Our Town

People and places that define Orlando

This Feels Like the First Time

The Orlando Film Festival has a new home in the heart of the city—and a few issues. By Jay Boyar

The fourth edition of the Orlando Film Festival seemed to me more like a first edition.

Held last month in downtown Orlando, the five-day event showcased more than 100 feature-length films, documentaries and shorts. One reason it felt like an inaugural year is that the festival had finally found a suitable home base at the new Plaza Cinema Café. (I say “finally” because that was supposed to have happened years ago, until construction delays at the elegant Art Deco multiplex set in.)
“They’ve got a really decent venue for the festival this year,” Enzian Theater’s general manager, Chris Blanc, graciously observed on opening night. (Enzian’s much better established Florida Film Festival will celebrate its 19th edition in April.) “The filmmakers in particular, I’m sure, appreciate having their films shown there.”

The parties and various special programs at this year’s Orlando Film Festival were presented either elsewhere in The Plaza building or at venues just steps away, including the Grand Bohemian Hotel and Kres Chophouse. That offered a level of convenience for festivalgoers that planners of other festivals could learn from.

Unfortunately, the fourth year struck me like a first year for other reasons, too. Technical glitches were frequent, as were delays. To take an extreme example, a weekend showing of Strawberry Fields (a documentary about John Lennon) began exactly one hour behind schedule, leading one peeved patron to exclaim, “This is beyond late!”

I was glad to see that actors and filmmakers from many of the movies were in attendance to hold Q&A sessions after the festival showings. But star power was weak.

Cheryl Hines, the UCF-alum who stars on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, was there to field questions about her directorial debut—Serious Moonlight, a dark comedy about marriage, starring Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton. But no one else had anything close to her level of name recognition.

As for the films, the lineup wasn’t impressive. Serious Moonlight won the festival’s prize for best film, and, to judge from the movies I saw, it actually was the best feature film there. A few documentaries—especially AutoMorphosis (about extravagantly decorated “art” cars and their owners) and The Philosopher Kings (about the wisdom of college janitors)—had something going for them, but there were no great discoveries.

The attendance, however, was impressive. Very. Daniel Springen, the festival’s executive director, estimates that there were 12,000-14,000 admissions this year, a huge uptick from last year’s total of 4,200. And, yes, the movies were free—as festival organizers never tired of pointing out. (The parking, however, wasn’t always.)

I was also impressed by some of the special programs. For example, a talk about changes in the animation business, given by producer Max Howard (who set up Disney’s local animation studio in the late 1980s), was frequently illuminating.

Not bad for a first year, I suppose, except that it was really the fourth. I’m hoping the organizers will get some of the bugs out by next year, in time for the second—I mean, fifth—edition.

Jumping for Joy

To local parkour enthusiasts, the ‘art of moving’ over obstacles is pure fun—and it should stay that way.

By Tyler King

In front of the OUC building in downtown Orlando, Andy Taylor and Aaron Stoller, 20-somethings dressed in shorts, T-shirts and sneakers, are acting like a couple of kids on a playground. They traverse a row of 2-foot-high pillars and jump to and from raised concrete rectangles holding shrubbery.

They appear to be enjoying themselves, but their calculated gymnastic-like moves suggest they take this concrete jungle gym seriously. Signs warn that skateboarding and rollerblading are banned from the premises, so by omission their urban sport of parkour is allowed.
 At least that’s how Taylor and Stoller see it.

Taylor, a 25-year-old electrician with a stripe of blue topping his black hair, and Stoller, 20, a Rollins College student with a pink dye job, are instructors in a group called Parkour Orlando. Parkour (referred to in France, its country of origin, as “the art of moving”) is a physical discipline that stresses obstacles as mediums for movement, not impediments to it.

For example, say you’re standing on a rooftop and want to get to another rooftop eight feet across an alleyway. Conventional thinking dictates that you climb down the roof, cross the alley and use a ladder to climb to the top of the other roof. Parkour adherents, however, believe that getting from Point A to Point B needn’t involve detours.

Proving as much, Taylor stands on the edge of a downtown rooftop and springs over an alley, with nothing but air between him and asphalt 30 feet below. He flips in midflight and lands on a flat ledge on the other side. The jump looks reckless and terrifying, but Taylor says parkour is about “challenging your physical ability, confidence and fear.”

Purists like Taylor and Stoller say parkour opens their minds to moving more efficiently in an urban jungle. They are neither performing nor competing, but rather creatively using their physical abilities to maneuver over barriers. 

That’s the way parkour should stay, they say. But it’s almost certain that it won’t. In October, MTV and the G4 TV networks aired parkour competitions, with a cash prize to the winner. And American Parkour, a national organization, is working with Fremantle Media (producers of American Idol) to create a parkour league and television series.

“It’s going to [tick] off a lot of people,” Taylor says of parkour becoming a competitive sport. Parkour is meant to challenge an individual, he adds, not for individuals to challenge each other.

American Parkour’s founder, Mark Toorock, 39, is aware of the resistance to turn parkour into a corporate-sponsored sport like skateboarding and BMX bicycle stunt riding. But he insists his brand of parkour will promote a health-conscious message. “I don’t want kids seeing one of our guys [on television] say that he can do this because he drinks Red Bull,” he says.

Taylor and Stoller want to see parkour grow in popularity but remain under the radar, a niche physical activity as unrestrained by rules as they are while jumping around and climbing on private property in Orlando.

“We just want everyone to have fun and play together,” says Taylor.

Orlando, a Page Turner

A new coffee-table book suggests that Orlando deserves attention as an architectural showplace. By Jay Boyar

When it comes to architecture, no one would mistake Orlando for Paris, London or New York.

But if The City Beautiful isn’t quite that beautiful, it does have a few things going for it. And if you need proof, take a tour of City by Design ($40), a new coffee-table tome subtitled An Architectural Perspective of Orlando and published by Panache Partners of Texas.

Part of a series on major cities and their buildings, the book was put together with help from the American Institute of Architects. The photos on its 176 glossy pages—not to mention the very existence of the book—suggest that, architecturally speaking, Orlando may be coming into its own.

“I’ve been asked: Why Orlando?” admits Phil Reavis, executive publisher for Panache, by way of explaining why his company decided to do a book about O-Town. “Oftentimes, you go into communities and see the cookie-cutter environments, the cookie-cutter buildings. [But] you look at the downtown skyline of Orlando” and you see “the architectural differences and the nuances of each building.”

One nice thing about City by Design is that it shows off the metro area’s “architectural diversity,” as managing editor Rosalie Wilson puts it, going “beyond simply the biggest buildings or the newest buildings or the greenest buildings.”

Here you’ll find photos of everything from 55 West to SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium, Casa Feliz in Winter Park to the Orlando Science Center, the House of Blues to Rosen Shingle Creek to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Apopka. (Near the end, there’s a chapter that looks ahead to the three big downtown venues.)

Also included are several shots of the LYNX Central Station, which was designed by Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock. With its distinctive undulating roof, the structure was inspired “by thoughts of movement: automobiles, trains, roller coasters, ocean waves—even magic carpets came to mind,” the text reveals.

And speaking of fanciful structures, City by Design also features Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, an amusing building located on a 33-arce wildlife reserve. Designed by Urban Design Group, it houses a dramatic lobby, three signature restaurants and more than 762 guestrooms, and overall has the appearance of a gentrified jungle-movie encampment.

“That’s part of the fantasy,” says Reavis.

The book’s nighttime photo of the facade of Orlando City Hall helps you to see the Brasfield & Gorrie-designed building in an unexpected light—literally. With all its windows illuminated, the mayor’s workplace takes on the look of a crown; other shots spotlighting the building’s domed ceiling emphasize that effect.

“I’m partial to the notion of a domed ceiling,” offers Chris Casler, a local architectural photographer and self-professed “armchair architect” who contributed a dozen photos to the book. “This is going to sound really odd, but the shape of your skull is a dome, and somehow there’s a sort of aesthetic compatibility.” 

Casler’s cover shot for the book features The Plaza, Baker Barrios Architects’ downtown mixed-use project. The project includes three imposing towers (the two main commercial towers and a residential one) and is home to the Plaza Cinema Café, downtown’s new movie theater.

“It’s not just a four-corner building,” notes Reavis, who especially likes “the roof line” and “the rounding of the buildings.” Casler, however, is less enthusiastic.

“It has no heart,” he complains, citing The Plaza’s relatively small lobbies. “There’s no place to walk into and feel you’ve arrived.”

One point on which everyone agrees is that, the recession notwithstanding, Orlando isn’t nearly done growing. In a “Mayor’s Note,” Buddy Dyer calls us “the next great American city”—a sentiment reflected in a Casler photo of the downtown skyline that’s also featured in the book.

“The tallest things in the picture are the newer buildings, but you can also see that there are gaps,” says Casler. “There’s a lot of room for growth here, and it’ll come.”

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