A Frenetic Fest

This year's Fort Lauderdale International Film Fest offers everything from terrorists to overamped adolescents

At the risk of sounding like an old-timer reminiscing about the good old days, I remember when the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival was a relatively small, intimate affair called the Greater Fort Lauderdale Film Festival -- and you actually stood a chance of taking in a good portion of its lineup. Now, as its organizers celebrate the event's 16th season, they delight in reminding us that it's the longest film festival in the world, encompassing more than three weeks of screenings of more than a hundred movies.

Having covered the majority of the 16 seasons for one publication or another, I've grown used to the litany of numbers. This year, for instance, the festivities include nearly three dozen galas, receptions, and parties; two five-day "mini fests" in Pembroke Pines and Boca Raton, with more than two dozen screenings; an Asian Pacific Film Festival within the festival, including more than 50 screenings; nearly a dozen U.S. premieres and a trio of world premieres; three film-related seminars; eighteen short subjects, eight documentaries, and four films by Florida filmmakers. The list goes on and on.

I long ago gave up hope of making sense of a bulky schedule that includes an "opening night" that's two weeks into the festival and a "closing-night film" that screens twice the night before the final night. Instead I focus on trying to find a few films that provide a generous cross-section of the festival. Here is our first installment of what this year's festival has to offer; additional chapters will appear in the next two issues.

Swedish Beauty
Swedish Beauty
The Perfect Son
The Perfect Son

Swedish Beauty

If you thought American moviemakers had cornered the market on silly teen sex comedies, think again. This Swedish export proves otherwise. It's essentially a Scandinavian take on the familiar idea that teenage boys are driven primarily by their hormones.

In this case Anders and Börje are the two horny buddies who quell their frustrations by jerking off and thinking about naked women. Enter Sofia, a beautiful young woman who comes to their sleepy little town as a foster child. She's like a more wholesome version of Brigitte Bardot with a dash of Gwyneth Paltrow, and she sends the boys' fantasies into overdrive.

The obsessed 15-year-olds hatch a scheme to make their own movie starring Sofia, conveniently including a scene in which she goes skinny-dipping and has to be rescued by the hero, who just happens to be Anders. Soon the whole town is caught up in the melodrama of its budding filmmakers.

Despite its appealing leads, the movie never rises above its basic hokiness, and it veers between halfhearted raunchiness and strained sincerity. You probably won't leave the theater thinking Anders will grow up to be the next Ingmar Bergman. (Saturday, October 27, 1:30 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Friday, November 2, 1:30 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Saturday, November 3, 5:45 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront; 89 minutes; in Swedish with English subtitles)

Drive-In Movie Memories

According to this lively documentary based on a book by its producers, Don and Susan Sanders, the first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933. Within a few decades, the number of drive-ins in the United States had soared to more than 5000.

Today, of course, fewer than 500 drive-ins remain in business, many surviving only as adjuncts to flea markets such as Broward County's Swap Shop. An amazingly diverse history between then and now speaks volumes about American popular culture.

The producers and their director, Kurt Kuenne, combine archival footage, photography, advertisements, live interviews, and other materials to provide an overview of this history. The eclectic bunch of interview subjects include critics Leonard Maltin and John Bloom (better known as Joe Bob Briggs), producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, and actors Robert Fuller, Beverly Garland, and Barry Corbin.

But the most interesting things here are the bits of historical trivia: drive-ins with in-car heating and air-conditioning systems, others with laundry and bottle-warming services, concession stands with increasingly varied fare, and the ritual of intermission. The movie also chronicles the factors that led to the virtual demise of drive-ins: the rise of television, the deterioration of expensive equipment, the advent of home video, even daylight-saving time.

This is fascinating stuff, all of it packed into less than an hour. That's the problem. Kuenne directs with the restlessness of an MTV-generation kid with attention deficit disorder, to the point of cutting off people in midsentence. His rapid-fire editing and noisy sound effects get to be annoying, but with material this good, I'm willing to forgive him. (Friday, October 26, 3:30 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; Sunday, October 28, 5:30 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; 58 minutes)

Jugosai

The protagonist of this pleasingly low-key Japanese drama is Daisuké, a cranky, pimple-faced teenager who wearies of school and sets off to have an adventure, much to the chagrin of his family and friends. (In a nice touch, one classmate puts a bowl of goldfish on Daisuké's desk to keep it from looking so empty.)

The young runaway hitchhikes first from Yokohama to Osaka, then on to Kyushu, where he catches a ferry to the small island of Yakushima. There his adventure culminates in a rugged mountain hike that takes him to a remote cedar tree, which, at more than 7000 years old, is supposedly the longest-lived plant on earth.

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