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Interview with Fort Lauderdale Fest Director Gregory von Hausch

Gregory von Hausch is the public face of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. He founded the Festival more than two decades ago and has led it from a small regional event to an important showcase of international and independent cinema. As the Festival celebrates its 21st anniversary with the dapper and enthusiastic von Hausch still at the helm, Online Festival Dailies Editor Sandy Mandelberger sat down with Gregory von Hausch for an engaging and wide-ranging interview.

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): What are your feelings about the Festival reaching the milestone of its 21st anniversary?

Gregory von Hausch (GvH): This year, we have scheduled so many different kinds of films and events that it is really a special year. We started things off with the opening film VOLVER, which I think is the one of the best films in a very long time. We showcased a documentary on the Chopin Foundation piano competition along with a live concert which was also a sold-out event. We have many exciting events coming up this weekend, including our Awards Ceremony and Wrap Party. I am very excited about how this year has been going.

SM: The Festival is now an essential part of the cultural calendar in South Florida. How are you seeing the 20 years of development baring fruit this year?

GvH: It has evolved in so many ways that involve all levels of the community. It’s important to give the filmmakers who attend a platform to promote their movies, but we also very much think about the audiences that we are servicing and cater a good number of programs for their benefit. We’ve reached out to seniors, children, free screenings, free retrospectives and creating opportunities for the audience to meet visiting filmmakers. Unlike other festivals where you need a gold ticket to get access, we believe in bringing together the filmmakers with the audience, and letting dialogue and interaction happen freely. There are parties and receptions after many of the films, to which the audience who attended a particular screening are invited….I think we are unique in offering our audiences this kind of access.

SM: Another way that what you do is unique is that the Festival is just one program in a year long program of films and events that you do at the Cinema Paradiso. How do you feel that the year-round programming helps the Festival and viceversa?

GvH: Cinema Paradiso provides us with the opportunity of having a year-round festival of sorts. We tend to show films that our audiences could not find anywhere else, so in this sense, we continue the excitement of the Festival and its unique programming throughout the entire year. And it works the other way too….we have built a loyal audience base with the Cinema Paradiso screenings that are very open to the excitement of the Festival.

SM: One of the distinctions of your event is that it is the “world’s longest film festival”, with screenings going on for over a month. Isn’t that taxing on you and your staff and aren’t there challenges in keeping up the momentum and excitement?

GvH: Well, my hope with the Cinema Paradiso was that we would be able to shorten the length of the Festival, since we are offering things throughout the year. And this year we have sort of done that, reducing the number of days from 38 to 30. But since we are mounting a mini-Festival with a dozen of our films and filmmakers in Key West right after the end of this Festival, we have kept it going longer than a month. Yes, it is difficult for our staff and we have to work extra hard to keep up the excitement. We do that by saving films and events for the weekends especially, so that each weekend there is a renewed interest and excitement. In the future, we would like to trim the number of days of the Festival and I think that after this anniversary year, we will definitely do that.

SM: The landscape of the film festival world has certainly changed in the past 21 years, not only around the country but even in the state of Florida. Where do you see the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival fitting into this busy array of events?

GvH: It hasn’t really been such a problem, since most of the Florida festivals now occur in the Spring (Miami is in March; Sarasota, Palm Beach and Orlando are in April). So, we really are positioned in the Fall to showcase films that are current now or that will be released between now and the end of the year. It really is based on when the distributors are planning to release their films. Anyway, we are showing almost 200 films, so we certainly are not wanting for any product.

SM: You’ve been doing this now for 21 years. How do you keep yourself motivated and juiced up to mount yet another event, especially such a long one?

GvH: It is a very grueling thing to raise the money, secure the films, reach out to the audiences. After last year, when we had to scrap a number of events because we were hit with a hurricane the first week of the Festival, I really did feel pretty exhausted. One of things that has changed for me is that I moved with my family to St. Augustine Beach, about 300 miles north, and hired Hal Axler from the Palm Beach Film Festival to be the Operations Manager for the Cinema Paradiso and the Festival. That left me more time to pursue programming interests, do some creative work like writing and also do some more creative fundraising. That has really helped me and has given me a second wind. I think that this year’s Festival is the strongest we’ve had in years, and I look forward to the Festival continuing to grow in importance and depth in the years to come.

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