A film festival judge takes us behind the scenes of how awards are dolled out

The Sarasota Film Festival

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By Jordan Hoffman

At some point in mid-February one of the many publicists I deal with on a regular basis in New York asked if I was planning on going to the Sarasota Film Festival in April. If I had my druthers, I’d go, I said. I love film festivals. You watch movies all day and eat prosciutto-wrapped asparagus all night. But it didn’t look like it was in the cards.

My superpower, however, is getting publicists to think I am far more important than I actually am. Seriously, if it were an Olympic event I’d be a five-time medalist. I was soon offered a position on one of the three juries at this prestigious fest, which meant a couple of days down in Florida on someone else’s dime. Who was I to say no?

I’ve been on a festival jury before (2011 Fantastic Fest) and I have been a working critic for five years, but what the folks making the offer may not have known was that, in a previous life, I was (and hope to one day be again) an independent filmmaker. Two of my films have gone off to various corners of the Earth and each came back with their fair share of laurel wreaths for the poster. Did it make me rich and famous? No. But it kept me from hitting rock bottom a few times, as family members and girlfriends could remind me that, hey, at least we won that audience award up in Rhode Island.

Considering that I’d been “on the other side,” I was going to take my job as a juror very seriously. There were nine films in my section, a division dedicated to low budget and, in some cases, first time films. Five of the films were being sent to me on DVD, the remainder I’d see down during fest.

When the package came I popped ‘em without doing any research. The first film I watched was called “In Our Nature,” and when the opening credits ran I was surprised to see some known Hollywood actors. Jena Malone (whom I’ve been fond of since “Contact”) and Gabrielle Union play opposite Zach Gilford and John Slattery.

The movie is awful. It’s everything you worry an independent movie is going to be. A bunch of whiners go up to a cabin in the woods to sit around and talk their feelings to one another. The camera doesn’t move, the scenes are endless and I immediately regretted saying yes to being on the jury. What if the other 8 movies were this bad?

The next movie I put it was called “Richard’s Wedding.” It starts with two people walking down a street in Brooklyn just yapping. The scene doesn’t end, but they’re being a little funny. It has a neo-Seinfeld vibe. Then I notice that some of zings get really good. Still there’s hardly anything resembling a plot and the camera and sound work make it seem like this flick cost 89 cents to make, but I find myself laughing out loud quite a bit, then really starting to like the characters.

“Richard’s Wedding” soon presents itself as something of a three-act play. In the first act, a man and a women walk to an apartment to meet up with others before going to a wedding. In the second act they hang out at the apartment and rib one another and drink. In the third act they all go to the park where the wedding is, of course, a disaster.

Something odd happened when they got to that apartment, however. When the actor opened the door my skin got cold. I KNOW that guy! The actor playing the douchey rich guy was actually someone I worked with for two years back in the early aughts. We both worked part time at a horrible place and made fun of our dipshit boss. In fact, he even showed up for one quick line of dialogue in my first film.

I was devastated. Clearly this was a conflict of interest, no? I mean, I would be rooting for my friend, right? But the thing is, I was really digging “Richard’s Wedding” on its own merits – and I haven’t seen this actor in at least five years. I pressed on.

The third film was called “Welcome to Pine Hill” and it grabbed me from the first scene. It is a moody and evocative film about an African-American from Brooklyn trying to sever the ties to his criminal past by working a boring job in Manhattan. He discovers he has inoperable cancer and decides he must settle his old debts before he can find peace.

Wow, I just made the movie sound really maudlin, and I swear it is anything but. It is artfully shot and understated – and loaded with natural performances and finely observed set pieces. I’m instantly smitten with this film and don’t see how anything else could top it.

Then I see the next film and think, hey, this one is pretty good, too. It is called “The Unspeakable Act,” and my mind is somewhat blown. The titular act is incest, but this is no exploitation film. It’s like Eric Rohmer’s “The Green Ray” meets Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress.” It has mannered, almost surreal dialogue and is shot with bright colors in one of those gorgeous Victorian Brooklyn homes like in “Sophie’s Choice.” It is one of the most steadfastly true to its own peculiar vision things I’ve seen in quite a long time.

I get a return of the queasy feeling again when I realize that the director, Dan Sallit, is someone else I know. He, at least, I haven’t seen since around 1997, but way back when I met him when I was working for an independent producer in New York.

The last film I watch on DVD called “See Girl Run” also has some known stars, Robin Tunney and Adam Scott, and it might even be worse than “In Our Nature.” And I really like Adam Scott, so this was particularly annoying.

A few days later I fly down to Sarasota and immediately proceed to get my ass kissed by volunteers and filmmakers who see the word “jury” on my badge. I’m a married man and don’t get out that much, so this was a very gratifying experience.

I quickly confess to the fest director that I kinda-sorta know some of the people involved in some of the films. I expect to be sent back to New York on a bus. I’m told, however, to just be fair, and be a professional, and let everyone else on the jury know.

I meet my two fellow jurors. One is an old friend, Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York, whose tastes often align with mine, and a fella I don’t know named Michael Dunaway from Paste Magazine. (After fifteen minutes, however, I feel like I’ve known him for years. He may be the most gregarious person I’ve met.) We were three not at all angry men.

On my own I see Kris wife-of-Joe Swanberg’s “Empire Builder.” Another story about people going up to a cabin in the woods, but this one stars the current low budget it-girl Kate Lyn Sheil, and that alone makes it stand out. It is a really emotionally reserved and subtle film about marital infidelity, but it doesn’t get too hysterical. How could it have time, it is only 72 minutes? I like the movie a great deal, but I’m not bananas for it.

After this came a real joy, Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby.” The premise may not jump out as the most original idea in the world – gay man and straight woman decide to have a kid, shenanigans ensue – but the writing is really hilarious and the extended supporting cast is simply fantastic. We jurors watch this as a group and everyone has a good time.

After this came another Kate Lyn Sheil vehicle, “Sun Don’t Shine.” This time she’s on the lam with her boyfriend after stabbing her husband. Even though there’s a lot more stuff going on in it, I find myself more intrigued by “Empire Buildier.” But, really, it shouldn’t be a contest. Oh, wait! Actually, it IS a contest! And I’m the judge! Pressure!

The last film we saw was called. . . um. . .oh, crap I can’t remember the name. And I can barely remember the movie. Hold on, let me look it up again. Ah, it was called “Leave Me Like You Found Me.” It’s about people walking around the woods being mad at each other.

So we’d seen our nine films. (And I snuck in two other ones not in our category, too.) Then we had to hammer it out. Where best to decide? Brunch!

The nine jurors (three panels each with three people) gathered and the head of the festival (the esteemed Tom Hall) quietly observed the discussion, fingers poised over an iPad ready to take the names of the winner.

The only rule was that we pick at least one winner. We could give jury prizes, too, but we should restrict it to only two. So this meant we could honor three films.

From my point of view, I wanted to give the awards to the movies I liked best, but also the ones that could really benefit from an additional laurel leaf on the poster.

I really loved “Welcome to Pine Hill,” and it won the best film at Slamdance. An additional award would make it seem like a mandate, and, hopefully, help the film get distribution. “The Unspeakable Act,” however, is a really challenging film, and this was its debut. An award first out of the gate could help this uncompromising film get programmed elsewhere. Then there was “Gayby” and “Richard’s Wedding,” both very funny and crowdpleasing.

Of the three groups there, we were the first to reach a decision that everyone could sign-off on. I’d like to believe that it is because we picked the right winners.

It would be unfair to my fellow jurors to lift the veil back too far, but we came up with a compromise we could live with. “The Unspeakable Act” is a movie that is intense and unique and wholly original. It would win best film. We all loved “Welcome to Pine Hill” (though, I may have been its strongest booster) and felt a special jury prize was in order. Much of what makes that film so memorable is its lead role, so we gave a prize for performance to its lead actor Shannon Harper. Next we wanted to award something for writing, and, at the end of the day, we felt we had to salute the zing-tastic “Richard’s Wedding.” We felt a little guilty about leaving “Gayby” out to dry, but just a few days later it landed a distribution deal, so I think it may have all worked out in the end.

So that’s how the sausage gets made. I left out all the stuff about the parties that included Mexican wrestlers, the Flying Wallendas and David Carr, but to experience an extended weekend at a place as welcoming and enriching as the Sarasota Film Festival is really something you need to do on your own. I also recommend wearing the coveted purple lanyard because it can get you in ANYWHERE.

That 70s Show Superfriends

That '70s Spoofs

7 Movie and TV Parodies From That ’70s Show

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

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That ’70s Show never missed the chance to make a mockery of major movies and TV shows from the Me Decade. Before you dive into IFC’s Thanksgiving Day Sweatsgiving That ’70s Show marathon, check out some of the show’s best spoofs of Psycho, the Superfriends and more.

7. Batman

Batman That 70s Show

When a drunken Jackie makes Fez‘s dreams come true by hitting on him, he faces a superheroic internal struggle starring himself as a tiny Batman and Riddler. Of course, Fez-man hasn’t always been so heroic.

Fez That 70s Show

6. The Super Friends

Superfriends That 70s Show

Kelso gets to be Batman in an entire ’70s gang of Super-pals in a super-powered fantasy. Though their battle against Red Luthor — who, let’s be honest, would triumph over the REAL Super Friends — is weakened when all Wonder Twins Hyde and Jackie want to do is make out.

5. Shaft

Isaac Hayes, who wrote and performed the original and incomparable theme for the ’70s flick Shaft, provides a significantly less tough “Theme for Fez” in the episode “Spread Your Wings.”

4. The Continental

Big Rhonda That 70s Show

When Fez tries to get to third base with Big Rhonda in the basement, the camera switches to second-person as she watches him making his attempts in the style of Renzo Casena in the TV series The Continental. (The 1950s series was also famously parodied by Christopher Walken on SNL.)

3. Psycho and other Hitchcock classics

Psycho That 70s Show

Halloween episodes are always a good excuse for costumes and parodies. “Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young to Die”  memorably parodied Hitchcock classics like Rear Window, The Birds and, of course, Psycho‘s iconic shower scene.

2. Annie Hall

Eric and Donna took on the roles of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall in a spoof of a memorable scene from the classic Woody Allen and Diane Keaton comedy.

1. I Love Lucy

In a fun take on the Lucille Ball sitcom classic, Fez’s fantasies veer all the way to monochrome, creating an alternate world where he has a relationship and Red might even talk to him for two sentences without calling him a dumbass.


So Fancy

Portlandia Gets Classy With Gorgeous Tina Barney Photos

Portlandia returns to IFC January 21st at 10P.

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Photo Credit: Tina Barney/IFC

In case you were wondering when your favorite Portland-based sketch comedy show was returning, wonder no longer: Portlandia is back for a sixth season on January 21st at 10P ET/PT. Fred, Carrie, and a cavalcade of Pacific Northwesterners will provide you with the send-ups of pop culture and millennial trends that you so desperately crave.

But if you’re jonesing for a taste of the new season, you’re in luck! Here’s a clip of Fred and Carrie attempting to add physical intimacy to their platonic love affair in an upcoming episode. With awkward planning and uneasy positioning, the duo defile their own version of a Bert and Ernie boudoir.

And if that wasn’t enough, take a gander at the classy promotional photos and behind-the-scenes video that puts Fred and Carrie in a new light. Famed artist photographer Tina Barney captured the Portlandia co-creators and stars in opulent settings for vibrant portraits, appearing as if they’re the hippest hosts Masterpiece Theatre ever enlisted. Keep checking back for more updates before the new season of Portlandia premieres on January 21st, 2016.

Portlandia S6 Promo 1

Portlandia S6 Promo 2

Happy Gilmore

Spoil Sports

The 10 Biggest Jerks, Bullies and Weasels From Sports Movies

Catch Benders Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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To the victor go the spoils, and in sports comedies there is no bigger spoil than the feeling of defeating the sports jerk. You know the sports jerk — he’s the kid who tosses snot-nosed but loveable Timmy Lupus into a garbage can in the The Bad News Bears or the guy who shouts “Put him in a body bag!” before Ralph Macchio gets up on one leg to make that famous Crane kick. Before the Benders guys hit the ice tonight at 10P on IFC, check out the ten biggest jerks we love to hate from sports movies.

1. Shooter McGavin, Happy Gilmore

There is no bigger A-hole-in-one than Shooter McGavin, and Christopher McDonald really seemed to enjoy messing with Adam Sandler. Cocky golf pro McGavin was the perfect foil to Sandler’s childlike Happy and helped to update the sports movie bully for the ’90s. You know you’re the bad guy in a movie if behemoth actor Richard Kiel, (aka Jaws from the James Bond movies) thinks you’re a dick.

2. Reese Bobby, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

It wasn’t Sacha Baron Cohen as French rival Jean Girard that pushed Ricky Bobby to become a winner — it was the lack of love and nonsensical guidance from his absentee father, Reese Bobby. No matter how deadbeat a dad Reese Bobby was, you have to love a character that can get thrown out of an Applebee’s. The moment when Ricky Bobby was able to forget Reese’s pearls of ignorance (“If you ain’t first, you’re last”) is when he truly became a winner.

3. Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken, Kingpin

Bill Murray never “pulls a Munson” when it comes to comedy and he basically nailed a split as “Big Ern” McCracken in what is arguably the funniest Farrelly Brothers movie. Woody Harrelson might be the Paul Newman in this hilarious send up of The Color of Money, but Roy Munson would never have received his redemption without his nemesis “Big Ern.” In a bowling buddy comedy adventure where one guy has a rubber hand and the other is Amish, it’s Big Ern and his amazing hair that sets everything in motion.

4. White Goodman, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

In the words of legendary dodgeballer Patches O’Houlihan, “dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” Ben Stiller’s White Goodman surely lives by these words as the Globo Gym douche standing in the way of Vince Vaughn’s rag tag group of misfits. When he’s not torturing himself with electric nipple clamps in order to stay away from donuts, he’s gleefully attempting to prevent The Average Joe’s from taking the Dodgeball championship and making ESPN: The Ocho history. Even though he’s not nearly as tough as his consigliere Michelle, the ’70s porn star mustache alone makes him an all-time sports A-hole.

5. Rachel Phelps, Major League

Charlie Sheen’s Ricky Vaughn might have been called “Wild Thing,” but even he knew to stay away from the team’s diabolical owner. Phelps couldn’t wait to take the Indians to Florida and was more than happy to put the team through hell in a plane that screamed “Buddy Holly.” Despite the fact that her funniest scene was as a cardboard cutout, Rachel was one hell of a villain. Even Jobu hated her.

6. Chas, Back to School

“Why don’t you call me some time when you have no class?” Rodney Dangerfield was the king of one- liners, and Back to School was filled with hilarious Rodney moments as he comes to college to help his son Jason enjoy school. Jason’s obstacle in his path to diving glory was none other than the king of ’80s teen movie A-holes himself, William Zabka. As Chas, Zabka is more frat douche than tough guy, as he can be seen cowering under the table with a pipe in his mouth as a bar fight breaks out. In the end, Jason gets the girl and we get to see The Triple Lindi.

7. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid

Depending on how you look at it, The Karate Kid is either the ultimate feel good story of a teenager who learns the ancient martial art of “waxing off” in order to stand up to the karate dojo bullying him; or it’s a master acting class on how to act like a teen movie A-hole. William Zabka’s legendary performance as Johnny provides everything you want in a villain, right down to his maniacal grin in a skin-tight skeleton costume. He’s such a great bastard, another member of the Stepford bully group the Kobra-Kai even tries to stop him as he lays a beat down on Daniel-san.

8. Coach Turner, The Bad News Bears

The original Bad News Bears is as perfect a movie as you can get. Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal have hilarious and heartwarming chemistry, and Jackie Earle Haley’s Kelly Leak was definitely “un bandito.” But the real bad news in this movie is Coach Roy Turner, played by the great Vic Morrow. It’s only fitting that Turner coaches the Yankees and the Bears are the loveable underdogs (with a second baseman who has a mouth like a drunken sailor). The shocking moment when Coach Turner slaps his own son on the field elevates him to all-time sports jerk status and makes the audience wonder how this angry guy ever landed a wife who looked that good in bell bottoms.

9. Clubber Lang, Rocky III

While Ivan Drago might be the most ruthless villain in the Rocky series, he was really just a pawn of the Soviet military industrial complex. Mr. T as Clubber Lang, on the other hand, was one seriously bad dude. Where Apollo Creed was cool, Clubber Lang shouted and grunted all of his lines to great effect and trash-talked Rocky by telling Adrian to come find a “real man.” You don’t mess with a man in a Mohawk who predicts “pain.”

10. Judge Smails, Caddyshack

Ted Knight personified snooty Waspy-ness while delivering such classic lines as “Are you my friend Danny?” and “Spalding, get your foot off the boat.” (He also rocked a sailor’s cap like nobody’s business.) In the end, Danny Noonan chose “badness” and with the help of a wily gopher, beat Smails to win the tournament. Cue the Kenny Loggins theme music.


Benders Tonight

5 Ways to Get Ready For Tonight’s All-New Benders

Catch Benders tonight at 10P on IFC

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Thank Chubbys it’s Thursday! Follow these tips for preparing for tonight’s brand new Benders if you want to end the week in style.

1. Throw a Chickenpox Party.

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Beer helps cure chicken pox, right?

2. Get Your Flu Shot.

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Just a friendly reminder that it’s cold and flu season. You don’t want to empty the contents of your stomach during your next game of floor hockey like poor Sebalos. Serious party foul, bro.

3. Recruit Some Friends

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Get your friends on Team Uncle Chubbys with this recruitment video.

4. Practice the “What up, bro?” Move.

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Your bros will never know what hit them.

5. Prepare for The Force to Awaken in You.


There is no try when it comes to chugging beer. Do like the Benders or do not.

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