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Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival wraps up

Awards ceremony Sunday closes out 15th annual event

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 21, 2021

Actress Martha Brown and director Peter Collins Campbell attended the Beach Theater Friday at the Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival for a showing of their feature film “Dimland.” / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Films about the supernatural, love, family strife, the apocalypse and the afterlife were among the many subjects explored at this past week’s Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival.

More than 130 films were shown all week at the Beach Theater on Estero Boulevard, the bulk of which were shorts and a baker’s dozen of features and full-length documentaries.

With Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy getting the award ceremony going at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille Sunday, the big winners included “All the Young Dudes,” a student film from Florida State University graduate William Stead about a male student at a conservative Georgia school in the early 1970’s who is a fan of glam rock and David Bowie and wearing makeup. After getting bullied, the student finds a friend and gets back at the bullies through the power of music. “He is not physical at all,” Stead said.

The film also earned best performance in a short film for actor Blake LaFita.

Stead said the movie was based on his own experiences and “sort of autobiographical” in moving to the United States as a teenager from York, England. Stead said he liked the 70’s glam rock era of music as “such an era of freedom. One of the first true eras where people could be themselves,” he said.

From left to right is Brittney Lee Hamilton (writer, producer, actress in “#Princess Problems”), Duncan Coe (actor, co-director of “A Room Full of Nothing”), Elena Weinberg (co-director of “A Room Full of Nothing” and producer of “A Grievance with Gravity”) and Phoebe Dunn (writer, director, producer of “Red”) at the Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival awards ceremony at Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille Sunday. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Stead said he enjoyed the film festival. “It’s like one big party but the best thing about it is the filmmakers are the focus.” He said Fort Myers Beach is “probably my favorite Florida beach town I’ve been in.”

Elena Weinberg, who directed last year’s People’s Choice Award winning feature “A Room Full of Nothing,” was among this year’s attendees along with Duncan Coe, who co-starred in the film with last year’s award winner for best performance Ivy Meehan.

In addition to re-showing “A Room Full of Nothing” at this year’s festival, Weinberg entered in a new short film she produced titled “A Grievance with Gravity.”

“The premise is that gravity doesn’t work on this person anymore,” Weinberg said. The movie uses some innovative cinematography to make it appear as though the main character is on the ceiling.

Laurel Levey, who earned the festival’s “Rising Star” award for her performance in the short film “Boxed,” was in attendance this past week. The movie, set during the Holocaust, was “intense” to make, Levey said. In addition to acting in the film, Levey wrote and produced it. The script was born out of a monologue she used for years to auditions. Directed by Alyn Darnay, Levey said the movie was important to her to “remember the six million who lost their lives in the Holocaust.”

Janeen Paulauskis, who organized the festival and is one of its co-founders, said she was “so proud our team pulled off a successful 15th anniversary.” More than 120 filmmakers entered movies out of more than 1,000 submissions.

“I’m happy to see them visiting our island paradise while they were here,” Paulauskis said of those who made the trek to Fort Myers Beach for the festival. “We look forward to seeing everybody back at the Beach Theater in April (when the festival returns),” Paulauskis said.

Festival volunteer Jan Fleming was honored for her service with a shining star award in the memory of the festival’s late co-founder Darryl Paulauskis.

Fleming spoke of how Darryl used to bring food to the filmmakers and would pick festivalgoers up at the airport. Fleming said Darryl was “looking down at us” from heaven on Sunday during the ceremony.

The award for best feature went to “Last Night in Rozzie,” about a New York lawyer who confronts a childhood trauma when he returns to his Boston hometown to reunite his dying friend with his young son.Stacey Steele helped announce the winners.

Among the other award winners were:

Best feature: “Last Night in Rozzie”

Best actor in a feature film: Luke Oparah in “Vagrant”

Best short film: “At Last”

Best documentary: “Kiss the Ground”

Best short documentary: “One all the Way”

Best Florida film: “Her and Him”

Best animated short film: “Wing It”

Best international short film: “Kicksled Choir”

People’s Choice award: “Anchor Point”