Sitting on the edge of Sarasota Bay, the Marie Selby Gardens are indeed a very fine and beautiful venue for the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival to hold its Press Kickoff event.
I arrived at 5:55 PM for the 6:00 PM opening of the gates. There was available free parking across the street in the Selby lot; or Valet Parking was there if that was your preference. It was a beautiful setting that only lacked a view of the bay and the anchored boats as the sky was overcast and dark, and fog had already obscured the view.
But there was plenty of glamour on view and that was just within the ranks of the attendees. The bar was open, and finger food properly sized to be finished in one bite were available via strolling servers.
Though we didn’t know it at the time, we would have an hour to kill. At just a moment or two before 7:00 PM, Mark Famiglio, the Sarasota Film Festival President stepped up to the podium and off we went. We were greeted and welcomed and then sponsors had to be thanked as well as major financial contributors, festival volunteers, and the hard-working staff of the SFF.
Eventually, Director of Programming Mike Dunaway would appear at the podium, and that meant that we would then learn about this year’s film Festival. Dunaway is kind of a dashing figure resplendent in his white sports jacket, rolled up denim trousers, and his trademark blue-lens glasses.
With his thick and bushy white/gray beard, Dunaway looks like a cross between old-time cowboy actor Gabby Hayes and a peacock.
The theme of this year’s festival is called Find Yourself in Film. And the underlying issues for this year are Mental Health, politics, women film makers as film-fatales, Making LGBTQ films, the changing face of Documentary Film, and acting for Television.
Special screenings will be Mommy Dearest from 1981, with Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter Rutanya Alda on hand to discuss the film. Also receiving a Special Screening will be Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Actor and author Matthew Modine will be on hand at the Florida Studio Theater on Saturday April 9th at 10:00 AM to discuss the film
Full Metal Jacket, and his new interactive e-book Full Metal Jacket Diaries.
Actress Rosie Perez will be present on Sunday April 3rd at 6:30 PM at the Florida Studio Theater to discuss her new film Five Nights In Maine which stars David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest.
Actress Olympia Dukakis will have an exclusive event Luncheon with Olympia Dukakis at the Sarasota Yacht Club on Friday April 8th at 11:30 AM.
On Thursday Night, March 31st, actress Sophia Loren will be feted at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. The event will be called An Evening With Sophia Loren. Oscar-winning actress Sophia Loren will captivate you with an intimate onstage conversation and question-and-answer session as well as film clips from her prolific career spanning more than five decades. I’ve written and posted a separate piece on this event <—– click this link)
And now on to the films. The Opening Night film (Friday April 1st at the Van Wezel) is a narrative feature called Other People. This film was also the opening night feature at Sundance back in January. Jessie Plemons (Fargo and Breaking Bad) has the lead role.
The film is a dramedy concerning a 29-year-old gay man who moves home to Sacramento to take care of his mother, who’s in the advanced stages of cancer. His arrival back home is further complicated by his conservatively religious family and his Dad’s – played by Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) – refusal to accept his gay son’s sexuality (ten years after he came out). Molly Shannon plays the dying mother who struggles through chemo, decides to quit treatment and her health starts to seriously fail, each of the family members must then deal with the inevitable loss as best they can and in their own way.
The Closing Night Narrative Feature is called The Congressman. This film will be screened at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday April 9th. The film stars Treat Williams (Prince of the City) and Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards). Williams plays Casey Winship, a Maine Congressman who is in the midst of a really bad streak. He’s been caught on video refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which leads to a massive media scandal.
He’s feuding with his ex-wife. He has a violent punch out with another Congressman. Charlie’s life is spinning out of control.
He escapes to a lonely and remote island off the coast of Maine, and there he will find himself in the midst of a shooting war between warring factions of lobstermen and fishermen over fishing grounds. It is here that Winship will have to confront his demons and figure out what it means to be an American.
Among the Spotlight Films are:
High-Rise – a film about society and class all with in the single structure of a high-tech skyscraper. At the top of this building, class strata, and eco-system is a king of sorts (Jeremy Irons). Trouble begins when services to the lower floors and classes begin to fail leading to an uprising against the upper floors which are both higher and more affluent. Tom Hiddleston plays Dr. Robert Laing – the newest tenant. Also on hand are Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss.This is an adaption of a J.G. Ballard novel and the film’s director is Ben Wheatley from the UK.
Love & Friendship – based on an unfinished novella by Jane Austen, this is a period drama set in 1790. Love and Friendship centers on beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon, who has come to the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. Whilst there, she decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant debutante daughter, Frederica.
The leads are Kate Beckinsdale and Chloe Sevigny. The film was directed by Whit Stillman.
Louder Than Bombs is set in the present day on Long Island, Staten Island and Nyack, New York; this is a family drama about a fractious family of a father and his two sons who confront their different feelings and memories of their deceased wife and mother, a famed war photographer.
The film stars Gabriel Byrne, Jessie Eisenberg, Rachel Brosnahan, Isabelle Huppert, David Strathairn, and Amy Ryan.
The Wait (L’Attesa) is from Italy and stars award-winning actress Juliette Binoche. This is the story of a Sicilian mother who lives with her son’s fiancée, and refrains from telling the fiancée that her son will not return.
The two Centerpiece Films are Five Nights in Maine and the Documentary Unlocking The Cage.
Five Nights in Maine is about a new widower played by David Oyelowo who goes to rural Maine to visit his late wife’s parents. Directed by Maris Curran, the film is stunningly beautiful to see and watch, and is marked by the unforgettable performance by Oyelowo as a wounded, reeling, and quietly desperate man seeking answers to his grief.
Unlocking the Cage is a documentary about the determinism of what is personhood and the decades long fight to protect animals. Or said another way – how humane is the law? Is it humane enough to cover defendants who are not human.Made by legendary documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus – this film covers the story of the chimpanzee Tommy.
That’s just the beginning friends. 10 Days – more than 200 films including shorts, documentaries, and feature films – this is the 18th Sarasota Film Festival. And it promises to be a huge event. Consult the film festival’s website for ticketing and scheduling and much more detail.