Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Fort Lauderdale Film Festival Diaries
Day 4 (November 10)

by Liza Bear

Seymour Cassel aboard the Savannah

Sunday, November 10

At 10am, the sky's a flawless blue and a buzzard hovers high above the Savannah as it plies the inter-coastal waterway, departing from the Doubletree hotel. The event is the not-to-be-missed president's brunch cruise. Shuttle diplomacy for the get-on-the-bus film crowd gives way to more fluid social maneuvering aboard the yacht.

On the shoreline, condos hobnob cheek to jowl with palm trees. On deck, nautical attire - white, navy and gold braid - hobnobs with shorts and t-shirts. Tans are compared and there's general relief at the prospect of more relaxed encounters. Fort Lauderdale is compared favorably to Toronto. Only a small festival, people say, makes such occasions possible. Or South Florida.

A photographer from Gamma Press, a French agency, watches me secure the batteries in my Vivitar with a thick rubber band. He lets me look through the 200 zoom lens on his Canon. In return, I identify a couple of photo ops for him, Seymour Cassel, Giancarlo Esposito with wife and baby Shane, and "Cold Fever's" Jim Stark.

Picking up a thread from yesterday, I ask Stark what the film's last line means for him. ("Sometimes a journey can take you to a place that's not on the map.")

"I worked for 15 years as a film producer," Stark says, "without being the one who wrote the script or did the creative stuff. This film was really my idea and I co-wrote the script, so for me it was an important step in terms of getting more involved in the creative side of making movies. The idea of this Japanese guy wandering around in Iceland was really my idea, and it's nice a number of years later seeing people enjoying the finished film. It gives me impetus to go make other ideas of mine into films. "

On the upper deck, Seymour Cassel is leaning over the rail, cigar in hand. As the Savannah glides past a low white-columned mansion flanked with palm trees, we talk for a while about his relationship to Florida and the start of his acting career.

"I lived here in the mid to late forties, " Cassel says, "actually in Indian Creek and in Fort Myers. My stepfather was in the Air Force. I remember swimming in wild sulphur pools. Just at the end of the war the Armed forces had control of all the hotels on the beach. Those beaches were patrolled. So being a serviceman's kid I could use the pools. Then after I got out of the Navy I enrolled in business administration at the University of Miami and that lasted for two weeks. So I sold carpets here for a while.

"Then I got a job on a charley boat on Pompano Beach. Then I decided to go back to Detroit for the summer. I remember going to somebody's boatyard here going on a round-the-world cruise with a 105-foot schooner. They'd advertised for seamen, and I signed up for September. But when I got to Detroit I saw an ad in the paper, 'Apprentice Wanted, Willoway Playhouse, acting lessons in exchange for apprentice work building sets'. I spent the summer doing stock and I knew right away that's what I wanted, so I went to New York and that was it. I was 20.

"When I was here in 1957," Cassel continues, "you could drive from Miami to Lauderdale and see water all the way. When I came back in the mid-seventies you couldn't see water at all."

As a board member of the Orlando Film Festival, Cassel frequently returns to Florida. He's here today with the improvisational film "Cannes Man," shot at the 48th Cannes Film Festival, in which he plays a low-budget producer.

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