Sarasota Film Festival Closing Night

Awards at the Opera House, and a few words from actor Richard Jenkins.

By Kay Kipling April 14, 2014

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Charlie McDowell, Elisabeth Moss and Justin Lader on the Sarasota Opera House stage. Photo by Rebecca Baxter[/caption]

By Kay Kipling

The Sarasota Film Festival closing night at the Sarasota Opera House featured awards to a number of filmmakers, an appearance by Mad Men costar Elisabeth Moss, an accidentally smashed award, and a screening of the film in which Moss appeared, The One I Love.

First a look at the jurors’ awards: for top narrative feature, director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida; for documentary feature, Amir Bar-Levy for Happy Valley; for Independent Visions, Josephine Decker for Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (that’s the one that the presenter dropped amid certain random acts of tomfoolery). A special jury prize for ensemble acting went to We Are the Best; the documentary Rich Hill was honored for direction; a special outstanding performance award went to Tallie Medel for Joy Kevin; and B.F.E. received a best ensemble award.

Audience awards went to Ping Pong Summer (narrative); Supermensch (documentary); Bicycling with Moliere (world cinema) and Chub (best short).

Moss took the stage in a striking fuchsia dress to present the Breakthrough Award to her director, Charlie McDowell (son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen), whose mother made a brief vocal appearance in his film, The One I Love, and whose stepfather, Ted Danson, appeared in the movie as a therapist trying to help a married couple recapture their happiness.

That film is McDowell’s directing debut, and he and writer Justin Lader have succeeded in pulling off a work that is original, funny, scary and sad. Mark Duplass and Moss star as Ethan and Sophie, trying to rebuild their relationship after a betrayal by a stay at a very private California retreat recommended by the aforementioned therapist. It would be unfair to reveal very much about this film, which is full of twists and turns, but I will just mention that on the property there is a mysterious guest house where strange things start to happen…

Before closing out coverage of the film festival, though, a few words from Richard Jenkins. Jenkins, appearing in the film God’s Pocket with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, was the festival’s only In Conversation With star this year, interviewed by New York magazine writer David Edelstein in the intimate confines of Florida Studio Theatre’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre.

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Interviewer David Edelstein and actor Richard Jenkins.[/caption]

Looking relaxed and much like the “ordinary” man he often portrays, Jenkins reminisced about his years at Trinity Rep, admitting he got bored with his acting there and leaped at the chance to appear in films instead and never have to take the stage again. Growing up in DeKalb, Ill., he said, he always wanted to be in movies, although it seemed unattainable.

Jenkins commented both on actors he’s worked with, like Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Dianne Wiest, and others he’s admired, like Spencer Tracy and Marlon Brando, saying with someone like Tracy, you don’t see the acting, “He’s just there. Acting should be joyful; when you’re doing it well, it’s the easiest thing in the world.”

It wasn’t easy for Jenkins to break into film; he says when he first went to Los Angeles, “I didn’t have an agent; I didn’t have a friend. I used to wait for my car to get low on gas so I could talk to the guy at the gas station.” But when he was spotted in a play at the Long Wharf Theatre by his soon-to-be manager, he finally got to work on the screen, and said, “I just loved it,” despite the humbling experience that, “My first really nice part in a studio movie was in The Witches of Eastwick, and the first day the guards wouldn’t let me on the set, because they didn’t believe I was in it.”

Jenkins went on to appear in Flirting with Disaster, directed by David O. Russell (“intense, but I love crazy when it’s creative crazy”), the Coen brothers’ movie The Man Who Wasn’t There (but only after reading and being rejected for two earlier Coen roles, the Bill Macy character in Fargo and the Albert Finney one in Miller’s Crossing), The Visitor (the first role where, he says, he really understood what it meant to have to carry a film—“If it failed, it was my fault”) and his role as the dead (but nevertheless frequently appearing) father on HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Coming up next for Jenkins is another HBO production, the miniseries Olive Kittredge, playing the husband of Olive (Frances McDormand) in an adaptation of the Elizabeth Strout book. More than 40 years into his career, Jenkins continues to be a steadily working actor, and one with an appreciation of his good fortune.

 That’s it until the 2015 festival, when filmmakers and film lovers gather here once more.

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