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Sarasota rolls out red carpet for film festival

The Sarasota Film Festival is back, and it's bringing an eclectic group of films and stars to town in early April.

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  • | 1:00 p.m. March 17, 2022
The theme for this year's Sarasota Film Festival is Upstream With a Paddle. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
The theme for this year's Sarasota Film Festival is Upstream With a Paddle. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
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The red carpet is coming back to Sarasota, and it’s bringing a touch of Hollywood with it.

Jacqueline Bisset, Jena Malone and world-renowned saxophone player Kenny G will be among the celebrities that attend the 24th Sarasota Film Festival, which will run April 1-10 virtually and in-person at multiple venues around town.

The full slate of the festival was announced at a kickoff party Tuesday in downtown Sarasota, and Mark Famiglio, the president of the festival, was thrilled to be back on the marquee.

The festival had to work in virtual showings during the pandemic, and now the challenge for Famiglio and company is to make sure those eyes stay focused on the films.

Mark Famiglio, president of the Sarasota Film Festival, is thrilled to be bringing Hollywood back to town. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
Mark Famiglio, president of the Sarasota Film Festival, is thrilled to be bringing Hollywood back to town. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

“We generated tens of thousands of people that we’re now trying to keep,” says Famiglio. “Sarasota Film Festival has been very well received all over the world. We’ve gotten viewership from … 117 countries or something ridiculous. We’re very happy about that. We’re trying to keep them in the loop. But at the same time, we want to get people back into theaters.”

Famiglio said that the festival will be showing films at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium and at the CMX CineBistro theater on Siesta Key in addition to this year’s virtual offerings. The auditorium will play host to both the festival’s opening and closing night events.

Malone, perhaps best known for her role in “The Hunger Games” film series, will be feted on the opening night for her film “Porcupine,” which focuses on adult adoption. Malone will receive the festival’s Excellence in Acting Award, and she will take part in a moderated discussion about “Porcupine” and her rich and distinguished career in film.

Bisset, a Hollywood legend who starred in “Bullitt” and as a Bond girl in the 1967 satire version of “Casino Royale,” will serve as a bookend with Malone. Bisset’s festival offering, “Loren and Rose,” will be shown on the final evening, and she will take part in a conversation about her career and also be awarded the Sarasota Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.

Two films — “Montana Story” and “Listening to Kenny G” — will serve as centerpiece films. The prior story stars Owen Teague in a film about a family reckoning, and the latter is an exposition about the many ways Kenny G has been received throughout the world. Rodney Piatt, who works in programming for the Sarasota Film Festival, said that the festival was thrilled to have Kenny G attend and discuss his life in music for the audience.

“We are very fortunate to have the man, the myth, the legend Kenny G himself here with us,” says Piatt. “He’s going to give us a little insight into his process. And it’s a really unique documentary in that it’s not just about who he is. It’s about how people interact with his art and the way people like him, dislike him and the effect he’s had on modern music in America.”

A number of films will be shown as spotlight features, including “After Yang,” “Calendar Girls,” “Master of Light,” “Oleg,” “The Divide” and “We Feed People.” The last film, “We Feed People,” is directed by Academy Award-winning auteur Ron Howard.

Ed Koplos (left) and Rodney Piatt (right) helped program the festival. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
Ed Koplos (left) and Rodney Piatt (right) helped program the festival. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

Those bold-faced names and films with recent festival pedigree are just scratching the surface of the offerings. The festival will hold a narrative feature competition and a documentary feature competition judged by prominent industry executives and reviewers.

Four films — “Drinkwater,” “Firebird,” “Listen” and “Out of Breath” will compete for the Narrative Feature Competition, and another four — “A Tree of Life,” “From Earth to Sky,” “The First Step” and “The Smell of Money” will be vying for beat documentary feature.

“It’s a really exciting program,” says Piatt. “It’s not necessarily the largest program we’ve ever done, but I think it’s the most jam-packed program we’ve ever had. We’re really excited about the talent we’ll have coming down.

"We’re really excited about the content. It’s a little bit of what you’d expect — some period pieces, some family films and some films you might think would be at SFF but with a little bit of a twist. Some unique perspectives, some challenging topics.”

The festival will have an Independent Visions competition, and it will also include sidebar topics on music and Black stories.

One film — “Little Satchmo” — has already been shown in Sarasota and centers on the story of Sharon Preston-Folta, who is the biological daughter of Louis Armstrong and could not reveal that until she was an adult.

Other sidebars in the music genre include a story about famed jazz icon and composer Oscar Peterson and a film about Canadian rock act Triumph’s brief time in the spotlight.

“The sidebars this year are sort of unique,” says Ed Koplos, who works in programming for the Sarasota Film Festival. “We have a music sidebar, which has a tremendous number of music films in it. Everything from hip-hop to classical. Everybody can get something they like. And I really encourage you to look at them in depth because there is a thread that goes through all of them as far as the impact music has on people. Just because you don’t like heavy metal, don’t miss that film because it may be the best one in some ways.”

Famiglio says that the festival has received great support from the city and the local community, and now it’s working to add streaming media and serialized content into the mix. Many of the short films being shown at the festival will also be available online, but the hope is that Sarasota’s art community will show up in droves to see the festival in person.

“I think you’d be remiss if you didn’t spend a lot of time at the Municipal Auditorium watching films for 10 days,” says Koplos about the opportunities lying in wait for film connoisseurs. “You’re going to see some terrific films that you’re not going to see anyplace else.”


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