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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”