Need an illustration of just how global the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival has become?
Just check out the opener for the fest's 27th-annual edition: The Sapphires is an Australian film about indigenous women who formed a singing group in the late 1960s to travel to Vietnam to sing to American and Australian troops.
That kind of international diversity is par for the course for what's arguably FLIFF's most global edition yet, since it will feature more than 200 films shot around the world, from Greek World War II epics to Seattle political documentaries to Austrian horror flicks.
"We might get like a thousand films sent to us by courier," Gregory von Hausch, president and CEO of FLIFF, says of his selection process. "We used to go to Sundance and Cannes and Toronto, but now we only go to Tribeca and Cannes, and that's really enough. Between the ones that are submitted and the festivals and the ones we investigate online, we develop the program."
This year's FLIFF, which opens at 7 p.m. Saturday and runs over four weeks at three local theaters — Cinema Paradiso, Sunrise Civic Center, and Pompano's Muvico 18 — should open eyes with the sheer range of selections, von Hausch says.
"Every week is strong, but opening weekend and closing weekend are particularly strong," he says, calling The Sapphires a "fabulous, fun movie."
It's not just geographical variety on display; this year's FLIFF will also feature three 3-D films. Sammy 2: Escape From Paradise makes its U.S. premiere, while a French film called Tales of the Night is "visually stunning," von Hausch says. There's also a newly restored, colorized, 3-D version the horror classic Night of the Living Dead playing October 26 through Halloween night.
It's not the only fight-fest on the schedule either. There's a Blair Witch Project-styled thriller called Dark Amazon and a film called Deadfall starring Olivia Wilde, Eric Bana, and Kris Kristofferson as criminals trying to make it to the Canadian border through a white-out snowstorm.
"It is so scary," von Hausch says. "I usually don't go for that because, frankly, they scare me. But I went to an 11 o'clock screening in New York, and for 94 minutes, I was on the edge of my seat."
Coming just before a presidential election, politics also plays prominently, from a documentary about the Tea Party called Party Crashers to a comedic true story about a man running for a Seattle City Commission seat called Grass Roots. Come in to any of the three FLIFF theaters on Election Day wearing your "I Voted" sticker and you'll even get free admission to Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, a documentary about a Vietnamese-American freshman Republican congressman from Louisiana.
This year's foreign selection runs the gamut, from films about Spain, Serbia, and Israel to works set in India and France. That Greek WWII film, Apartment in Athens, tells the tale of a Nazi officer who takes over the home of a Greek family and makes them his servants. Another WWII flick, an Austrian piece called Lore, tells the tale of an SS officer who realizes the war is ending and he is on the wrong side. Von Hausch says the unusual point of view drew him in.
"This SS officer is rushing into his house, packing up his stuff, getting his family out of bed, burning documents," he says. "What we see is the war from the German children's perspective, [and] I've never seen that."
At the end of the weekend, a jury will pick the best of the show's films, from best documentary to best short to best film shot in Florida. There are also audience-choice awards, cast by ballot handed out before each screening.
"Years ago, we had the ballots just stacked on top of the box, and you'd frequently see the mother of the filmmaker filling them out madly and stuffing the ballot box," von Hausch says.
Admission to most of the films is $10 for general admission, $8 for seniors or students with ID, and $6 for FLIFF members. Some of the special screenings cost $10 to $25, and there are several special events, including an opening-night gala on Friday and an awards party on November 11. Check FLIFF.com for full listing and prices.