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Featured at the Florida Film Festival

Florida film fans have a reason to visit the center of the state in the next two weeks, as one cinematic celebration brings premieres and high-profile films to the Sunshine State.

The 20th annual Florida Film Festival, which starts Friday and runs until April 17, offers more than 160 films and other festivities.

The festival is centered in the Enzian Theater just outside of Orlando in Maitland.

According to the event’s website, films come from 21 categories and 32 genres and will be screened at the Enzian, Regal Winter Park and Garden theatres.

Enzian Theater’s public relations manager Jordana Meade said this year’s installment stands out because of its diverse selection.

“We have films for all tastes – from midnight movies to comedy, and animated short films to classics,” Meade said.

The festival opens its doors Friday with a 7 p.m. screening of “Project Nim,” a documentary from Academy Award-winning “Man on Wire” director James Marsh.

The film chronicles a famous experiment by Columbia University psychologist Herbert Terrace, who attempted to raise chimpanzees like human children and communicated with them through sign language.

Many of the festival’s highest-profile movies fall under the Spotlight Features category – most playing at Regal Winter Park Village and making Florida premieres.

“Slither” director James Gunn’s darkly violent superhero comedy “Super,” which stars Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, shows in state for the first time April 16 at 6:30 p.m. and April 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Japanese terror maestro Takashi Miike’s samurai story “13 Assassins” has screenings Saturday at 9 p.m. and Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. “Meek’s Cutoff” – a Western set in 1845 and starring Michelle Williams – makes its Southeast premiere April 17 at 4:30 p.m.

Kyle Brady, a junior majoring in sociology, said he was intrigued by the Spotlight Features selection and has anticipated these three films the most.

“All three of those movies I am really excited for,” Brady said. “This is a great opportunity for those films to be seen – especially because they aren’t your typical pre-summer fare.”

Among the Spotlight Features list, is “A Beautiful Belly,” which is directed by University of Central Florida film and digital media graduate Andrew Kenneth Gay. It makes its world premiere at the Enzian Theater on April 16 at 4 p.m.

Gay said the movie is the first feature to be shot on the digital Canon EOS-5D Mark II camera and was produced on a slim budget of $50,000.

“Having been born and raised in Florida, and having grown up as a filmmaker in Florida Film Festival’s backyard, I cannot imagine a better place to premiere ‘A Beautiful Belly,'” Gay said.

“A Beautiful Belly” was the festival’s first film to sell out its advance online tickets this year, and Gay said he is anticipating its world premiere.

“We’ve received tremendous support from the festival and community to become the most in-demand ticket at the festival, and that simply would not have happened at another fest,” Gay said.

The movie is one of eight screenings in the Florida Films category, which also includes “Meek’s Cutoff,” director Kelly Reichardt’s 1994 debut “Rivers of Grass” and Errol Morris’ 1981 documentary “Vernon, Florida.”

The festival pairs food and film in events like Olive Garden’s Italian Cinema Night at Enzian Theater Monday night. The tasting reception is free and the screenings of “La Pivellina” and the Federico Fellini classic “Amarcord” cost $10 each.

Smaller films like “Dog Sweat” and “The Birds Upstairs” will enter the competition in categories ranging from Animated Shorts to Dramatic Narrative Features. Guest judges, such as radio host and NPR entertainment critic Elvis Mitchell, will judge films in competition.

Meade said the best way for newcomers to get a handle on the festival’s offerings is to visit the website.

“It’s one of the easiest ways you can navigate and find something you love, just based on whatever your taste is,” Meade said.

For more information about the Florida Film Festival, including a full schedule of screenings and events, visit floridafilmfestival.com. Most screenings cost around $10, with passes to see multiple screenings available.