals of this organization. Are we going to keep it a local festival as it has been, basically just serving the local community, or are we going to be an industry destination and a tourist destination as well? These are some of the things we’re taking seriously now with some new blood on the board of the festival.”
What an elusive beast this festival has been this year. Long gone are the pre-tax-cut days rich with “quality of life” programs for the populace. Remember those heydays? Back when Film Festival posters reared their bizarrely conceptualized heads with reels of films for eyes months before the actual event. Back when we cinephiles spent grueling weeks anticipating this, then young, annual event. Well now it has been around for seven years, somehow mediating strange and ambiguous upheavals in direction, support, programming, budget, management, and every imaginable obstacle, to emerge again in 2009 with a lineup of films that you would otherwise never see in the River City. But will the stars fill the streets of Jacksonville as they have in years past?
“Nobody wants to come here when Cannes is happening, unless they happen to be here to play golf, like Bill Murray,” said Rodriguez when asked if this year’s festival would bring a big star to town to give a Tortuga award to, like the ones that certainly have prime real estate on the mantles of John Waters, John Travolta and Bill Murray. “We had a huge, legendary star that was going to come in but when he found out that our festival was the same time as Cannes, he said he couldn’t. I mean, Cannes is bigger internationally than the Oscars.”
Rodriguez’s programming prowess, coming out of his association with the Chicago International Film Festival as well as his Viva Cinema program in previous JFFs, has taken the festival from a series of sarcastic indie films catering to a small crowd of cynics with hipster haircuts (admittedly, I adored those days) to festivals like last year’s, which presented more quality foreign films than years prior, as well as a great selection of films ranging from the quirky comedy winner of last year, Skills Like This, to the underground favorites Gonzo and The Tracey Fragments. Now he hopes to take the festival to the next level and possibly even move the date to October so that our festival doesn’t compete with Cannes. But nevermind the future, what does the festival have for cinephiles this year?
“One of the panels that we’re having is Independent Filmmaking A to Z,” Rodriguez says. This program is ideal for filmmakers that want to see the process of making a film from conception to screening at festivals. The workshop features most of the key players in the making of a film called Hunger, which will enjoy its world premiere at the Jacksonville Film Festival, and participants in this workshop can ask questions directly to any of these key players about everything from the writing to the financing to the shooting to the promoting the finished film to festivals (including a lead actor from Jacksonville). “If you have an interest in any aspect of film, whether it’s the producer’s end, the writing end, the acting end, the legal part; this will cover it all.” Check out all of the Screenwriter’s and Documentarian workshops too.
This year the films have a distinctly more Jacksonville focus, featuring many headliners that showcase Jax talent. And there are some real gems hidden in the mix. EU has watched a good deal of the highlight films this year, so we’re happy to roll out the carpet on a few of the blockbusters. While we’re at it, we’ll tip you off to a few of those hidden gems. For more details visit

Festival Highlights:

84 Minutes – Animated. English
This animated fantasy adventure is the story of an evil dragon in search of immortality. A fun adventure for the whole family, it is the story of a new child wizard (the Magistical) who is sworn to protect that last dragon. The technical quality of this film, story and animation, is superb.

Anywhere USA
123 Minutes – Dramedy. English
“That’s the romance of the Jihad, brother.” A silver suitcase, a major credit card, a state fair, and a Quickstop that sells hummous coupled with Tammy’s new fondness for pistachio’s and the Internet, makes this wild terrorist hunt through the south a hilarious if surreal portrait of “anywhere USA.” In the first part. Then the loss of innocence and the poignant vision of coming to terms with existential reality in part 2. The denoument? Let’s just say facial hair plays a big part.

Chatarunga (Four Chapters)
125 Minutes – Drama. Bengali (subtitled)
See a totally different side of life in India than you saw in Slumdog Millionaire or any Bollywood film. This movie is one pilgrim’s search for meaning within the caste system of India. An intense and self-searching film that explores religion and philosophy through the eyes of an Indian man.

Hidden Gems:

Christmas Carrot
12 Minutes – Comedy. English
This smart, quirky comedy is a sure laugh for any (adult) audience. Vegan college girl comes home for Christmas with her wacky grandmother and out-of-touch but loveable family. She goes to her room and masturbates with a carrot to a Kirk Cameron poster while singing the theme to Family Ties. Antics ensue.

Dudley’s Raft
31 Minutes – True Drama. English
Four survivors of a sunken ship drift at sea on a single raft for 24 days. Powerful, well written and superbly acted drama. This is an incredible film.

Even in My Dreams
8 Minutes – Drama. English
A deeply closeted elderly widower struggles to be sexually liberated in his dreams. He is haunted by a manly doll he purchases from a sex shop named Tom.

The Kid
10 Minutes – Drama. English
This Douglas Anderson student short was well directed and well shot. Don’t allow the lack of talented actors in Jacksonville keep you from catching this joyous and simple story. The familiar locations, the park in San Marco, River Road, St. Vincents, are always fun to see on camera, but the story has a little something too.

14 Minutes – Drama. Dutch (subtitled)
This stylishly shot and edited short from Holland tells a story of desperation that is both topical and profound. The story of two young men, one “going on holiday” never to return and the other desperate to reclaim his life, whose paths intersect in a small bank. Their options, their humanity, the curve of ther entire earthly experience is forever changed by the encounter.