SFF hosted a press and sponsor kickoff party March 21 at The Westin Sarasota to give an overview of the festival and its various events.
Sarasota Film Festival is celebrating 20 years of sharing some of the independent film industry’s top works this year, and everyone’s invited.
From a sensory screening to four celebrity panels, there’s something for everyone this year, said Chairman and President of SFF Mark Famiglio at the March 21 SFF Sponsor and Press Kickoff Party.
The crowd of guests in the The Westin Sarasota’s Triton Ballroom listened to several speeches about the festival while nibbling on hors d'oeuvres and sipping beer and/or specialty Sarasota Sunrise cocktails.
Famiglio began his speech by addressing what was no doubt on most guests’ minds: the reduced size of Regal Hollywood Stadium 11 (formerly 20), where the vast majority of the SFF films have been screened for the past two decades.
“We got a lot of phone calls asking if we were going to relocate to Sarasota Square, but Regal has been very supportive of us,” Famiglio said. “They said ‘of course we want the film fest in our facility — we have fewer seats but they’re very comfortable seats.’”
To make up for the loss of those nine theaters, SFF added Art Ovation Hotel as a secondary screening venue this year. The opening and closing night films will be screened at Sarasota Opera House, and the four panels in the SFF In Conversation With series will be held at Florida Studio Theatre.
Famiglio told kickoff party guests that in his 20 years leading SFF, he’s never seen volunteers — all 200-some of them — work this hard.
“Last week my volunteers said they had done three all-nighters in a row getting their job done,” he said. “They completed the program three or four times because they kept getting new additions.”
SFF Program Operations Director Greg Bortnichak said the festival will show 223 films from 47 countries, and SFF Programmer Harrison Bender pointed out that this multitude of films didn’t come easily.
“The most difficult part of building the program this year was going through the 1,300 submissions,” he said.
Bender also announced that the festival will host 16 world premieres.
SFF also announced its full lineup shortly before the kickoff, which was explained to guests in more detail.
Opening night April 13 will kick off with a screening of “Class Rank,” a smart comedy following the unexpected roadblocks of two ambitious New Jersey high school seniors. The two band together in a fight against the education system from the inside, but as Veronica awaits college acceptance letters and Bernard’s grass-roots campaign for a seat on the local board of education near, love and ambition begin to complicate matters. Director Eric Stoltz will lead a In Conversation With series discussion at Noon Saturday, April 14 at Florida Studio Theatre.
SFF’s 2018 Centerpiece Films section features “1985,” which follows a closeted gay man who’s unable to come out to his loved ones when he travels home for Christmas during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. The film stars Academy Award-nominated actress Virginia Madsen, who will lead a In Conversation With series discussion at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at Florida Studio Theatre.
The other Centerpiece Film selection is “Eighth Grade,” Bo Burnham’s feature film directorial debut. The story follows a thirteen-year-old whose online persona portrayed on her Youtube channel is everything she wishes she could be in her everyday life. Burnham will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film’s screening during the festival.
The 10-day festival concludes April 21 with a screening of the documentary “Above and Beyond: Nasa’s Journey to Tomorrow.” Appropriately timed for NASA’s 60th anniversary, this film explores how the historic institution has changed our vision of the universe, Earth and humankind as a whole. Director Rory Kennedy and Producer Mark Bailey will be in attendance, and Kennedy will lead a In Conversation With series discussion at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at Florida Studio Theatre.
“In honor of our 20th anniversary, we have programmed a lineup that celebrates the past, present, and future of the Sarasota Film Festival that is sure to delight our dedicated and passionate audiences,” Famiglio said in a release. “The selection includes a diverse group of narratives and voices that will create engaging conversations about today’s most important topics.”
Each year the Sarasota Film Festival focuses on social issues to highlight throughout its program. This year’s topics are Sports in Cinema; Environment, Science, and Sustainability; Women’s Comedic Voices; Redefining Manhood and Musings on Musicians.
Click here for the full lineup.