The inaugural Skyway Film Festival kicks off this weekend at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, showcasing some of the best in up-and-coming independent filmmakers. We asked artistic and program director Joseph Restaino to tell us about himself, the festival, and why he's so excited to be in Bradenton.
Tell us about your background and what brought you to the Skyway Film Festival.
I have been involved in film for about seven years as a programmer and contributor and over the last few years began producing films.
My first feature film, I was fortunate enough to work with some great people and shoot it in my hometown of Tampa. It’s a film called Chu and Blossom, a fun film with a cast that includes Alan Cumming, Annie Potts, Caitlin Stasey and Melanie Lynskey. Since then, I became a recent alum of Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) No Borders program at Lincoln Center. Just recently I got to work with my dear friend and local film producer Dori Sperko on the feature film Albion: Rise of the Danann, which will feature first-time director and local Castille Landon. The film stars John Cleese, Debra Messing, Jennifer Morrison, Stephen Dorff and several other great actors. We shot a few days in Bradenton and just returned from Bulgaria. Hopefully, this film makes a splash and we can bring it to theaters next year!
Being in film for several years I have met some amazing people. Last year Dori Sperko put the Bradenton Area Film Commission in touch with my team and we began discussions. After we saw the level of community and togetherness the area had, we decided to jump in and got going with Skyway Film Festival.
From past relationships in film and with festivals, I brought in some of my closest friends and we brought our individual talents. It’s something unique when you get to work with like-minded people, you really can get creative!
When you were screening the submissions for the festival, what stood out?
I have to start by saying we have 20 screeners who watch all the films. Again, it’s a community of folks that I have worked with and we really sit down every few weeks to discuss the films. For me, it’s the best part of what we do.
We were blown away by the amount of submissions we received being our inaugural year. I thought maybe 75 submissions tops, and then I’d have to go out and really recruit several top films. However, we received over triple that. So, when a film like Slamdance 2015’s audience winner Across the Sea actually submits to you, you are like, “Ok, we are on some sort of map! And it’s a good one.”
The quality of the Florida Films has really increased. I programmed Bradenton filmmaker Karl Wilson’s last film Catching up with Rosie in 2013. It was a nice independent film, but when I saw his latest, Catching up with Junior Tate, I realized he has grown as an artist and storyteller.
What movie when you were growing up made the biggest impression on you, and why?
I always say this, but Rocky is the film for me. The whole story about how it got made and how Sly [Stallone] would only do it if he could direct and play Rocky and how he was broke and turned down offers from other filmmakers to take the project from him. Just a great story about how he believed in it so much and believed in his abilities to deliver the film the way it should be told, through his eyes.
And, from there we have one of the greatest underdog films of all time.
What are you most excited about for this weekend?
I am excited about the people of the community coming together to see what the Skyway team has done. It really is a whole team effort. And at the end of the festival, I love when we get those emails and calls—the ones from people that want to help and be a part of it and continue its growth.