Fort Myers Beach Film Festival Reeled Into Town


 A Look Back…

Sorry for the intended pun in the headline, but two weekends ago marked the 10th Film Festival hosted at Fort Myers Beach. Although some billing labeled it as the “10th Annual,” there were a few years where there was no festival. This festival was actually the 10th over the course of 15 years.

First Film Festival

In early May 2001, the first Fort Myers Beach Film Festival took place at various locations on the island including the Beach Theater, Church of the Ascension, and the beach itself. According to the local paper it was “a unique event, with classic and foreign films as well as works by aspiring young filmmakers from Beach Elementary, Cypress Lake High School for the Arts and Florida State University.”

Shawn Holiday, the event organizer shared with festival goers that the films done by the students were “impressive” and would include “animation… computer graphics, and some 16-millimeter.” Also scheduled was a selection of film music to be performed by the students.

One film showing was “Leap Year.” Fatty Arbuckle starred in this silent film whose character went on trial for manslaughter. Immediately following the showing of “Leap Year” a discussion with Victor Cromwell, an avid film collector took place. Other films included “Let There be Light” (a French film); “Amargosa” (a documentary about a reclusive ballerina); and “Breathing Hard” (a film about a struggling screenwriter) were all featured at the Beach Theater. “Let There be Light” garnished the most laughs and was a hit with moviegoers.

The feature on the beach was Alfred Hitchcock’s chiller “The Birds.”

Fort Myers Beach Film Festival Reeled Into Town
Other scheduled events throughout the weekend included a Q&A session with local and national filmmakers; an “Afternoon Tea with Katherine Hepburn” featuring Rusty Brown, a local writer and performer who shared with the audience the personal side of Miss Hepburn’s life; “Uncommon Friends” the well-known to locals documentary about Jim Newton’s acquaintance with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, based on Newton’s book of the same name; the Filmmakers Symposium held a lecture of learning the trade of film making; and a dozen other films were shown.

The film festival took a hiatus from 2007 to 2011. When the economy crashed, the festival lost donations in both the civic, business and private sectors. It would resume in 2012 as the economy had rebounded and became stronger.

Film Festival 2016

My friend attended the Friday viewing of the Disney film “Inside Out” on the beach. She described the evening as follows: “All ages gathered at the Outrigger Beach Resort on the beach. As the tech team set up the giant outdoor screen, live musicians could be heard from the tiki bar while in the distance the sun began to set. Children were bed-ready in their PJs dancing and playing in the sand in eager anticipation of the movie. Glow sticks, bubbles, popcorn and kettle corn were enjoyed by many moviegoers. Kudos to the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival event organizers for a fun-filled evening. This fun family movie event is added to my list of annual ‘must-do’ favorites!”

On Saturday we viewed two of the film shorts in the afternoon. The first film short was “One Smart Fellow” starring Timothy Busfield (Thirtysomething, Field of Dreams) and Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie, Sweet Justice). Busfield’s character, Clark is tired of being married and feeling that the relationship is going nowhere. While at a beach cabin in North Carolina, he breaks the news to his wife (Gilbert’s character, Ellen) that he wants out of the marriage and that he has been seeing someone else. Ellen insists that he invites the other woman to dinner to talk. He does, she shows up and madness ensues.Fort Myers Beach Film Festival Reeled Into Town
The second short was “Mousse,” a foreign film in German and French starring Stephane Bertola as Mousse. A lone gunman (Mousse) enters an OTB (off-track betting) tobacco shop and holds the owner and a gambling addict hostage while waiting for his demands to be met by the authorities. Due to his crazy demands the authorities are forced to wait. The gunman orders them to tell jokes until his get-a-way car arrives. Hours later he emerges from the OTB with a hostage (Marienette Dahlin’s character, Maggan, the gambling addict) who refuses to let go of her winning ticket in which she hit the trifecta. As she breaks loose from Mousse’s grip, the authorities open fire on him. For his funeral, his demands were kept.
After grabbing a late lunch at Castaway’s Bar and Grill, we headed back to the theater to catch a documentary about the music group Chicago, appropriately titled “Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago.” Waiting in line the age range was from young 20s to mid 70s, not to mention how many theatergoers had on a Chicago shirt. Of course there were even a few who were from Chicago.
Not being a huge fan of Chicago, it was exceptional history of the band’s nearly 50-year career. An interesting note was that they were originally Chicago Transit Authority and were the first rock band to feature horns. Like many bands they suffered the loss of a founding member, had a producer that made sure all contracts were in his favor, internal struggles with fame and drugs and the challenges of continuously being on tour. To date, they still do 100 shows a year.
After the film, the producer/director of the film, Peter Pardini held a Q&A session. One question was why Peter Cetera declined to be a part of the project and tell his side of the story. Pardini said, “we reached out to him in every way we could. We went through his manager, his best friend and his publicist but he would not respond.” Pardini speculated that Cetera might have felt the film would have been edited in a way in which he would not have been portrayed in a good light.
The film left us with a deeper appreciation for their music then we had prior to watching the film. We are both looking forward to next year’s festival and plan on taking in more films at the 11th Film Festival.


T.M. Jacobs

Southwest Florida historian T. M. Jacobs serves as an advisor to the Southwest Florida Historical Society and is a regular contributor of articles about early life on the beach.