The Sarasota Film Festival Is Celebrating Its 25th Anniversary This Year

The 10-day event will feature celebrity glitterati and a slate of films from March 25-April 2. Tickets will be available March 14.

By Staff March 10, 2023

The Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) has announced an initial slate of programming for its milestone 25th anniversary event. Live, in-person screenings and events will take place across Sarasota from March 25 through April 2, and a complementary virtual platform will launch on Friday, March 24, offering exclusive, pre-opening access to select titles.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," says Mark Famiglio, SFF's chairman and president, of this year's series of events. "With great enthusiasm, we are once again welcoming our film-loving community back to the Sarasota Film Festival in celebration of our 25th anniversary. It is our privilege to host a number of distinguished storytellers and artists in our idyllic Gulf Coast community. Our 10-day event in beautiful Sarasota will highlight the changemakers of the past 25 years and showcase industry voices that will carry us into the next 25.”

The festival's Documentary Centerpiece film is Alexandria Bombach’s It's Only Life After All. Blending 40 years of home movies, raw film archive and intimate present-day verité, the film offers poignant reflections from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, the iconic folk-rock duo. It's timely look into the obstacles, activism and life lessons of two queer friends who never expected to make it big. The film will also screen as part of this year’s Music Sidebar program.

Ray and Saliers will both attend the festival to receive the Sarasota Maestro Award. In addition to being top-selling, Grammy-award winning recording artists, both are published authors and community activists. SFF will honor the duo’s decades of contributions to music, social good and beyond. (Past recipients of the award include Kenny G and David Amram.)

Also screening this year is Lisa Cortés’ Little Richard: I Am Everything, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of the Black, queer origins of rock 'n’ roll. Through a wealth of archive and performance that brings us into Richard Penniman's complicated inner world, the film unspools the icon’s life story, with all its switchbacks and contradictions.

In interviews with family, musicians and Black and queer scholars, the film reveals how Penniman created an art form for ultimate self-expression—and how he was never able to give to himself what he gave to the world. Throughout his life, Penniman careened like a shiny pinball between God, sex and rock ‘n roll. 

Also on the list this year: HBO Documentary Film Love to Love You, Donna Summer, co-directed by Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano (Summer’s daughter), which premiered at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. 

The film captures a complex picture of the woman, artist, wife and mother whose iconic voice changed music. An archive of exclusive, previously unseen film, home video, photographs, artwork, personal audio and other recordings form the film’s exploration of Summer's life and career. Summer, who died in 2012, was also a longtime resident of Manasota Key and received the keys to the City of Sarasota in 2006.

On Sunday, April 2, the festival will close with a special presentation of Prime Video’s On a Wing and a Prayer, a film from Sean McNamara starring Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham and Jesse Metcalfe, which tells the true story of a pilot who dies unexpectedly while flying and a passenger who’s forced to land the plane safely in order to save his entire family.

Roma Downey, the producer of the film, will also be in attendance to receive the Sarasota Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award. Downey is an Emmy-nominated actress, producer and New York Times bestselling author.

Roma Downey will receive the SFF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Image: Shutterstock

Best known for her role as the kind-hearted angel Monica on the popular show Touched by an Angel, Downey is also the founder and creative head of LightWorkers—the faith and family division of MGM/Amazon. Its productions include The Bible series, A.D., Son of God, The Dovekeepers, Woodlawn, Ben-Hur, Resurrection and, now, On a Wing and a Prayer. Downey has been bestowed with an OBE for services to the arts, drama and community in Northern Ireland and was honored for her career with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is a longtime supporter of Operation Smile and Compassion International, and she received a Sally Award from the Salvation Army for her contributions to entertainment and helping those in need. Past recipients of the Sarasota Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award include Jacqueline Bisset, Rita Moreno and Virginia Madsen.

During the festival, Downey will also host a book signing and intimate conversation in support of her newest devotional, Be An Angel, at Bookstore1 on Saturday, April 1.

The festival will also welcome back guest programmers Tom Hall and Holly Herrick. Hall is the artistic director and co-head of Montclair Film and The Clairidge Cinema in Montclair, NJ. Herrick is the head of film and creative media at the Austin Film Society. Both return to this special 25th edition of the Sarasota Film Festival after previously serving as the festival’s director, artistic Director and director of programming from 2005-2014 and programmer and director of programming from 2006-2011, respectively.

Tickets for the festival will be available for purchase beginning March 14, 2023.

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