Local filmmakers on the big screen

Independent films, local and international, will be featured at the 11th annual Central Florida Film Festival.

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  • | 9:45 a.m. August 24, 2016
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When Sonny Dyon was living in Clermont, inspiration struck during a late-night walk with his dogs. 

During the walk, he looked behind his neighborhood to see a row of orange groves. The scene burned in his mind. 

“It was creepy as hell,” Dyon said. “I was like, ‘Man, I would not want to be stuck in an orange grove at night. That’s terrifying.’”

He began to speak with the team of people with which he made films in the past. 

He came up with “The Grove,” a short film about a Realtor who submits foreclosure papers to a family who lives in the middle of an orange grove and ends up at the wrong house, where “Texas Chainsaw-Massacre”-like events ensue. 

“The Grove” plays at the 11th annual Central Florida Film Festival, held in Ocoee. 

At last year’s CENFLO, Dyon’s film “Clarity” won the Audience Choice Award — the first short film in the history of CENFLO to do so. 

Dyon, who lived in Clermont for 10 years, recently moved to Hollywood to be closer to his sons and further his filmmaking career. “The Grove” was filmed in Clermont. 

He is an entrepreneur and filmmaker with QiCo Films. He is currently working on an animated series called “Relatively Super,” which features actors such as Michael Dorn, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. 


The Central Florida Film Festival, which takes place Sept. 2 to 4, is celebrating its 11th anniversary. The event was started by Bob Cook at the Osceola Center for the Arts in 2005, moving to West Orange Cinema in Ocoee a few years later. 

This year, 70 films were accepted to the event, with more than 22 films produced by local directors. 

Cook, who has been a filmmaker for more than 30 years, plans Q&A sessions with some film directors, as well as some well-known actors.

Some independent movies are not family-friendly. However, families who wish to enjoy the festival can attend the “Old Fashioned” Saturday Matinee, which features Warner Brother Cartoons, a showing of the Western “Big Jake,” a meet-and-greet with Chris Mitchum, son of actor Robert Mitchum, and a showing of a newer film “Spare Parts.”

For the full schedule with descriptions, visit centralfloridafilmfestival.com/itineraryFRIDAY.html


Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].


In high school, John Ashton was a sports guy and a “big jock” when a teacher asked him to try out for the musical “Oklahoma!”

Ashton said yes. 

He took grief from his football buddies, but he was cast as Jud Fry. The experience made him want to pursue acting. 

Ultimately, he followed though. 

Ashton is known for his roles in “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Midnight Run,” and you can meet him at the Central Florida Film Festival. 

Following a showing of “Beverly Hills Cop,” Ashton and co-star Lisa Eilbacher will participate in a Q&A session with the audience. 

Although Ashton participated in famous movies and plays during his acting career, he still supports independent filmmakers, even performing in indie films from time to time. 

“Independent filmmakers are the filmmakers of the future,” he said. 

TL Westgate

Ever since his high-school days of “making very bad films,” TL Westgate has loved filmmaking — and his skills have greatly improved, too. 

Westgate, an Altamonte Springs resident who works in Winter Garden, has two films in this year’s Central Florida Film Festival — “Manifest: Destiny” and “Resolution.” He worked on “Manifest: Destiny” in tandem with another local filmmaker, Dale Metz. 

It is a short film that tells the story of a brother and sister traveling across the country with a “mysterious girl” in tow. 

Westgate dabbles in a variety of genres, but comedy is one of his favorites to do. He comes up with one joke or gag, and then builds the rest of the film to build up to that moment. 

He prefers producing short films to longer features. 

“When they’re good, they’re great, but when they’re bad, at least they’re short,” Westgate said with a laugh.

Colin Harris

Colin Harris’ first feature-length film is darker than many other filmmakers’ firsts.

The movie, “Haima,” tells a story of a woman who, while searching for answers about her past, is brutally attacked by a man connected to an ex-lover. She must elude her attackers before they can finish her off. 

“The reason why I decided to do this type of movie is because a lot of people, when they do their first film, try to do something more inspirational or uplifting,” Harris said. “I wanted to make sure, since I’m putting all this work into it, that I’m making a film for me. So I try to do a film that is in line with the type of movies that I like. So pretty much, if nobody else likes it, I would.”

Harris, an Orlando resident, leads a busy life as a husband, filmmaker, full-time employee with the Federal Aviation Administration and instructor of cinematic studies at Central Florida Institute of Technology.


Veronica Russo didn’t go easy on her first feature-length film. 

Russo, an Orlando resident, produced “Mafiosa,” which follows the story of a girl whose parents have been murdered. As she uncovers the truth, she finds a link to an organized crime family. She enlists the help of her friends to seek revenge. 

At the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, “Mafiosa” won Best Action Film. The film went all out on the action and effects. 

“With the gunplay, we had to have off-duty police officers on set, we had to have a pyrotechnics company come out, especially when using the guns,” Russo said. “There were a lot of professionals on set making sure everything was done correctly.” 



Here are two special events at this year’s festival:

Beverly Hills Cop Movie Date Night

WHEN: 7:35 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3

COST: $20 for two admissions; showing of Beverly Hills Cop; meet and greet with John Ashton and Lisa Eilbacher, Beverly Hills Cop actors; medium popcorn; two 16-ounce soft drinks

Family-friendly “Old Fashioned” Saturday Matinee

WHEN: 11:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3

COST: $20 for two admissions; Warner Brother Cartoons; showing of the western “Big Jake;” meet and greet with Chris Mitchum, son of actor Robert Mitchum; two small popcorns; two 16-ounce soft drinks; showing of the family-friendly movie “Spare Parts.”



FILMMAKER: Colin Harris

SHOWTIME: 7:35 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, Theater 1

SYNOPSIS: After an attack set up by a former lover, a woman awakens to find she has amnesia.






“We Answered the Call”

FILMMAKER: Scott Holmgren

SHOWTIMES: 10 to 11:20 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, Theater 3 as part of a military double feature; 4:05 to 4:35 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, Theater 3

SYNOPSIS: The true story of Jim Wilhite, a 35-year veteran sent to start a military school in Afghanistan.

CATEGORY: Documentary



“The Grove”


SYNOPSIS: A Realtor delivering foreclosure papers to a home among orange groves runs into trouble.

SHOWTIMES: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 3, Theater 3 with select Florida shorts; 12:10 to 1:55 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, Theater 3 with select Florida shorts





FILMMAKER: Veronica Russo

SYNOPSIS: A woman seeks to avenge the death of her parents. 

SHOWTIME: 8:15 to 9:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, Theater 2; 1:45 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, Theater 1





“Manifest: Destiny”

FILMMAKERS: TL Westgate and Dale Metz

SYNOPSIS: A brother and sister trek across the country with a mysterious girl. 

SHOWTIMES: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 3, Theater 3 with select Florida shorts; 12:10 to 1:55 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, Theater 3 with select Florida shorts







SYNOPSIS: On New Year’s Eve, old anxieties return

SHOWTIMES: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 3, Theater 3 with select Florida shorts; 12:10 to 1:55 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, Theater 3 with select Florida shorts



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