Film Festival Leaders Unveil Diverse Lineup

By Megan McDonald March 22, 2012

With the Selby Botanical Gardens as the perfect tropical backdrop, organizers of the Sarasota Film Festival unveiled their diverse and intriguing 2012 lineup on Monday.

Encompassing 230 movies from 30 countries, the festival  is larger and more wide-ranging  than ever, said director Tom Hall. Running from April 13-22, the festival will feature 14 U.S. or world premieres.

Oscar-nominated actor Frank Langella will attend the opening-night screening of his new film, Robot and Frank, in which he co-stars with a robot.  Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings and Lost) and rising young actress Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) will appear at the screening of their new horror thriller, The Day.

Another movie in the horror genre, V/H/S,  will get the second annual Terry Porter Award, named  in honor of the late and beloved manager of the Video Renaissance store.

As a fan of provocative director Todd Solondz  (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) I’m eager to see his new film, Dark Horse,  which will be the festival centerpiece.

The strong documentary field is headed by Ethel, a tribute to Ethel Kennedy by her daughter,  Rory, who will introduce the film. The festival and Sarasota Ballet are teaming to present  several  dance-related films, including “First Position,” a documentary about an international ballet competition.

On the festival’s closing night,  Joe Berlinger, nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar this year, will present his new work, Under African Skies, about Paul  Simon’s Graceland album.

More stars will be added to the festival’s celebrity lineup as the event  gets closer, said Festival president Mark Famiglio, who promised  some “big, bold” announcements to come.

In its 14th year, the festival  has felt more accessible and focused on films rather than parties in recent years. In part that’s because the economic downturn forced the festival to cut its budget and jettison events like the black-tie gala. I particularly love the conversation series with guest artists, a program Hall called the festival’s “hidden gem.”  This year, Langella, Solondz and Kennedy are scheduled to take part in the series, and more names may be added.

I’m also impressed that , even in these challenging economic times, the festival has not only maintained but expanded its education and outreach programs. There will be 13 free programs for students in the festival’s youthFEST  program. The festival has also announced partnerships with the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, the State College of Florida and several local non-profit organizations.

Tickets for films, passes and packages go on sale at 11 a.m. Friday at the festival box office inside the Regal Hollywood 20.  Tickets may also be purchased online at

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