FLIFF Turns 25 With its Best Lineup in Years

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF, as its fans call it) is a festival I’ve always supported, but I’ve been critical of its selection process over the past few years. I haven’t seen too many films that would approach masterpiece status, and the Miami International Film Festival seemed more on the cutting edge of world and art-house cinemas.

But an early look at a number of the films screening at this year’s FLIFF – its 25th anniversary – suggests the three-week festival, which begins Oct. 22, will boast its best lineup in recent memory. Part of it this change has to do with the booking of several high-profile studio films, such as Darren Aronofsky’s dance thriller “Black Swan,” with Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder, and the true-life courtroom drama “Conviction,” with Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Juliette Lewis. These movies will screen more than a month in advance of their South Florida release dates, a coup for FLIFF even if bigger-budget titles aren’t the festival’s forte.

“If a film will get a release down here, usually we don’t show it,” says Gregory von Hausch, president and CEO and FLIFF for the past 22 years. “We have some exceptions for that this year, which brings in money. But we’ve got our pulse on the audience. They like to find these little gems that are not high-profile, that might play the European festivals but not necessarily New York or Toronto. It’s kind of how we’ve made our bread and butter… it’s closer to our mission to bring unique offerings no one would have a chance to see without us.”

The festival will no doubt have room to accommodate all tastes this year, even my picky ones. More than 150 films will screen at Cinema Paradiso, including nine world premieres and 10 U.S. premieres. Special guests include Edward Burns, star of the opening-night comedy “Nice Guy Johnny;” George Hickenlooper, director of the closing-night Jack Abramoff biopic “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey as the title character; character actor Michael Murphy; and Hollywood legend Claire Bloom, who will receive a lifetime achievement award in between screenings of her classics “Limelight” and “The Haunting.”

Festivities technically begin earlier than Oct. 22. Starting this coming Monday and running through Oct. 17, Cinema Paradiso will host the “FLIFF Rewind,” a mini festival of prominent movies that screened at FLIFF from 1986 to 2009.

“Since we developed Cinema Paradiso, we’ve had a lot of new members, people who came on in the very late ’90s all the way through to today who were enamored with what we were doing,” von Hausch says. “We wanted to give them a history lesson, because some of the films were so classic.”

Full festival guides are slated to be available Monday at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. For information, call 954/525-3456.