Noted Film Director Dies One Week Before Fort Lauderdale Appearance

I was scheduled to interview filmmaker George Hickenlooper in person at a posh Fort Lauderdale hotel this coming Sunday morning. I still would be doing so, were not it for the fact that George Hickenlooper died last weekend.

The news hit me six days ago, when, much to my dismay, I received an e-mail from Jan Mitchell, director of publicity for the ongoing 25th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, titled “In Memory of George Hickenlooper.” The director was scheduled to fly to Fort Lauderdale today for Sunday evening’s festival-closing screening of his latest film “Casino Jack,” a biopic of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff starring Kevin Spacey in the lead role.

A longtime friend of FLIFF, Hickenlooper has been a three-time guest and a previous award winner at the festival. In a statement to the press, FLIFF president and CEO Gregory von Hausch said, “He was a fascinating talent with an uncanny knack for storytelling. All of us at FLIFF are deeply saddened by his passing.”

Hickenlooper’s death will likely go down as one of the most shocking industry deaths of the year. We lost him over Halloween weekend at age 47, a very young passing first diagnosed mysteriously as “natural causes” and since ruled to be a heart attack. Hickenlooper suffered weight problems throughout his prolific career, which spanned 20 features, documentaries and shorts over 22 years.

Never quite achieving A-list directorial status, Hickenlooper toiled in the independent film world, producing a variety of minor but enjoyable movies while enjoying the chameleonic ability to transform stylistically from commercial dramas to black-and-white art films to probing documentaries. His greatest achievement is also his best-known film: 1991’s “Hearts of Darkness,” an extraordinary look at the trials and tribulations of the filming of “Apocalypse Now.”

Sunday evening’s screening of “Casino Jack” will still take place at 7:30 p.m. at Cinema Paradiso, following a closing-night wrap party at 5:15. Expect what normally would have been a traditional festival closer to be a poignant send-off packed with emotions and tears. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for FLIFF members.