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Taxi Tales

For his debut film as a producer-director, Fort Lauderdale resident Rob Goodman wanted something distinctive. So he borrowed a 1978 Checker Cab, decorated the interior with dozens of oddball knickknacks, and told a cameraman to hop inside and shoot.

The resulting piece of cinema, titled 531, is among about 110 movies being shown during the 16th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, which runs through November 11.

The festival, which received recognition from Guinness World Records in 2000 for its length, features an eclectic assortment of primarily independent films, documentaries, and shorts from around the world. Celebrities scheduled to attend include director Paul Mazursky and actor Paul Sorvino, who are receiving awards.

531, which took honors this year at film festivals in Los Angeles and Maine, is on the agenda for November 3 and 10 at Cinema Paradiso, a church renovated into an artsy theater in Fort Lauderdale. As with many of the films, especially the locally produced ones, a question-and-answer session with Goodman and his coproducer, Tom Brown, formerly of Palm Beach County, precedes the screening. The duo recruited dozens of pals to work for free, spent money on permits and equipment, and completed the movie in about four years -- shooting scenes during the wee hours as the cab was towed through the streets of Fort Lauderdale.

The story, written by Brown, involves four characters, including a young singer, her tuxedoed coach, a gun-wielding pregnant woman, and, of course, a cab driver. For about seven years, Goodman has worked on commercials, independent films, and studio movies, both on camera and in various jobs behind the scenes. On one set, he recalls scrubbing tire tracks from a marble floor.

The money and experience from those gigs went toward 531, which Goodman figures cost about $100,000. According to the would-be movie mogul, the opportunity to be in charge of the action was well worth it. "I wanted to be able to tell the story," Goodman says. "I wanted to be the one that guided the train."

The shooting style, in which the cameraman and boom operator at times would be crouched on the floor aiming their equipment at the actors, was among the qualities that attracted the festival officials' attention, says executive director Gregory von Hausch.

"He's got a clever little script that works," von Hausch says. The innovative camerawork, he says, offers a unique perspective, is fun, and "is probably his [Goodman's] strongest point there."

Showing a film in Fort Lauderdale's festival, von Hausch says, can provide novice filmmakers such as Goodman and Brown with valuable critiques and feedback from the public and industry veterans.

Other offerings from South Florida filmmakers include Soul Bowl, a documentary about football at Dillard and Ely high schools in Broward County; and Sweat, the tale of a modest mail courier who becomes a competitive bodybuilder to pay off gangsters.

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Patti Roth

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