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Gregory Von Hausch: The Spirit of FLIFF

The 25th edition of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival wraps tomorrow night after a record-breaking 28 days of world cinema, special events and tribute evenings. The "official" wrap was on Sunday evening, with the local premiere of CASINO JACK, the final film of director George Hickenlooper, who died last week at the very young age of 47. FLIFF President and CEO Gregory von Hausch dedicated the evening to Hickenlooper, who had been a guest of the Festival several times and was scheduled to appear this year. Von Hausch could not hold back the tears as he remembered his friend and colleague. "George was a great friend of the Festival", he declared, "and we dedicate this evening to him." He then presented a short program of film clips from Hickenlooper's career.

That mix of professionial connection and humane feeling, not to mention a strong sense of cinema, is what has distinguished Gregory von Hausch, who was also honored on Sunday evening for his stewardship of the Festival for the past 22 years. During those two decades, he has literally put FLIFF on the cinema map, making it one of the most important and influential regional film festivals in the United States. Through his efforts, the Festival has a permanent home at the aptly named Cinema Paradiso, a converted 1926 church in downtown Fort Lauderdale that shows art films from around the world 365 days a year. He has also been instrumental in assembling a board of directors made up of movers-and-shakers in the local business, political, education and cultural communities, and has successfully produced the Festival during Florida's most challenging economic climate since the Great Depression.

Born and raised in Ohio, Gregory von Hausch has been contributing to the Florida arts scene since 1973, when he founded the Hippodrome State Theatre, North Florida's only professional regional theatre. In 1989, he came on board as FLIFF's Executive Director, and has been helping to build its reputation as one of the country's preeminent regional festivals ever since. In an interview conducted a few years ago, von Hausch expounded on his approach and philosophy. "The Festival was simply an eight-day event until I arrived in 1989, then it grew from eight to 10 to 12 to 14 to 17 to 21 to 24 and now to 28 days. Also, we began a monthly series of films for our local members which has now grown into a daily schedule, year-round, with our own cinema. The mission at the time was artistically to highlight North American indie filmmakers. In 1991, we added the word "International" to our name and began nurturing contacts around the world. That direction has grown significantly over the years and now 70 percent of the program is dedicated to world cinema. We select content, but the moviemakers are the stars. We also want to be known as the friendly festival, where all of our guests are invited to everything the festival has to offer. Our audiences love meeting the filmmakers, known and unknown, and provide a safe and receptive atmosphere to debut a film."

Hats off to Greg, Bonnie, Hal, Jan, Kim and the army of volunteers and board members who make the Festival a wonderful experience for me each year.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor on fest21.com
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