The 20th annual Sarasota Film Festival officially closed Saturday night (although there were some screenings today as well) with the presentation of Career Achievement Awards to actors Steve Guttenberg and Virginia Madsen, the announcement of the winners in both juried competitions and audience choice, and the showing of the documentary Above and Beyond; NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, directed by Rory Kennedy, who was in attendance.
First, about the movie: Kennedy narrates the film, which includes interviews with astronauts like Scott Kelly and Peggy Whitson, NASA administrators and scientists, along with the expected shots of our planet from space and a look at what some of NASA’s space missions accomplished in terms of exploring other planets in our solar system and beyond.
But the documentary also emphasizes the work NASA scientists have done in earth observation in ways that clearly show the impact of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change on our “blue marble.” Given the inhospitality of those other planets—too cold, too hot, too dry, etc.—the conclusion reached about our pressing need to protect our planet before it’s too late is inescapable.
Now, about the awards/tribute evening. First-year festival visitors Penelope Ann Miller and Samantha Mathis returned to congratulate festival organizers on the 20th year before the presentation of awards to Madsen and Guttenberg. Madsen expressed her thanks for the award, noting that independent films like the festival’s 1985, in which she appears, “are about 98 percent of what I do.” Guttenberg spoke about his career, surprising the audience by asking that the festival “hold on” to his award for a while, saying he still had so much he wants to achieve, including making more great movies and receiving an Academy Award nomination. “I want my parents to be there” for that, an emotional Guttenberg said.
Interspersed with the Career Achievement Awards, the following winners were also announced.
Narrative Feature Jury Prize: I Am Not a Witch, by Zambian-born Welsh director Rungano Nyoni, about a girl sent to a witches’ camp.
Documentary Feature Jury Prize: Minding the Gap, about filmmaker Bing Liu’s return to his hometown in the Rust Belt of America to reconnect with two childhood friends. First-time filmmaker Liu was at the Sarasota Opera House to thank the jury and festival for his award.
Independent Visions Jury Prize: Milford Graves Full Mantis, by Jake Meginsky and Neil Young. The film is about Meginsky’s longtime music teacher, Graves, and Meginsky was also in attendance at the awards evening.
Terry Porter Visionary Award: This award named after the late, longtime Video Renaissance manager went to Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, for its spirit of independence and experimentation.
Special recognitions were also given to Helena Howard for Breakthrough Performance in Madeline’s Madeline, Notes on an Appearance, for Visionary Storytelling, and The Sentence, for Social Commentary.
Audience awards went to musical comedy Hearts Beat Loud (narrative), documentary RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Israeli film Maktub, for world cinema. In the short film category, audiences chose Mr. Connolly Has ALS.
Jury prize winners for shorts included The Burden for animation, Lunch Time for narrative, and Sand Men for documentary.