Lights, Camera, Action

Must-See Movies at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival

SFF programming director Michael Dunaway shares his top 10 picks for this year's festival.

By Kay Kipling March 29, 2016

Sarasota Film Festival programming director Michael Dunaway recently wrapped up filming his own first scripted feature, but he’s also been busy attending festivals around the country to plan the line-up for this year’s fest, set for April 1-10. Like last year’s festival, where movies and discussions tackled the issue of homelessness, this year’s event also has a social issues element: It’s focused on mental health and includes the documentary In Pursuit of Silence, about noise pollution its health impacts. But there’s a wide range of movies to see; here are 10 of Dunaway’s top picks.

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Kate Plays Christine

Director: Robert Greene

Star: Kate Lyn Sheil

Actress Sheil researches her role as real-life Sarasota TV newswoman Christine Chubbuck (who shot herself live on camera here more than 40 years ago) in a movie-within-a-movie scenario. Dunaway says, “Although this has Sarasota connections, it’s a film I’d want to program if I were working in Atlanta or elsewhere. The challenge here is to give the movie its due but also be respectful to [Chubbuck’s] family and friends.”

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Director: Rakh Sareh

Star: Sonita Alidazeh

In this film, which won the World Documentary Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, an Iranian high school girl wants to be a rapper. “It’s an amazing and very unusual true story,” says Dunaway.

Touched with Fire

Director: Paul Dalio

Stars: Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Christine Lahti

This opening night film stars Holmes as a bipolar anorexic. “She meets a fellow patient[Kirby] in a psychiatric hospital; there’s an element of romance there,” says Dunaway.


Directors: Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman

Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner hits the campaign trail in the New York City mayoral race. According to Dunaway, co-director Josh Kriegman was actually once Weiner’s chief of staff, and he started shooting this documentary at the beginning of the race—before a second sex scandal for Weiner took over the direction of the story.

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The Congressman

Co-directors: Jared Martin, Robert Mrazek 

Stars: Treat Williams, George Hamilton

The closing night film is written by Mrazek, himself a former congressman from New York. “It starts with a guy who gets caught on video not saying the Pledge of Allegiance,” says Dunaway, “and gets more ridiculous from there.”

The Brainwashing of My Dad

Director: Jen Senko

Narrator: Matthew Modine

Dunaway says this documentary about the political transformation of the filmmaker’s dad, a Kennedy Democrat who immersed himself in conservative talk radio, is one “with a definitely strong viewpoint”—as you might guess from the title.


Director: Gingger Shankar

Singer-composer-musician Shankar takes a look at the careers of her mother and grandmother, both renowned musicians in India. “It’s the overlooked story of these women’s roles” in the 1960s and ’70s explosion of the Indian music scene, says Dunaway. “There’s a live performance component here, too.”

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Director: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss

A slightly futuristic tale set in a high-rise building that Dunaway says is “wild, for people who don’t mind having their minds bent. It’s Macbeth meets the French Revolution meets Sunset Boulevard.”

First Girl I Loved

Director: Kerem Sanga

Stars: Brianna Hildebrand, Dylan Gelula

Dunaway’s second favorite film of the whole Sundance Festival was this low-budget relationship drama about a high school lesbian coming out. “It’s so universal,” he says, “capturing that feeling of being in junior high and not fitting in. No bad guys, but plenty of conflict.”

Love and Friendship

Director: Whit Stillman

Based on the unfinished Jane Austen novella Lady Susan. “Whit wrote a lot of the dialogue,” says Dunaway, “and you can’t tell what parts are his and what parts are Austen’s.”

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