Sneak Peek

What Will You Watch at the Sarasota Film Festival?

This year's event offers both virtual and in-person screenings of a range of films, including the hit My Octopus Teacher.

By Kay Kipling April 28, 2021

Get ready to chill with SFF's Midnight Horror Special, Centigrade, about a couple trapped during a snowstorm in Norway.

It’s time for movie lovers to sign up again for the roster of films—presented both virtually and in person—that the 23rd annual Sarasota Film Festival has in store, April 30 through May 9.

While we can’t list all of the films being presented here, we can give you enough info about the festival’s opening and closing night films, Spotlight films, films in competition for awards and more to get you started. Then you can turn to for all the dates and times. (Some screenings do take place in person at the CineBistro Siesta Key.)

Announced earlier was the opening night film Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, a look at the life and work of multiple award-winning actress Rita Moreno. Also announced was the closing night film, Dream Horse, which tells the inspiring true story of Dream Alliance, an unlikely racehorse bred by a small-town bartender (played by Toni Collette). Damian Lewis also stars.

Academy Award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher swims into the festival lineup.

This year’s Centerpiece Film, My Octopus Teacher, had already drawn a lot of attention prior to winning the Oscar for best documentary film on Sunday night. Directors James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich will receive the SFF Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking Award for their work; the film follows Craig Foster as he navigates the underwater world of the kelp forest off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, eventually forging a relationship with an octopus that showed him things no human had ever witnessed.

Billed as a Midnight Horror Special, Centigrade, from director Brendan Walsh, stars Vincent Piazza and Genesis Rodriguez as a young couple trapped in their SUV after a snowstorm in the mountains of Norway. They must struggle to survive against the elements, hypothermia, disturbing hallucinations and plunging temperatures.

The festival’s Spotlight Films include Norway’s Hope (its entry for the 2021 Oscars), centered on a woman in the middle of her life who receives a terminal brain cancer diagnosis; Summertime, in which the lives of 25 young Angelenos intersect over one hot summer day in Los Angeles; Born to Play, following a women’s tackle football team; and, in a local  spotlight, Dangerous Ladies, from directors Charles Clapsaddle and Kate Alexander, with many scenes filmed in Florida Studio Theatre as the film makers look back on the suffragists who battled for the right to vote a century ago.

Toni Collette and Damian Lewis star in the closing night film, Dream Horse.

As always, SFF also presents movies in competition in the narrative, documentary and Independent Visions categories. Under narrative, Best Summer Ever is a fresh take on the teen musical genre featuring original songs and a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities. Cicada focuses on Ben, who develops an intense relationship with Sam, a man of color struggling with deep wounds. In I Was a Simple Man, a family in Hawaii faces the imminent death of its eldest as the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside. And in Lorelei, after being released from prison a man (Pablo Schreiber) returns to his blue-collar hometown and inadvertently reconnects with his high school girlfriend (Jena Malone), now a single mother struggling to support her three kids.

Competing in the documentary category are Chasing Childhood, following education professionals and reformed helicopter parents seeking to develop more confident and independent young people; The Process of Recovering, a story of trauma and recovery as told by a childhood incest survivor; Through the Night, tracing the realities of 24-hour daycare centers; and Weed & Wine, which peeks behind the curtain at the careers of a French vintner and a California cannabis grower.

And finally, the Independent Visions Competition presents A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, a mystical meta-musical about the greatest financial fraud in history; Blueberry, about a young Iowa woman who dreams of becoming a dancer; Strawberry Mansion, which finds an unassuming “dream auditor” swept up in a cosmic journey; and Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine, an Argentinian film centered on a magical portal on a cruise ship off the Patagonian coast and a concrete hut discovered by Filipino villagers—two stories woven together into a cinematographic labyrinth.

There is also a street party set for the night of May 7, along with some conversations with film makers and more in the SFF schedule; check it all out at

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