Your Unofficial Guide to the Sarasota Film Festival

By staff January 1, 2005

Don't worry if you don't know a key grip from a klieg light. No movie star achieved stardom overnight, and the only real difference between them and you is a good stylist and a lot of bodyguards.

Fortunately, all it takes to be a star and get past the velvet rope during the Sarasota Film Festival is a little insider knowledge. We've discovered lots of ways for you to elevate your star status during this year's festival, which is set for Jan. 28-Feb. 6. And remember that you're in good company, since the Sundance Film Festival also takes place in January; so take good notes, slap on your flashiest dark glasses and let's get on with the show.


When it comes to visiting movie stars, location means more than a sweet piece of waterfront real estate. Most stars stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Colony Beach and Tennis Resort and The Resort at Longboat Key Club, all of which are sponsors of the festival. B-listers get shuttled off to lesser digs, but the top prize for visiting celebs is the Presidential suite at the Ritz-which is why insiders gasped the year a very annoyed Sydney Pollack was booked into a single room there.


Where do the stars eat? "Anywhere they want to," says Mark Marvell, the festival's former programming director. Almost everyone winds up at Mediterraneo, right across from the theaters at Hollywood 20; most of them while you're watching their movies and they're waiting for the post-film Q&A. But don't think it's all about caviar and crème fraiche. Sam Elliott loved the Main Street Deli, and Jennifer Love Hewiitt dispatched Ritz employees to procure orders of nuggets from Chick-Fil-A.


When in Sarasota, celebs play tourists, too. Practically all manage to fit in some sightseeing or sports. Jon Voight and Gena Rowlands toured the Ringling estate-but not together-while Rita Moreno oohed and aahed over the orchids at Selby Gardens. Film star and director Mario Van Peebles went clubbing, and William H. Macy strolled St. Armands Circle twice before deciding on a trinket for wife Felicity Huffman (of television's Desperate Housewives).

And proving that real men like exclusive sports, Peter Riegert and Wayne Knight (of Seinfeld fame) flew in a day early to catch a game of golf at Prestancia. Alan Alda played tennis at The Colony. Sometimes celebs use down time to hang around the pool, or, in the case of Jeffrey Tambor, to fill out their Academy Award ballot.

Most nightlife is restricted to the Ca d'Zan bar at the Ritz, which is foolproof for spotting stars. (So are the directors' and filmmakers' lounges, but since they require an industry pass, be prepare to park outside on the sidewalk if you want a peek.) The Cheetah club is reportedly gaining popularity, although none of our sources would divulge who's actually been there.


The proper transportation can transform any circumstance. Remember the year Danny Aiello arrived by limo to an audience of just a handful of journalists? The next day local newspapers heralded his arrival to "scores" of fans.

The festival provides drivers and cars, although some, like Richard Dreyfuss, prefer to rent their own cars. This year, Mercedes Benz has signed on as a presenting sponsor, so the stars will have 15 brand-new luxury models for tooling around.

What kind of transportation will you need? If you're bad-ass, you ride choppers. Last year Woody Harrelson strode into American Legend Cycle, hopped on a Harley Davidson Fatboy and roared out of the store onto U.S. 301-the wrong way, and without a helmet (he eventually jumped the median into the right lane). "He scared me half to death," says American Legend owner Ray Williams.


"What makes a party is buzz, and buzz gets generated by noise," says Sarasota Herald-Tribune theater critic Jay Handelman. "The atmosphere inside the opening night party at the Van Wezel foyer is very different and way louder than the Night of a Thousand Stars at Michael's Ballroom."

It's hard to argue that for locals, Night of a Thousand Stars has the coolest entertainment: Aerosmith and Cheap Trick have dropped in to play in years past. But for celebrities, "It's work," acknowledges Michelle Moretta of Springer Associates Public Relations in New York. Industry insiders prefer private parties, like those thrown by automobile magnate Vern Buchanan. "[They're] more intimate and [the stars] don't feel like they're on display," says Moretta.

Then there's Mark Famiglio's "after" after-party, where REM lead singer Michael Stipe once dove into the pool naked, and which you're not going to get into unless you're a verrrrry close friend of the host. "Looks have a great deal to do with it," says Sarasota Herald-Tribune arts editor Charlie Huisking. Think plastic-as in, the crowds who frequent the parties on Style Network's Dr. 90210. Which brings us to..


While some Sarasotans will fork over $4,000 on a dress for the Filmmaker's Tribute Dinner, many big-time directors show up looking like they just coached a Little League game. We like the look of Randy Schlanger, the festival board member who always shows up wearing something skin-baring and eye-catching. "If it's black-tie, it's her dress that's going to be in the paper," says Christine Jennings, a former film festival board member.

But to fit in with industry insiders, wear all black with shades. If you have leather, flaunt it. (After all, you paid for that butt, show it off.) Women should wear their hair down, and, "Don't be caught in white or with a camera," adds Jennings. (Although Jennifer Love Hewitt did dare to be different last year with her updo and white baby doll dress.)

Always be gracious if someone mistakes you for a celebrity, say, Louise Fletcher. Even if you are 20 years younger and 50 pounds lighter, just smile politely-then say Jack Nicholson bit the head off a bat during filming of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.


The stars who come to the Sarasota Film Festival are generally approachable, though Handelman suggests you pick someone you're interested in and know something about before you interrupt their Waldorf salad. Because of his own theater background, it's easier for him to relate to stars with stage experience. "Actors are often much prouder of their work on the stage" than they are of their screen time, anyway, he says.

Just make sure they have something interesting to be proud of. Handelman, who also interviews celebrities for television's SNN6, says his smartest interviews have been with older actors who've had life experience beyond deciphering the lyrics to R. Kelly's latest CD.

And keep it short-for the star's sake, and for yours, if you're going to be on camera. "Many stars are too talkative. Olympia Dukakis was a dream to interview, but she gave very long answers, which are hard to hone down for TV."


Stars who come to the Sarasota Film Festival rarely bring an entourage. They're more likely to schlep a relative along, or a boyfriend, as Gena Rowlands did. Jennifer Love Hewitt brought her mother. Brooke Shields brought her new husband, and Richard Dreyfuss his teen-age son, Ben. Some, like Woody Harrelson, just show up solo. Rock groups need more support. Both the B-52s and Aerosmith brought along wives, children-and some ex-wives as well.


Don't ignore events just because their names lack glamour. Some of the festival's coolest events, like the Young Filmmaker's Showcase (which screens student films), Joe Bob Briggs' B-movie night and the free outdoor film screenings, get the least attention. The unexpected star of the festival two years ago was CineSymphony, where Elmer Bernstein conducted the Florida West Coast Symphony in a collection of his scores from The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Escape.

At one of the $15-filmmaker lunches, locals got to hear Patrick Stewart rhapsodize about his adventures in theater and space (any Trekkies in the house?) and at a filmmaker's forum, Sydney Pollack rambled on for hours-for free.


The festival has had its share of embarrassing moments. Proving that open bars and fans of the film Deliverance don't mix well, one drunken reveler drove film critic Andrew Sarris from the stage during his introduction of actor Jon Voight.

That experience paled next to the frenzied search for someone to honor at last year's festival. In a world where the Savannah Film Festival persuaded Kathleen Turner, Norman Jewison and Peter O'Toole to show up for cinema awards (all in the same year!), Jody Kielbasa and company kept members sweating until the 11th hour before convincing Robert Benton to accept a tribute.

But the biggest faux pas belonged to last year's film jury, who refused to name a grand prize winner, alienating film-makers, board members and fans. Note to future jurists: Mistrials belong in the criminal justice system, not film festivals.


What to expect this year? Revised rules will encourage more and better-quality film entries. The opening night party will take place in the Ringling Museum courtyard, and the World Cinema Festival moves from its previous home on Hillview to the new Lemon Avenue Mall. And reflecting its growing national profile, the festival has snagged a $20,000 grant for its education program from the Academy of Motion Pictures.


Who can envision Jerry Maguire without Cuba Gooding Jr. as the film's quarterback? Or Gone with the Wind without Hattie McDaniel's maid? Here are some supporting players behind the scenes who've made the Sarasota Film Festival what it's become today.

John Welch, past chair and current board member. The exception to the people who join the festival just to see stars. He has a real passion for cinema and actually bothers to see every film shown.

Carol King, creative director of Bleu Shift Studio. Her firm designs all the materials for the festival and is the creative force behind its authentic, edgy image. She and her staff have often pulled rabbits out of their hats with a moment's notice.

Linda Knox, at the front desk. Like Joan Crawford's ballsy stenographer inGrand Hotel, she's kept festival officials in their place-and the office running efficiently-for the festival's seven years.

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