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Jake Ilardi documentary wins Local Audience Award at Sarasota Film Fest

A promotional image for the documentary "Into The Spotlight: The Jake Ilardi Story."
A promotional image for the documentary "Into The Spotlight: The Jake Ilardi Story."
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Liam Jordan's "Into the Spotlight: The Jake Ilardi Story," a documentary about the Sarasota skateboarder who has competed in the Olympics, won the Local Audience Award at the 26th annual Sarasota Film Festival, which wrapped April 14. 

The Industry Audience Award went to Dawn Porter's "Luther: Never Too Much," a biopic about the late superstar singer Luther Vandross, who struggled with his weight and the search for love before succumbing to complications of a stroke at age 54 in 2005.

Both awards were based on votes submitted by audience members during the 10-day festival.

The Narrative Feature Jury Prize was awarded to "Thelma," Josh Margolin's feature celebrating age starring June Squib and Richard Roundtree.

"Sugarcane," directed by Emily Kassie and Julian Brave NoiseCat, won the Documentary Feature Jury prize. The film explored the legacy of trauma following the abuse of First Nations students at St. Joseph's Mission Residential School in British Columbia, Canada. 

The Documentary Feature Jury also recognized Brendan Bellomo and Slava Leontyev's "Porcelain War" with a Special Jury Mention. The film used a story of artists turned soldiers to express Ukraine's resistance to annexation by Russia and the obliteration of its cultural heritage. 

An art-themed film also nabbed the festival's Independent Visions Award, which honors an emerging filmmaker. It was given to Arthur Egeli for "Art Thief," a feature imagining what happened to the con men who stole $30 million worth of paintings from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The theft of 13 paintings remains unsolved.

Sarasota Film Festival President and Chairman Mark Famiglio announces the winners at the closing ceremony of the festival on April 14.
Image courtesy of Becky Bolletti

"Lessons," directed by Shawn Butcher, won Best Narrative Short and Alex Hedison's "Alok" captured the prize for Best Documentary Short. "The Waiting," directed by Volker Schlecht, won Best International Short. 

Some awards were announced at the closing night ceremony of the festival on April 14. 

Screenings and voting for audience awards continued in the final hours of the festival at the Regal Hollywood on Main Street with encore performances of in-demand films, including "Luther: Never Too Much" and "Curry Scent," a feature about a young Indian woman who lives in Sarasota.

Directed by NYU graduate and Bradenton resident Christa Boarini, "Curry Scent" stars Indigo Sabharwal, a former Ringling College of Art & Design student.

During the closing night ceremonies, the festival honored Sarasota native Austin Abrams with its Rising Star Award. Abrams' new film, "The Line," a feature about fraternity hazing, screened at the festival. 

Abrams has previously appeared in AMC's "The Walking Dead," Netflix's "Dash & Lily" and HBO's "Euphoria." He will be featured in Sony Pictures' upcoming "Wolfs," starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Sarasota favorite Steve Buscemi returned to the festival this year to screen the closing night film, "The Listener," which he directed and produced with Wren Arthur. The film tells the tale of an overwhelmed woman fielding calls at a suicide prevention hotline.

Following the screening, Buscemi talked about his wide-ranging career in a conversation with the audience moderated by David Fear, a critic and senior editor at Rolling Stone magazine. 

Buscemi is best known for his role as the competitive bowler Donny in the cult classic "The Big Lebowski," which was screened for free on the Municipal Auditorium lawn during the festival. 

Following the closing night ceremony, SFF President and Chairman Mark Famiglio thanked the festival's patrons, supporters, staff and volunteers for making this year's festival a success. 

"I am proud to welcome and recognize filmmakers from around the world here in Sarasota, and it is our hope that they will continue serving as pillars of inspiration for the budding young creatives we have in our own backyard," Famiglio said.

Many festivalgoers enjoyed the convenience of having the majority of films unspool at the Regal Hollywood for the first time since 2019. It made it easy to move from one screening to the next. 

A limited number of screenings took place at Cinebistro in The Crossings at Siesta Key mall, allowing patrons to enjoy upscale food and drink while watching such films as Stephen Soucy's "Merchant Ivory."

The documentary about the 50-year collaboration between director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant that yielded such lush period pieces as "A Room with a View" and "Howard's End," was a hit with festivalgoers, especially when paired with a glass of wine, sliders and Cinebistro's famous truffle fries.

Director Warren Skeels and cast member Madison Wolfe outside the Regal Hollywood before the screening of the film "The Man in the White Van."
Image courtesy of Becky Bolletti

A local production that won favor, if not an audience award, was "The Man in the White Van," directed by Warren Skeels and executive produced by Siesta Key's Gary Kompothecras. The film is based on a true story of a young teen who is being stalked in rural Florida during the 1970s but whose family thinks she's telling tall tales.

Before the screening, a white van similar to the one in the film was parked outside the Regal Hollywood for photo ops for cast and audience members alike. It's all about the selfie, ya know?



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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