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12th Annual Fort Myers Film Festival Weekend Preview

Tom Hall
Eric Raddatz and Melissa DeHaven at the Fort Myers Film Festival red carpet gala

The 12th Annual Fort Myers Film Festival is currently under way at the historic Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in the downtown Fort Myers and at other venues. If you missed Wednesday evening's opening night gala and rock-the-house performance by the Calendar Girls, don’t worry! Film Festival Executive Director Eric Raddatz promises that there are still plenty of entertaining fresh indie films to see over the next three days.

“We are excited because we have 75 independent films that we’re screening from all over the world," said Raddatz. "These are films that are not yet in distribution, not yet in any sort of streaming capacity. These are fresh films, films that you’ll probably say when you see them later on distribution and streaming channels ‘saw them first at the Fort Myers Film Festival.’”

Raddatz is the founder and creative force behind the Fort Myers Film Festival. In his overarching drive to bring only the finest fresh films to Fort Myers, he views hundreds of submissions each year. To stay attuned to who’s hot and who’s not in the indie film industry, he also attends film festivals around the country, like Robert Redford’s famed Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. That is just the beginning of Raddatz’s curatorial process. He’s also mindful of the Fort Myers Film Festival’s role in furthering the city’s reputation as an arts & culture community. That responsibility weighs heavy in every decision he makes about which films to include and exclude from the festival.

“We have always been wed to this community, and it’s been exciting for me to be part of this arts community that’s kind of seeing more interest than ever in our area. People like this area. We’re popular and we happen to have this growing kind of cultural community which sees art as important and the art of film as important. The folks who are flocking here are hungry for these kinds of cultural events. I’m happy to provide them and I’m happy that other people are excited about seeing them and I hope that we all can continue to grow and enjoy and make this popular place one that continues for a long time,” he said.

A forward-looking visionary, Raddatz also feels an obligation to advocate for people, individually and collectively, to become better stewards of our environment and planet.

“It almost, for me, goes without saying that it needs to be something that we take very seriously and that we’ve come together on and most everyone seems to be on the same page that we’d like see future generations continue to enjoy the earth. It seems very basic to say something like that.”

As a result, the Fort Myers Film Festival has always prominently featured thought-provoking, often-controversial environmental films and documentaries.

“So part of showing independent films is to give voice to those who might not have been heard otherwise and finding films with which to start a conversation so that we can all say whether or not we agree or disagree with a film that the points in a film should at least be considered and discussed,” he said.

On Friday night, the festival is playing Tales of Sunshine: Florida EcoStories, which looks at Florida’s ecology through the eyes of a conservation biologist, farm worker coalition leader, ex-convict fisherman and a woman who’s a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs. Sunday, the "Fellowship of the Springs" takes viewers behind the scenes of the fight to save Florida’s artesian springs. On Saturday, the Captains for Clean Water are front and center with a film that explores the value and wonder of the Florida Everglades.

“If you’ve ever heard of Captains for Clean Water, they’ve been fighting for our water rights for many years and that’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing a lot of legislation and a lot of bills passed to keep our water clean," he said. "The organization has done a great film that’s playing Saturday morning and it’s called "Everyone In Between.”

Raddatz has an uncanny knack for picking films that possess that indefinable “it factor” that predisposes them to receive distribution deals and win awards nationally and across the globe. For example, the Fort Myers Film Festival was among the first to screen the Maya Angelou documentary, And Still I Rise, and RBG, which featured former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The former won a Peabody Award. The later picked up Academy Award and BAFTA nominations.

Is there a film like that in this year’s festival? You betcha!

“Friday night we’re playing a film called The Runner. It’s by Michelle Danner and it’s starring folks that you might have heard of. One Cameron Douglas is the son of Michael Douglas and this film is loosely based upon his life, which was kind of troubled … We expect that there will be stars in attendance. It’s a film that’s doing the independent film festival route. It’s winning awards. We anticipate that if you are around Fort Myers and you are looking to enjoy some celebrity and an awesome film, at 7 p.m. we’re playing "The Runner.”

Two other films with star-power are Apples, Oranges, Lemons & Limes, a film that’s winning awards all over the world, and filmmaker Michael Glover Smith’s feature film Relative, which stars "The Walking Dead" actor Cameron Scott Roberts, "Twin Peaks’" Wendy Robie and "Collide’s" Heather Chrisler, who will be in attendance for the screening and a Q&A.

One film that warrants special mention is Sunday morning’s "The Long Breakup." It’s a feature-length documentary about Ukraine’s decades-long attempt to escape Russia’s control.

“The film was filmed before the whole war started up recently, the recent war, but it looks at military fights through the years and the whys of this conflict all the way back,” said Raddatz.

If you’re new to film festivals, it’s sometimes hard to know what to see. Eric Raddatz knows just how you feel, and offers this solution:

“When I went to my first film festival ever in Edenborough, I didn’t know what to watch so I said I’ll just take a block of short films because there’s usually several options and I really enjoyed myself not knowing what I’d get into, and it’s a lot like that at the film festival,” he said.

The other advantage of attending a block of short films is that many of the filmmakers are also in the audience. They’re not only available for the Q&As that follow the screenings, they stick around to answer questions about their inspiration and process, sign autographs, and take photos and selfies.

Beyond the quality of the films, what makes the Fort Myers Film Festival so great is the abundant social and networking opportunities it affords. Raddatz and co-host Melissa DeHaven couldn’t be more welcoming or engaging. Nor can the filmmakers and actors who come to town for the event. It’s a fun time for the film enthusiasts and casual viewers who attend, and the party doesn’t end until the awards ceremony and rooftop after-party on Sunday evening.

Speaking of which, if you missed seeing the "Calendar Girls" documentary on Wednesday, it plays again at 4 p.m. on Sunday, just before the closing filmmaker panel, Ilene Safron Whitesman’s short documentary on the Koreshans, the awards ceremony and a rooftop after-party.

You will find more than 60 previews, profiles and spotlight on the films, filmmakers and actors in this year’s Fort Myers Film Festival on Art Southwest Florida.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

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