11,000 Minutes

This is from Bill Plympton, creator of Hair High, a Carrie-meets-Grease animated gothic comedy:

"There can never be enough film festivals. It's a great way to meet your audience and travel the world."

Let 'em rip, eh? Roll out the red carpets, invite the movie fanatics in (at $8 a shot), set the projectors in motion, and then hobnob into the night with the production crowd over canapés and distilled spirits. All of this with a free hotel room and an airline ticket. C'est magnifique.

Of course, Plympton speaks from pampered experience. His own recent oeuvre -- including a couple of shorts -- has been booked into 21 festivals between mid-September and late November. Plympton himself is scheduled to make appearances at ten of them, including a ten-day junket in Sitges, Spain, and, on November 8, a cameo for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

That's right. Fort Lauderdale. Once again, it's Broward County's season of film. FLIFF moves into South Florida like a huge weather front, running from October 14 through November 20, and Plympton and dozens of other filmmakers are coming to town. FLIFF bills itself -- proudly -- as the longest film festival in the world. If you add up the total number of minutes occupied by this year's 200 films, you'll calculate a number well surpassing 11,000. For hearty folks with speed-induced fantasies of screening all of the films end-on-end, that would mean almost eight days of continuous movie-watching, 24 hours a day, and a probable case of terminal cinema fatigue.

Even while your neighborhood CVS restocks post-Halloween shelves with Thanksgiving turkey salt-and-pepper shakers and dancing Santas, FLIFF will still be selling tickets.

Every year, New Times uses words to try to give the sprawling festival a definition that its creators can't. Last year, we said that if the festival keeps growing, "it may blot out the sun." In 2003, we called it "cinematic sprawl."

And still, it keeps growing and growing and growing.

Take heart, though. The folks at FLIFF -- who diligently work year-round planning the festival and other cinematic series with an epicenter at downtown Fort Lauderdale's Cinema Paradiso -- seem finally to be coming to their senses. "This may be our biggest effort ever," FLIFF President Gregory Von Hausch says. He also concedes that FLIFF's future may actually look a bit smaller.

Because of minifestivals and year-round programming, Cinema Paradiso may not be available for a month and a half of FLIFF fare.

When it comes to one of the much-acclaimed purposes of a "film festival" -- to create an alternative movie community -- Cinema Paradiso is, of course, already there. With its thick drapes covering stained-glass windows to keep out the sun and keep in the sin, Paradiso is already Lauderdale's church of film and a fine place to put your feet up on fuzzy blue stadium seats as you pray some celluloid prayers. It's also nacho-free, by the way.

FLIFF opens with The Matador, a comedy starring Pierce Brosnan as a former hit man. The closing-night film is Berkeley, a sort of Big Chill prequel about America in 1968, a year that, even though it was a high mark for social turmoil, is one we all wished we had experienced.

Given the length of this year's festival, it may be wise to pick a team just to get by. There are tons of shorts and documentaries, if that's your thing. As for features, you might consider organizing them into handy categories. To help you get started, here are some thematic suggestions:

Crossed Paths: Hawaii, Oslo; What's Bugging Seth; Parnikoviy Effekt

Wacky Funny: Aaltra, Barry Dingle, Dirty Love, Dating Games People Play, Hair High

Road Trips: Bal-Can-Can, Cachimba, Lost in Plainview, Tickets

Lost Loves Found: At Last

Coming of Age: Aurora Borealis, Before the Fall, Krama Mig, Tollbooth

Soccer (what would an international film festival be without football?): Liberated Zone

That's just for starters. As for the seemingly ever-growing transgender film category, there are TransAmerica, Breakfast on Pluto, and Zerophilia. TransAmerica -- starring Desperate Housewives' Felicity Huffman as a pre-op who's road-tripping the highways with his/her son -- falls into just about every one of the above categories. There probably isn't any soccer in there. But one can hope.

For years now, film festivals have been proliferating like melaleuca trees in the planet's cultural wetlands. Even while FLIFF plugs away, festivals will open and close -- for instance, Australia's Canberra Short Film Festival, Norway's Bergen International Film Festival, and even Boston's Bike Film Festival, which is wisely focused on only two days of cycling films. The list goes on.

Film festivals, in a way, are like the Internet. When it was first designed as the ARPANET back in the 1960s, the Internet was conceived as a noncentralized communications system that, in the case of a nuclear attack destroying major communication hubs, would still allow people to talk to one another (and send porn files, of course). Film festivals, like celluloid nodes around the world, are a noncentralized film-distribution system that will hopefully keep the movie race alive in case, ahem, the major movie studios are destroyed by nuclear attack.