Indies make silver-screen debuts Starlite film festival

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2015 Starlite Film Festival

WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 26, to Sunday, March 1

WHERE: Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden

TICKETS: All-access passes will be sold for $40 for adults or $15 for students with a valid ID. This pass includes admission to all movies, workshops and parties. The adult pass includes a StarLite T-shirt. Single-event tickets to the opening-night screening and party are $15; admission to the closing ceremony on Sunday is $10. Individual tickets to films screened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are $6 each for the feature films and $5 for each short films program.

INFORMATION: Visit or call the Garden Theatre Box Office, (407) 877-4736

WINTER GARDEN — The Garden Theatre is giving movie fans the chance to view local and world premieres of nine independent feature films plus 38 student film shorts at this weekend’s StarLite Film Festival. In this microbudget juried exhibition, completion budgets could not exceed $200,000 for features or $10,000 for student shorts.

The festival kicks off Thursday, Feb. 26, with an opening-night feature of “The One I Love,” followed by an exclusive conversation with the film’s screenwriter, Justin Lader, a University of Central alum. 

The annual film fest continues through Sunday, March 1, with a closing ceremony and awards program at 6:15 p.m. The four-day event is presented by the city of Winter Garden, West Orange Times & Observer, CenturyLink, Odyssey Creative, ProductionHUB and Pilars Martini.  

The StarLite will offer a slate of nine microbudget feature films (four are international) and 38 student film shorts to be screened at the Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., in downtown Winter Garden. The festival also will offer free panels and workshops and multiple opportunities for cinephiles to mingle with filmmakers and share their love of independent film.


“The One I Love,” by Justin Lader, premiered and was a breakout hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 and is nominated for Best First Screenplay at the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards. The film stars Elizabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Mark Duplass (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Togetherness” and “The Lazarus Effect”) and tells the story of a couple who takes a weekend to fix a marriage that is on the brink of falling apart and ends up facing an unusual dilemma.

The film marks Lader’s first produced credit. He majored in film at UCF and then was accepted by the American Film Institute Conservatory in the screenwriting discipline, where he “found his voice.” After graduating from AFI, he teamed up with Charlie McDowell and began a creative collaboration resulting in television shows and other projects, including this film. 

The screening of the film and Q&A session on Friday will be followed by an after-party on the Roper Garden rooftop, catered by alFresco and Pilars Martini.

In addition to Lader’s movie, these feature films will be shown: “Pembroke Circle,” 7 p.m. Friday; “Hands Off My Child,” 9 p.m. Friday; “Pretty Good Friends,” 2 p.m. Saturday; “Seahorses,” 5 p.m. Saturday; “Bonobo,” 7 p.m. Saturday; “Interior,” 9 p.m. Saturday; “Indigo,” 1 p.m. Sunday; and “The Decorruption,” 4:15 p.m. Sunday.


All of the 38 student film shorts, created with a maximum budget of $10,000, are packaged together by theme in one-hour increments. Two different screening experiences are offered in each category.

• Enemies — 9:30 p.m. Feb. 27 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28. A collection of films about perceived adversaries and obstacles, including the ones within ourselves.

• Neighbors —7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 and 5:30 p.m. Feb. 28. A collection of films about the people in your neighborhood (and the evil spirits who sometimes possess them).

• Friends — 2:15 p.m. Feb. 28 and 4:30 p.m. March 1. A collection of films about deep connections made and others lost.

• Family — 12:45 p.m. Feb. 28 and 1:30 p.m. March 1. A collection of films about love, childhood, and the ties that bind.


The StarLite Film Festival’s name is a nod to a former longtime fixture near downtown Winter Garden. The iconic Star-Lite Drive-In was constructed on East Plant Street in 1949. At its height, the drive-in theater contained spaces for 400 cars. Thelbert Peavy managed the popular hangout for Collie Biggers.

The Star-Lite Drive-In closed in 1996, and despite efforts to save the art deco edifice, the theater was demolished in 1998.

The location of the film festival is, itself, a reborn relic of the city’s past. Originally built in 1935 as a single-screen cinema, the Garden Theatre was the first in Central Florida built for “talkies” and was a gathering place for locals to watch the latest newsreels and films of the day. 

The theater underwent several renovations until closing in 1963. Soon after, the interior was completely removed and the sloped floor was covered with cement to level the surface to be used by a farm supply store.

Through the efforts of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, the restored 299-seat Garden Theatre reopened in February 2008 similar to its original Mediterranean Revival décor.

Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at aqrhode[email protected].


These feature films will be screened and judged Feb. 26 through March 1 at the Garden Theatre:

• “Pembroke Circle” — 79 minutes. Central Florida premiere 7 p.m. Friday. Writer and director Max Rousseau folds a family drama within a psychological thriller bent on uncovering the seedy underbelly of suburban tranquility.

• “Hands Off My Child” — 90 minutes. World premiere 9 p.m. Friday. Inspired by real events, Dutch director Paul Ruven’s film is a puzzling, edge-of-your-seat thriller, like a microbudget “Taken” — if Liam Neeson’s part was recast as a 42-year-old mother on crutches.

• “Pretty Good Friends” — 76 minutes. World premiere 2 p.m. Saturday. In director Sophie Townsend’s Australian mumblecore film, “Pretty Good Friends,” Jules (Jenni Townsend, no relation) returns to her home city of Melbourne, Victoria, in hopes of reinventing herself in time for her 25th birthday. She moves in with her childhood friend, Sam (Rain Fuller), and Sam’s boyfriend Alex (Nathan Barillaro, who also co-wrote the script).

• “Seahorses” — 94 minutes. Florida premiere 5 p.m. Saturday. Writer and director Jason Kartalian introduces the audience to Martin (Ian Hutton), an intense and lonely weirdo who, after a first date, awkwardly invites the even weirder yet captivating Lauren (Justine Wachsberger) into his apartment. When she almost immediately locks herself in his bathroom and refuses to come out, things go from awkward to comically bizarre.

• “Bonobo” — 102 minutes. Florida premiere 7 p.m. Saturday. In this grittier take on the “Indecent Proposal” premise, a happily married but financially troubled UK couple, Sarah (Freya Berry) and Alec (Christopher Hatherall), must carefully evaluate the boundaries of their relationship when Sarah is offered a large sum of money to sleep with a wealthy man.

• “Interior” — 80 minutes. 9 p.m. Saturday. “A man alone inside a haunted house over the course of one night.” This is how first-time feature director Zachary Beckler pitches his instant horror classic, “Interior.”

• “Indigo” — 92 minutes. Florida premiere 1 p.m. Sunday. In director John Smith’s debut feature, Skyler Pinkerton stars as Eli Casey, an up-and-coming photographer and recovering heroin addict, who implodes after his son is kidnapped.

• “The Decorruption” — 76 minutes. World premiere 4:15 p.m. Sunday. Ecuadorian director Maria Emilia Garcia debuts her first feature, a dark, political thriller with satirical edges. In a fictional Latin American country plagued by bureaucratic corruption, a rebellious government employee, known as Comrade 31X, refuses to comply with the system.


Crowdfunding Panel & Workshop: 11:30 a.m. Saturday

Feature Filmmaker Roundtable: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Preparing for Production Panel: 3 p.m. Sunday


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