The Sarasota Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, bringing to town dozens of movies, filmmakers and special events, April 13-22. Few details were available at press time; but most screenings will take place at the recently renamed Regal Hollywood 11 downtown, and there will also be live music events during the run.
We gathered some memories of the past two decades of the festival from those who have been closest to it over the years.
Mark Famiglio, board chairman
“By 2003, it had become a super event. We got a phone call from Aerosmith’s road manager: ‘We’re going to Sarasota, we’d like to come,’ because we were honoring a recording engineer [Jack Douglas] who had worked with them. I thought it was a joke, but he convinced me it was real. We sent a jet to Massachusetts where they were, wondering if they’d really get on. A friend had done a show with Aerosmith before, so we saw that [music] equipment was brought to the Ritz. When the band arrived and saw that, they gave me the finger, but they ended up doing a complete set. We got them a suite at the Ritz, got the sheriff in Manatee County to provide some black Suburbans, got some bouncers dressed in black, and Steven Tyler jumped into a car with me.
“Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix’s sister Rain and her band were playing in the old Boathouse at the Hyatt, and one of the band members was engaged to Steven’s daughter. Steven hadn’t actually met him yet, and his daughter was there, too, so it was a big homecoming, with lots of hugging and kissing.
“But the best story for me is from 2008 at the Longboat Key Club. My children [twin girls] were born that day. Stanley Tucci was standing next to me and we were talking about our children. I was trying to come up with names for mine, and he said, ‘I have a Camilla; you should name one of them Camilla.’ I did. And now Camilla has met Stanley over the last few years, too.”
Dr. John Welch
Festival founder and longtime board member
“Two highlights: One, when we took the festival to the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. One hundred-fifty of us from Sarasota were on the Seabourn Legend, and when we got to Cannes we had a Sarasota Film Festival banner flying right where everyone on the red carpet could see it. Every night we had a party there; we were really the talk of the festival.
“The other: 2003, when we honored Elmer Bernstein, the composer of so many film scores, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Magnificent Seven. Our Cine-Symphony event had him conducting the Sarasota Orchestra, with film clips of his movie work, including the score he had just written for Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. It was just amazing. I don’t know if any festival had done that before.”
SFF programmer, 2006-2011
“One thing that was so significant was that the festival became fertile ground for new emerging voices in film. Through the Independent Visions competition, we brought people here like Barry Jenkins [who later directed Academy Award winner Moonlight], Craig Zobel [currently with HBO’s The Leftovers], Alex Ross Perry [now filming Christopher Robin], David Lowery [who went on to direct Pete’s Dragon] and Alex Karpovsky [best known as an actor on Girls]. Sarasota was a place where they could find each other and network easily; and they still have relationships with each other today, as colleagues. Amy Seimetz [now show runner for The Girlfriend Experience on Starz] spent years bringing short films here, because she knew she wouldn’t be pushed in any one direction and could experiment with her voice. I have fond memories of doing karaoke every year at the Cabana Inn with these filmmakers, and the year Bill Paxton came—a big star—he was just by the pool there listening to all the young filmmakers, hanging out with these first-timers.”
Founding executive director, 1998-2008
“One unique memory is from January 2001, when we honored Alan Alda with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s sort of a liberal icon as well as an actor, and the tribute night was shortly after the November 2000 presidential election [between Bush and Gore] had finally been decided. Katherine Harris was a festival board member, and she was at the front and center of the election controversy as our Secretary of State. She wanted to take a photo with Mr. Alda, and his initial response to that was no. But during the tribute evening, she got up, praised him eloquently for his career without any political statements, and after that he agreed to pose. The next morning, the photo of the two of them was all over the wire services.
“My personal highlight was the 10th and last festival I was director for, when I had co-produced the movie The Deal with William H. Macy and Meg Ryan. That year, the festival gala was at The Ringling, and I remember walking in and remembering when I had acted, as an [FSU/Asolo Conservatory] M.F.A. student, in the old Asolo theater there. There was a real sense of pride.”
Longtime board member, volunteer and sponsor relations coordinator
“I remember our successes with Through Women’s Eyes, the Jewish Federation’s film sidebars, and the fun I had in intentionally miscalling our annual ‘Road Scholar’ group by names that always managed to get the entire group laughing and into their seats on time. It would be impossible to forget the woman with the huge mongrel and low-priced opening night ticket who insisted that the dog was an assistance dog that could only sit in an aisle seat in the VIP section. There were plenty of nights listening to [programmer] Tom Hall at karaoke, but many more days building the diverse audience our programming attracts.”
For up-to-date information on SFF, visit sarasotafilmfestival.com.