The Sarasota Film Festival held its closing night awards ceremony Saturday, April 13, at the Sarasota Opera House, with filmmakers and film lovers in attendance. While the evening marked the official end to this year’s festival, it also stood out for the beginning of something: actor Greg Kinnear’s career as a director, with the closing night world premiere movie, Phil.
Kinnear both directs and stars in this film about a dentist (Phil) on the verge of suicide. He’s sleepwalking through life, barely able to get through the days as he copes with being divorced and detached—that is, until he meets Michael (Bradley Whitford), a man who seems to have it all.
Interested despite himself, Phil begins to insert himself into the man’s life in ways that are both comedic and more emotionally dark. In the process, he gets to know Michael’s wife (Emily Mortimer), discover some hidden talents of his own, and just possibly find a way back into enjoying the good in life.
Kinnear is spot on in the title role, backed by a well-chosen ensemble cast that interacts convincingly. The script, written by Stephen Mazur, was inspired by real life, as Mazur related in a Q&A after the film screening; he knew a fellow writer who seemingly had everything but ended up killing himself. Mazur was joined by producer Sandy Stern and Kinnear in the Q&A, where Kinnear also joked that after becoming a director with Phil, “I’ve been so nice to every director I’ve worked with since,” as he realizes the challenges a director faces.
Also taking the stage Saturday night were SFF returnee Blythe Danner, who received both an SFF Icon Award and a standing ovation from the crowd, which she said warmed the cockles of her heart, adding that she’d love to come back and make films in Florida if the state would create more tax incentives for filmmakers. Anne Heche was presented the Career Tribute Award by fellow actor Thomas Jane; clips from both Heche’s and Danner’s film careers highlighted the presentation.
In addition, awards were presented in the various competitive categories of the festival. The Third Wife, directed by Ash Mayfair, took home the Narrative Feature Jury Prize. American Factory, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, won the Documentary Feature Jury Prize, and the Independent Visions Jury Prize went to The World Is Full of Secrets, directed by Graham Swon. Peter Parlow’s The Plagiarists received the Terry Porter Visionary Award presented by The Huisking Foundation.
The narrative jury gave special recognition to the vision of In Fabric; the documentary jury gave a special jury prize to Honeyland; and the Independent Visions Jury gave a special jury prize to One Man Dies A Million Times.
This year’s Animated Shorts Jury Prize winner is Two Balloons, while How Does It Start was named Best Narrative Short and Hingakawa was the Documentary Short Award winner.
The Audience Award for Best Documentary was presented to The Biggest Little Farm, and the Best in World Cinema Audience Award went to Tel Aviv on Fire. Two Balloons also won the Audience Award for Best Short film. And Sarasota filmmaker KT Curran took home the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature with Surviving Lunch, centering on school bullying and violence.
For more general information about the Sarasota Film Festival, visit sarasotafilmfestival.com.