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The 19th annual Sarasota Film Festival got underway Friday night, March 31, with the screening of filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s latest, Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, at the Sarasota Opera House.

In actuality, the first event of the festival was a luncheon at the Sarasota Yacht Club honoring Kennedy (who’s been in attendance at SFF before) with an Impact Award for her documentary work. But Take Every Wave was the first of the more than 200 shorts, narratives and documentary films to be presented here through April 9. (BTW, SFF president Mark Famiglio already announced next year’s dates before the screening, in case you want to mark your calendars for April 13-22, 2018.)

Kennedy spoke briefly before the audience watched her movie (created with her husband, writer-producer Mark Bailey) and both also answered a few questions from SFF creative producer Michael Dunaway after the showing.

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Filmmakers Rory Kennedy and Mark Bailey.

Image: Staff

 

But the real star of the evening was big-wave surfing legend Hamilton, whose onscreen presence mingled with incredible footage of some of the waves he and his team have surfed. We learn about Hamilton’s upbringing, as the child of a free-spirited young mother, with a replacement father in a young surfer named Bill Hamilton; the young Laird was more than a handful, at home and in school, but from childhood possessed an uncanny affinity with the water, which was his escape from the problems of life on land.

We also see his determination, both in his demanding training regimen and in his search for new surf experiences, sometimes at a cost to his friendships or family relationships.

If you’re a surfer, you’ll be envious as you watch Hamilton reach ever higher in his global quest, with much of the action taking place in Hawaii. If you’re not a surfer, you’ll be amazed.

But the amazement for the non-surfer might start to wear off a bit towards the end of the two-hour film. Hamilton and Kennedy do have a story to tell, and some of the movie’s shots, like those taken from a helicopter not that high above the waves, are certainly impressive. But after about 90 minutes, my own personal surf threshold was reached.

After the screening, guests poured out into the closed-off street in front of the opera house, where music, food and drinks welcomed them under a white tent. It was an inviting atmosphere for kicking off the 10-day festival.

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The festival opening night party

Image: Staff

 

More Sarasota Film Festival coverage to come; for information on movies, special events and more, go to sarasotafilmfestival.com.

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