It used to be an inside joke: FLIFF, an acronym for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, also stood for Florida’s Longest International Film Festival. The event just kept going, for up to four weeks of one premiere after another.
“The longest it ran was 38 days; my staff wanted to kill me,” recalls Gregory Von Hausch, the festival’s president since 1989. “Last year we were at 18 days. … Fighting against streaming, we didn’t want to create an animal that was so expensive, whose margins were so thin. … I’m thrilled with it.”
This year’s 37th-annual festival runs Nov. 4-13, a cool 10 days, right in line with the length of industry leaders Cannes and Sundance. Quality is expected to compensate for sheer quantity, though FLIFF will still debut about 200 features, documentaries and shorts. In addition to the festival, Von Hausch programs year-round Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood, capturing much of the arthouse market in Broward County.
What do you look for when screening films for consideration for FLIFF?
I consider my audience first. There may be films I like, but if they’re not going to like them, there’s no sense of me going after them. I find things that are very eclectic. There are certain genres that I steer clear of. I know my audience doesn’t like gratuitous violence, [which I share]. My audience gravitates toward foreign film. I go to those more than American independents.
How varied is the quality control on the submissions you receive?
The quality control is a little up and down, and the number of films we watch can range into the thousands over the course of the year. When I was younger, I felt like I had a fiduciary responsibility to these filmmakers to watch every second, but you rapidly realize that some of the stuff that comes to you has no merit, and no redeeming value. You’re doing disservice to the other legitimate ones behind you; you don’t want your programmer looking at you with bleary eyes.
How do you keep the festival energy alive throughout the year at your theaters?
We still do a lot of events. We had a paleontologist for “Jurassic World Dominion.” “Minions” had a Minion there. We had the ushers in flight suits for “Top Gun.” For “Downton Abbey,” we had the ushers in period costumes.
Do you have a memorable story from a previous FLIFF?
[In 1995] Michael Caine and Roger Moore came to FLIFF together. They were best friends. One night, I had arranged a meet-and-greet at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. Michael was with us for about a week, and I took him as many places as I could; Roger had to come later, in a different car.
Michael and I are in a limousine going up to the Colony. We get there, and we go into this ballroom situation, and immediately, fans are coming after him, literally pushing him up against a wall. I’m on the outside of this embryo, trying to be the sperm and force my way into it, and he’s getting all these women with cocktails in their hands, firing questions to him, and reaching out and touching him. He looks at me, and I’m literally pulling him to this door. He just had to escape. And as soon as we got outside the door and we’re leaving those people trailing after us, there were a bunch of tabloid reporters asking him questions about his restaurant, and how he treats his employees. And literally, he got so red, I thought he was going to hit this guy.
The limousine was there, we get into it, and he started cursing like a sailor, and calling up the other limo [with Roger Moore] and telling them to turn around and go away.
A lot has been written about the demise of movie theaters, especially since COVID, with more titles than ever opening direct to streaming. Should we be writing the obituary for cinemas?
I’m deeply concerned about it. We have to make so much money, and the audiences still aren’t coming back. I’ve been trying hard to break into the 18-to-34-year-old group. There’s a lot of competition for them out there. I know how easy and comfortable it is to watch things at home. During the pandemic, we became TV junkies. We don’t have a huge TV—it’s 48 inches—but it’s perfect for us.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
WHERE: Savor Cinema and Cinema Paradiso
WHEN: Nov. 4-13
CONTACT: Visit fliff.com in October for complete festival schedule