Bet if you monitored Eric Raddatz’s heart you just might find a movie fighting the cardio waves for screen time. For though he’s currently the prize-winning presentation editor of Florida Weekly newspaper, you’ve got to credit him as Film Man in the halls of Southwest Florida. A founder of the Naples International Film Festival in 2009, then founder of the Fort Myers Film Festival in 2010, Eric has worked on sets of movies, performed as an extra and made several films of his own. And it should be noted that, with his film festivals, he presented one documentary that later won an Oscar (The Cove) and another that was up for an Oscar this year (RBG).
So, yes, he currently remains a talented designer, but he will be working extra hard these nights and weekends as the latest installment of the Fort Myers Film Festival rolls out again this month (April 10-14). As old pals—Eric served nobly in Gulfshore Life’s art department years ago—we sat down recently to talk about his trajectory in the film arena.
He was actually working for us at the same time he was a part of the founding of the Naples International Film Festival. “That first year was grand,” Eric says, and he credits NIFF for its continuing success over the years. But there were chemistry issues with board members and some differences on the best way forward, and Eric departed after that first festival.
His love for independent films unabated, he has built the Fort Myers festival to a place where it now draws 600 to 900 guests to its opening night and pulls in some 2,000 viewers over the four to five days of screenings. What have been some of his favorite gets as he and current Programming Director Leslie Cimino have recruited films over the years? He fell in love with the screening of RBG at the Sundance Film Festival and actually talked to Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the audience. “She was charming and direct,” he says, as she took questions from the guests. “In this very well-done film, she fought gender bias, cared about all the people, was aware of her power and what to do with it, and had a grand sense of humor.”
Eric proudly recalls also getting the Maya Angelou film And Still I Rise after seeing it at Sundance. He screened it not only at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center but also at the Quality Life Center and other venues in less-privileged neighborhoods in Fort Myers. “At the Quality Life Center,” Eric says, “the kids were encouraged to create poetry, songs and dances of their own before the film out of respect for the rise of poet and civil rights activist Angelou from her early life of poverty and family abuse issues. The film’s two directors were at all the screenings, and one, Rita Coburn Whack, said she liked them so much she would present them like this elsewhere as she rolled the film out across the country.”
Sure, Eric has eyes for the films involving nationally known personalities and issues, but there’s a big place in his heart for local filmmakers, too. He cites a film that locals John Scoular and his wife, Madeline, did on Fort Myers artist Marcus Jansen as “an important film for our community and the kind we’re proud to show off.” And there’s no better example of Eric’s wanting to lure kids into the movie business than the story of Jordan Axelrod. Jordan began working for the festival while he was in middle school, helping out with promotions and social media; went on to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts; and has won the festival’s best student filmmaker award twice with his short romantic comedies. Jordan has had his films in other festivals, too.
There’s something else here that’s kept the town talking and bonding. On the first Monday of every month during season, Eric hosts TGIM (Thank God for Indie Mondays) gatherings at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. There’s happy hour first, then the showing of a short film that may or may not make the cut for the festival, plenty of back and forth on the film, and then adjournment for many to a local spot for drinks and more discussion. They draw 80 to 120 guests, provoke very frank discussions and, says Eric, “have created friendships and at least two marriages I know of.” Add to that number his own, where he bonded over common interests with a woman he had known around town and subsequently married, Amy Skehan, and fathered a son, Axel, with her.
Turn the camera on Eric, the Film Man, and you’ve got a smart, lively narrative—ups, downs, community engagement, romance. A pretty good film so far. Stay tuned for further developments.