Cinematic Sprawl

The film festival that grew and grew

That, I think, is because, during its course of nearly two decades of phenomenal growth, FLIFF has increasingly risked becoming aesthetically irrelevant by its insistence on a bigger-is-better mentality. In its early struggling years, the festival had a cause -- American independent cinema -- and even if some howlers worked their way into the lineup, the schedule was more tightly focused.

Now, despite some commendable stripping down, the festival still seems to want to be all things to all people. There's nothing wrong with that -- for an event that wants to sacrifice its claim to artistic importance.

Stephanie Courtney: from marijuana-fueled masturbation to taking it in the butt
Stephanie Courtney: from marijuana-fueled masturbation to taking it in the butt


Friday, October 17, through Sunday, November 16, at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale, and Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-760-9898.

Blood from a Stone

One of the festival's early selections is this American documentary. "This is a story about buried treasure," we're told, and the treasure turns out to be a fortune in uncut diamonds hidden during the Holocaust. The treasure hunter is Yaron Svoray, a charismatic Israeli terrorism expert who's also a Nazi hunter and even infiltrates Nazi organizations. His 15-year search is supported, in part, by Maine businessman Sam Nyer, and it ultimately turns up the long-lost loot. Despite some annoying MTV-style editing and re-creations of wartime events, the documentary works largely because of Svoray, a portly balding man with a vigorous ebullient demeanor. "I felt as if I were touching the Holocaust in a very raw, unfiltered sort of way," he says when he and his partner find the last batch of uncut stones on the French-German front. The proceeds from the diamonds, by the way, were scrupulously monitored and went to charity. (Thursday, October 23, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., Cinema Paradiso; 93 minutes) -- Michael Mills

Melvin Goes to Dinner

Michael Bleiden, who wrote the screenplay, plays Melvin in this directorial debut of Bob Odenkirk, one of the creators of HBO's cult-status comedy show Mr. Show. A medical school dropout, Melvin accidentally makes a dinner date with his estranged friend Joey (Matt Price). When he enters the restaurant, he discovers Joey there with Alex (Stephanie Courtney), an old business-school friend, who has brought along Sarah (Annabelle Gurwitch), whom she coincidentally ran into in front of the restaurant. Everybody at the dinner is meeting somebody for the first time, and the conversation flows as freely as the wine, ranging from infidelity and religion to marijuana-fueled masturbation and taking it in the butt. Did you ever have a secret that you never felt quite right telling someone? Like it would expose your soul if you did? Well, leave it to the topic of anal sex to get people to open up.

Viewer becomes voyeur here, and soon, because of the intensity and pace of the revelations, you're feeling guilty for sitting quietly in the theater. There is a series of moments when alarming realizations pop up around the table like zits. Lines such as "I killed someone" and "If his wife got hit by a car tomorrow, I'd probably start sleeping with him again" spill out of the same conversation. Flashback scenes include decidedly low-key cameos from Jack Black (as one of Melvin's mental patients with delusions of grandeur) and Mr. Show alumnus David Cross (as a creepy motivational speaker). In fact, some of the most poignant scenes include Melvin's anecdotes on medical school and schizophrenia, a fitting counterpoint to the verbal mélange splashing across the table. These are discussions all 20- and 30-somethings have had at some point in their lives, where conversation lapses from pleasant chitchat into orgiastic empathy and unbridled confession. You could sit through Melvin and try to pick out which character you most identify with, but it's better to just slam back some wine and enjoy all the hair-raising talk. (Thursday, November 6, 8:30 p.m., Cinema Paradiso; 84 minutes) -- Audra Schroeder

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