Photo by Rebecca Baxter
While there were still plenty of movies of the Sarasota Film Festival to see Sunday, April 10, the fest’s official closing night events took place Saturday, with both an announcement of awards and a screening of the movie The Congressman at the Sarasota Opera House.
First, a look at that movie, written and co-directed by former Congressman Robert Mrazek. Mrazek was a student of film long before he entered the political arena, and it’s obvious that The Congressman is, as they say, a labor of love for him.
The film centers on disillusioned Maine legislator Charlie Winship (Treat Williams), who’s served 18 years in the House and is pretty tired of all the nonsense that comes with it—from his colleagues, his constituents and the press. His job has taken a toll on his marriage as well, and when Charlie is caught on camera first not standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance and then, seemingly, delivering a Nazi salute, his career seems headed for the toilet.
But in the thick of it all Charlie heads for a remote island off the coast of Maine to see if he can help self-reliant lobstermen fighting to preserve their way of life against a big rival. Once there, he begins to detox from the pressures of Washington and may even find a new lease on life, thanks in part to an islander (Elizabeth Marvel), with whom he forms a mutual attraction.
The Congressman starts promisingly, and along the way delivers a few amusing scenes and certainly some beautiful scenery of the island of Monhegan. But while Mrazek was, admittedly, inspired in part by the classic films of director Frank Capra, The Congressman never reaches the heart in the way those Capra movies (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, etc.) did. It feels pretty formulaic and predictable, especially in the handling of the romantic angle between Williams (who delivers a nicely modulated performance) and Marvel, and in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of an evil former Congressman (George Hamilton, acting mostly with his teeth here).
Now, to the winners of the festival:
Narrative Feature Jury Prize: Men & Chicken, directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
Documentary Jury Prize: Cameraperson, directed by Kristen Johnson
Special Jury Prize: Neither Heaven Nor Earth, directed by Clement Cogitore
Breakout Performance Award: Shani Klein in Mountain
Special Jury Prize, documentary: Weiner, directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
Independent Visions Award: Ma, directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall
Outstanding Performance Awards: Frank Mosley in Some Beasts and Dylan Gelula in First Girl I Loved
Clarity of Vision Award: to Claire Carre and Charles Spano for Embers
Animated Short Jury Winner: The Itching, directed by Dianne Bellino
Best Narrative Short: Killer, directed by Matt Kazman
Best Documentary Short: My Aleppo, directed by Melissa Langer
Special Mentions: In Deep Waters, directed by Sara Van Den Boom, and Pink Boy, directed by Eric Rocky
Best Narrative Feature: Midnight Special, directed by Jeff Nichols
Finalists: First Girl I Loved, directed by Kerem Sanga, and The Seeker, directed by Jeff Johnson
Best Documentary: Miss Sharon Jones!, directed by Barbara Kopple
Finalists: Unlocking the Cage, directed by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, and The Witness, directed by James Solomon
Best in World Cinema: Sonita, directed by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Finalists: Mountain, directed by Yaelle Kayam, and Between Sea and Land, directed by Carlos del Castillo
Best Short Film: The Gnomist, directed by Sharon Liese
Finalists: On Beauty, directed by Joanna Rudnick, and The Art of Richard Thompson, directed by Bob Burnett
SFF also presented a Best Florida Film Audience Award for the first time, to Monty Comes Back, directed by Thomas John Nudi (finalists Colby, directed by Jake Fuller and Alex Markman, and The Guys Next Door, directed by Amy Gellar.
This year’s Juice award, aimed at fostering a community of women directors, went to Embers.