Free Ride’s Executive Producer, Stephen Moyer attended Friday’s red-carpet opening of the 28th edition of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival along with Lea Thompson (“Back to the Future”) and John Shea (“Gossip Girl”) who parried flashbulbs and media inquiries soon after their limos rolled up in front of Cinema Paradiso in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately, Anna Paquin, the star of the film was unable to attend, so Stephen represented her. Shana Betz, the screenwriter and director of FLIFF’s opening-night feature, arrived with Stephen. With Betz, on her 41st birthday no less, were her mother Christina and sister Debbie, reuniting the three subjects of the emotionally draining film that was the centerpiece of the evening.
“Free Ride,” the first release from Anna Paquin and husband Stephen Moyer’s CASM Films, traces the true story of Christina’s involvement in the late-70s South Florida drug trade to provide for Debbie and Shana. Set in Fort Lauderdale, scenes of domestic violence, drugs and a harrowing car wreck flicker in tense juxtaposition with the unyielding love between mother and daughters.
The FLIFF screening brought Christina and Debbie back to Fort Lauderdale for the first time since those troubles.
Just off the red carpet, Debbie, admitted to being “real nervous” about seeing her sister’s film for the first time. “I brought plenty of tissue,” she said, flipping through the stack in her hand.
Resplendent in blue sequins (the after-party had a Gatsby theme), Debbie, who now lives near Wheeling, W. Va., where she drives dump trucks and 18-wheelers, said she was especially interested in seeing how her car wreck would be handled. The film, which Shana said was in part intended as “an apology” to older sister Debbie for having to be a second mother during the bad old days, reaches a climax with the wreck that left Debbie with scars that are still visible 35 years later.
In introductory comments, Betz admitted to being nervous, but called the film’s acceptance by a festival in the city where it takes place, and the reunion with her mother and sister, “a perfect circle.”
A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 were jammed into Cinema Paradiso to see “Free Ride,” which overcame some early technical difficulties to mesmerize the room. During a post-film Q&A, one audience member pointed out to Moyer, Shana and the others that FLIFF director Gregory von Hausch’s “impeccable” taste has given the festival’s opening-night films a great track record when it comes to future awards.
Standing in front of the screen, Christina was near tears in describing her pride over Shana’s film, Paquin’s performance and her gratitude that Moyer and CASM Films would make a film about people so far off the Hollywood radar.
With her arm around Betz’s waist, Debbie told the crowd, “I had a guardian angel watching over me so I could watch over my sister.” Looking at Shana, she said, “I just did what I had to do as a big sister. And I love you.”
Elsewhere, Moyer fielded questions about HBO’s “True Blood,” the vampire saga starring Paquin and himself that will soon start production for its final season. “Even I have no idea what’s going to happen [in the final season]. I haven’t seen a script,” said Moyer, who impressed the ladies with a no-tie, black-tie look that British guys have a way of pulling off.
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