Gregory von Hausch, Ingrid Rubio, Eduardo Mignognia, Florencia Bertotti, Bonnie Adams

Gregory von Hausch, Ingrid Rubio-
Actress, Eduardo Mignogna- Director, Florencia Bertotti- Actress,
Bonnie Adams- Senior Program Director

Founded in 1986, the Fort Lauderdale International
Film Festival is an event that can count even the Guinness Book
of World Records impressed. It holds the title for the world’s longest
film festival, clocking in most recently at 28 days. Though a native
of Ohio, the Festival’s President and CEO, Gregory von Hausch has
been contributing to the Florida arts scene since 1973, when he
founded the Hippodrome State Theatre, North Florida’s only professional
regional theatre. In 1989, he came aboard as FLIFF’s Executive Director,
and has been helping to build its reputation as one of the country’s
preeminent regional festivals ever since. In a recent discussion
with MM, he discusses the challenges of maintaining momentum throughout
a month of screenings.

Jennifer Wood (MM): What was
the original focus or intention of the festival? How have you worked
toward your original mission and how has that focus changed?

Gregory von Hausch (GVH): The festival was
simply an eight-day event until I arrived in 1989, then it grew
from eight to 10 to 12 to 14 to 17 to 21 to 24 and now to 28 days.
Also, we began a monthly series of films for our local members which
has now grown into a daily schedule, year-round, with our own cinema.

The mission at the time was artistically to highlight
North American indie filmmakers. In 1991, we added the word “International”
to our name and began nurturing contacts around the world. That
direction has grown significantly over the years and now we show
65, 70 percent international films. We still have a major interest
in American indies, but we tend to scrutinize those selections more
intensely. From my perspective, Americans tend to make films too
easily, almost flippantly, without the investment in script and
character development. The GenX films, which hopefully have now
begun to decline, were a vast artistic vacuum. So, in a nutshell,
our mission has evolved.

MM: FLIFF is considered one of the most
important regional film festivals. What is it about the event that
has secured that reputation? It seems that almost every city, big
or small, ha its own film event now. What makes FLIFF different?

GVH: One thing that really pisses me off is
to attend a festival where the programmers feel they are the celebrities
and focus. We select content, but the moviemakers are the stars.
We also want to be known as the friendly festival, where all of
our guests are invited to everything the festival has to offer.
I don’t know if our audiences are any different than any other,
but they love meeting the filmmakers, known and unknown, and provide
a safe and receptive atmosphere to debut a film.

MM: FLIFF is the longest film festival
in the world. How many films do you typically screen? Also, how
do you solicit films, in addition to a general call for entries?

GVH: We show between 120 and 140 films with
approximately 400 screenings. We solicit many ways, including our
party in Santa Monica (last Sunday of February) every year and in
Cannes (first Sunday of the Festival) every year. We do direct mail
and the Website has been a major help in this regard.

MM: Is it difficult to keep the momentum
going throughout the several week period of the festival? How do
you keep things exciting and entertaining, and get attendees coming
back for more?

GVH: It is like preparing for a war: you seem
to prep forever and when the first day of screenings begins, it’s
like you’re on a waterslide. You can’t stop, you hang on, you think
you’re going to go flying off a wall on a turn, but somehow you
hang in there. Really, it’s a nightmare. I always say my favorite
day of the year is the day after the festival closes, then the next
day and so on, diminishing them until the day before the festival
begins, which is my least favorite. I try as much as possible to
have new things every year, parties, awards, procedures, focus.
Many times this works, sometimes people long for a previous scenario.

MM: What are the parties and events like?

GVH: Our Opening Night Party is really special.
About 1,600 people attend and 25 restaurants all prepare their specialties
choosing a movie theme. This past year was the best, taking place
at Florida Studios. The Chairman’s Brunch and Cruise aboard a 350-passenger
luxury yacht is a treat for our filmmakers and press. The IFC Festival
Cafe, which operates throughout the festival, is the best hospitality
area of any fest I have attended.

MM: Considering that your 2001 event took
place so closely after the events of 9/11, did you notice any drop
off in attendance?

GVH: 2001 was our best year. Attendance was
at the 1999 level, 66,000, our best year ever. And this is significant
because 9/11 made us cancel our mini fests in Hollywood and Miami,
thereby losing 10 days of screenings. We canceled those dates due
to the fact that we could not get anyone’s attention with regard
to slots, participation, shipping, the whole enchilada. The only
other impact was a few no-shows during the festival; other than
that, it was our best year ever.

MM: FLIFF has really become a year-round
program. What sort of events are you offering cineastes throughout
the year?

GVH: Our art house is an old church built in
1926 and adapted to film in 1998, we named it Cinema Paradiso. We
host nightly screenings and weekend matinees throughout the year,
two Academy Award parties and Local Filmmaker Night. We offer sidebars
for Asian, Iranian and French films on a monthly basis, free films
for the Krome Detention Center and free outdoor screenings in the
park. We have a year-round festival in the local school program
with nine-week residencies that have kids writing, producing and
directing their own 16mm film, which culminates with a screening
at Cinema Paradiso. We also do a Polo Picnic Party where our supporters
come to the polo grounds, watch the ponies, drink, eat and bid on
auction items.

MM: Anything new we can look forward to
in 2002? Any special area of interest or category of film that you’re
really looking to see more of?

GVH: A new Beach Party with an outdoor screening,
another IMAX film, more private parties and increased attendance
from Europe and Asia.