Department Article
The Enzian Theater offers up a little movie magic

by Libby Boren McMillan

Film fans don’t often find a venue that thrills them. They might find a comfy new theater that devotes a few screens to art films (here’s a shout-out to Regal Bonita Springs), but it’s rare to discover a gem that offers the latest film-festival winners, foreign films, art films, and indies in a cozy setting. Central Florida has just such a treasure in Maitland’s Enzian Theater.

Anchoring a corner that’s shaded by massive mossy oaks and crowned with a stunning outdoor bar, the Enzian has, for twenty-four years, maintained its status as a successful not-for-profit alternative cinema with a clearly stated mission: to “entertain, inspire, educate, and connect the community through film.” In addition to the amazing lineup of independent features it shows throughout the year, the theater is also home to the much-lauded Florida Film Festival, held at the end of March.

It was 1985 when founder Tina Tiedtke’s vision of a repertory house became a reality with the construction of the charming facility that holds the theater (and which many think is a renovated estate home). Tiedtke drew upon the Friedstein Castle, her grandmother’s Austrian home, for inspiration when designing the theater, and the theater takes its name from an alpine blossom found in Austria.

The Enzian first offered about a dozen classic films a week and the occasional live musical act. Philip Glass put the theater on the map by being one of the first world-class musicians to perform there. The theater soon narrowed its focus to first-run independent features, a move that was, then and now, considered highly risky.

The gamble paid off, however, as filmgoers flocked to the beautiful setting for engrossing dramas, documentaries, and foreign films unavailable elsewhere. The support continued to grow, and today the Enzian is often responsible for the highest grosses on art house releases in the state of Florida. The theater’s reputation has grown to the point that it is now a destination theater for devout film lovers.

“I am particularly inspired by the documentaries during the many film festivals and regular programming year-round,” says Jackie Johnson of Winter Park, an active Enzian volunteer and a member of the Enzian Film Society. “They ask us to question our basic assumptions, not only about subjects such as social justice, but about our shared humanity. I’m also mad for the foreign films, which transport me to a different culture.”

While its visual offerings satisfy many an appetite, the Enzian also caters to those who are hungry in a traditional sense. Waiters inside the theater quietly deliver steak tacos, roasted wild mushroom salads, Italian sausage pizzas, and other delicious fare to seated guests. The roomy theater has tables that seat two or four, in addition to its regular seating.

About a year ago, the theater upgraded its delightful courtyard area with the addition of the Eden Bar. The perfect setting for making like-minded friends before or after a film, the Eden Bar has seen many a lively conversation born over a freshly mixed mojito, vodkatini, or margarita. Renowned animator Bill Plympton painted the “Florida Garden of Eden” mural that serves as the backdrop for this sexy outdoor spot.

Even the countertop is a work of art: The owners hired a superior local craftsman to hard-carve a large piece of mahogany into a curved bar, and it’s a stunner. A lovely selection of wines is available, as are beer and cocktails. Food can also be had at the Eden, and while we don’t recommend foregoing a film, it’s completely acceptable to stop by for a drink or a bite without setting foot inside the theater. The giant oaks that tower over the patio’s gurgling fountain add to the Eden Bar’s feeling of intimacy; it’s simply a special place.

The Enzian is such a superb theater, it deserves regular patronage from anyone who is serious about seeing provocative films. Best of all, you can combine your movie-going with a stroll down Winter Park’s lovely Park Avenue or an overnight stay at the Park Plaza Hotel; the Enzian is just minutes away.

“Some gals may love diamonds or pearls,” says Johnson. “But Enzian is my treasure in the community.”

Freelance writer Libby Boren McMillan is a frequent contributor to Times of the Islands and RSW Living.