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Florida Film Festival stars: Cary Elwes, Tippi Hedren ... and the U.K.

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At this year's Florida Film Festival, the rallying cry could be borrowed from history: "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

For the first time, a special program of short films from the United Kingdom is part of the annual 10-day festival headquartered at Enzian Theater in Maitland.

The complete lineup of films and guests was announced on Wednesday evening.

The U,K, shorts star such luminaries from across the pond as Dame Judi Dench, Tim Roth and Vanessa Redgrave. Appearing in person at the festival is London-born Cary Elwes, who will host a screening of "The Princess Bride," the much-loved 1987 film in which he starred.

British director Alfred Hitchcock is represented with a newly restored 50th-anniversary print of "The Birds." Star Tippi Hedren, 83, will attend and talk about her career, which includes not only those frightening fowl but a new film, "Free Samples," entered in the festival's competition.

Parties, food-related events and other guest speakers round out the 22nd festival — the biggest ever, with 173 movies from 24 countries.

"There's definitely a strong British influence," said Matthew Curtis, festival programming director. "There's so much good work there."

The British shorts program evolved as the international submissions were being evaluated, Curtis said.

"We kept seeing one jaw-dropping movie from the U.K. after another," Curtis recalled. "We said, 'We're going to be in trouble: The whole international shorts program is going to be from the U.K."

Among the films in the all-Brit program: "Friend Request Pending," starring Judi Dench as a woman attempting to woo a local choirmaster with social media; "I Am Tom Moody," an animated film about a man confronting his inner child, voiced by Mackenzie Crook of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies and British TV's "The Office"; and "Pitch Black Heist" in which Michael Fassbender ("Inglorious Basterds") and Liam Cunningham ("Game of Thrones") play safe crackers on a job.

British films can be found in other aspects of the independent film festival, presented with Full Sail University, as well.

"Cockneys Vs. Zombies," an entry in the less-mainstream Midnight Movies slate of films, spins a comic horror story involving a half-baked robbery plan, a condemned retirement home — and a zombie outbreak that sweeps across London.

"It has one of the best chase scenes ever, well, one of the slowest chase scenes ever," said Curtis, describing an encounter between the undead and the walker-wielding residents of the retirement home.

That film is making its regional premiere, but there's an important place for old favorites, too. "The Princess Bride," for one, is an eternal favorite among film buffs.

"Have you ever met anyone who didn't like 'The Princess Bride?' No!" Curtis said. "It's such a beloved film. It works as a great fairy tale, and as a spoof of a fairy tale."

Elwes, who played leading man Westley in the romantic comedy has worked steadily since in everything from spoof "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" to TV's "The X-Files" to the gory "Saw" movies.

His appeal augmented the appeal of the movie, which also marked the debut of actress of Robin Wright.

"He was obviously so handsome and dashing," Curtis said. "Just perfect for the role."

Reaching back even further, 1963's "The Birds" is a touchstone of the thriller genre, with Hedren especially leaving indelible images in the minds of Hitchcock fans.

"We like to have somebody who's created an iconic role," Curtis said. The restored film is a bonus: "It looks perfect," he said. "No scratches, no repairs, just perfect."

Other classic films to be shown are "The Sting" with Paul Newman, celebrating its 40th anniversary and Woody Allen's "Sleeper," the closing-night film. Federico Fellini's "8 and a half," also celebrating its 50th anniversary, will be screened on Italian Cinema Night, with samples of Italian cuisine served.

Food-themed events are scattered throughout the festival, with a "Whole Cookery Feast" at Winter Park restaurant Cask and Larder; a panel discussion with award-winning chefs and filmmaker Joe York of "Pride and Joy," a movie about Southern cooking; and a discussion with cookbook author Francine Segan. Her program, focused on her book "Movie Menus" will feature clips of film favorite food scenes.

For the first time, the festival has invited a stunt performer to participate in a panel discussion. Zoe Bell is a New Zealander who got her start in stunt work as a double for Lucy Lawless in the "Xena: Warrior Princess" television series.

Bell also produces and acts — including significant roles in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" and "Death Proof."

Another woman without a household name — but whose voice is familiar to generations of music lovers — will be the opening-night guest.

Merry Clayton, who famously sang with the Rolling Stones on the 1970 hit "Gimme Shelter," will lead a discussion after a screening of "Twenty Feet from Stardom," a documentary on backup singers.

"She has great anecdotes to share," Curtis said of Clayton. "She sang one of the most iconic backing vocals in rock and roll." She's not scheduled to sing during her appearance — but the festival's freewheeling vibe means never say never.

"Whether or not the crowd can goad her into a song… well, we'll see," Curtis said.

"Twenty Feet from Stardom," a hit at this year's prestigious Sundance Film Festival, will open the audience's eyes to a profession they may never have thought much about.

"It's a huge crowd pleaser," Curtis said. "These people are so talented. You'll be wondering, 'How is this or that person not a superstar? It's ridiculous."

The film fest's official theme is "Open your eyes," and Curtis said a goal is encouraging festivalgoers to try something outside their comfort zone.

"We have retro films, classic films, family films, new films, everything," he said. "We offer something for everybody."

Florida Film Festival

Where: Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland; with other screenings at Regal Winter Park Village, 510 N. Orlando Ave.; and Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden

When: April 5-14. Complete schedule of events at floridafilmfestival.com

Tickets: Individual films generally from $9-$11; parties and other events from free admission to $150; discount ticket packages, $50 and up

Call: 407-629-1088, Ext. 230

Online: floridafilmfestival.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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