Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Film Festival at Sea Diaries
By the Sea

by Kathleen Carroll

Feb. 9, 1996

Barely a week ago your roving Film Scouts correspondent was happily sailing on the ms Ryndam. The Holland America cruise ship has a subdued elegance in contrast to those gaudy pleasure boats that Kathy Lee Gifford is always singing about.

Among its many features is a plush movie theater where they kept showing WATERWORLD in what appeared to be a desperate final attempt to dredge up an audience for that multi-million dollar blooper. But the theater was also the scene of the fourth annual Floating Film Festival, an event dreamed up by one of the founders of the Toronto International Film Festival, Dusty Cohl.

Dubbed FFF by those in the know this is surely the world's most exclusive film festival in that it takes place entirely on the high seas. As such attendance is inevitably limited to those who can stand seeing movies in a theater that actually moves. During one of the previous floating festivals the theater creaked and swayed to such an alarming degree that more than one festival guest rushed from the movie, ready to abandon ship. As a result the festival programmers, who include such old salts and veteran film critics as Roger Ebert, Richard Corliss (and his equally perceptive wife - the assistant curator of photography for MOMA - Mary Corliss) and your not always faithful correspondent, have learned to refrain from presenting movies that feature footage of shipwrecks and stormy seas.

This year I'm happy to report that the Caribbean remained relatively calm and the ship began to rock n'roll only when Ebert did his unique karaoke rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes." Rocking Roger topped off his showstopping number by rattling off a number of jokes at breakneck speed. Then Roger, whose comic routine if not his singing rated at least one thumbs up, reluctantly turned over the stage to Corliss. With that Time Magazine's tall and dignified critic all but stole the show matching his own lyrics to the tune "Don't Be Cruel." "They say that movie critics are nasty and hard," sang Corliss, hitting all the right notes. "But really I like all kinds of films as long as they're in Chinese."

I'm afraid you had to be there to fully appreciate the FFF's traditional non-movie event - the karaoke competition. The singing critics, myself included, were only grateful that there weren't any music critics on board. Corliss later went on to introduce IN THE HEAT OF THE SUN, a compelling Chinese film about an energetic gang of Beijing teenagers confronting the limitations imposed by the Cultural Revolution.

"Roger and I have tried to promote our love of Chinese cinema with our love of Chinese food," said Corliss. To appease his appetite for the cinematic equivalent of dim sum Corliss also presented CHUNKING EXPRESS, a frenetic noir-ish tale of a lovelorn cop and a lethal dame in a blonde wig. Directed at a reckless pace by Hong Kong's hottest young director Wong Kar-Wai the movie is being released with Quentin Tarantino's official seal of approval.

Speaking of Tarantino one of the festival's main attractions was Ebert's scene-by-scene analysis of the American director's most acclaimed movie "Pulp Fiction." "It's known as democracy in the dark," said Ebert in describing his teaching method. "We are adopting The Mystery Science Theater approach. If you see something interesting you yell out 'Stop.'"

There were interesting films to see during the 10-day Eastern Caribbean cruise. "HEARTS AND MINDS, a rigorous drama from South Africa about a white policeman who's sent to infiltrate the ANC, attracted favorable attention despite the tough subject matter. ANTONIA'S LINE, by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris, was deemed the most popular choice by the 150 passengers who participated in the festival. But everyone was even more touched by the remarkable documentary ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED which contained an indelible home movie shot of the young Holocaust victim peering from a window in happier times.

Needless to say I remained partial to my own personal selections. They included John O'Brien's MAN WITH A PLAN, a delightfully droll Frank Capra-inspired tale of a debt-ridden 74-year-old Vermont farmer who runs for Congress. I also presented DRIVEN, a remarkably accomplished first feature by Michael Shoob, about LA cab drivers and their personal dreams. The movie's features dream team of actors - Tony Todd, Daniel Roebuck, Whip Hubley and Chad Lowe who are bound to earn more recognition for their exceptional work.

My final act as a programmer was to arrange for a showing of BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, an endearingly witty romantic comedy about "dudes in flux" which features a dream cast headed by Matt Dillon and Timothy Hutton (who's never been more appealing.). The movie's director, Ted Demme, flew into Nassau in the Bahamas to spend the final night on the ship. "I just saw 'The Poseidon Adventure' last week," said Demme displaying that panicked-look of a true landlubber. "Are we really moving?"

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