Category Archives: Movies

‘Tyke,’ Debuting in Circus-Rich Sarasota, Reignites Elephant Debate

Circus people have long been known for bravery, but it takes a different type of courage to show up in the heart of the American circus to screen a documentary on the alleged ills of the industry. The team behind Tyke Elephant Outlaw will do that Saturday when they host the world premiere of the film at the Sarasota Film Festival.

“In another festival you can get lost,” said producer-director Susan Lambert. “Here we have a story to tell.”Tyke tells the story of an elephant who escaped from Circus International in Hawaii after killing her trainer before being gunned down and killed by police in the streets of Honolulu. The story of Tyke’s death became a rallying cry for animal activists angry about circus treatment of pachyderms, and the documentarians with this film hope to do the same now. But circus professionals are already calling the expertise of the filmmakers into question, saying they won’t stand a mischaracterization of practices.

“We are experts on taking care of elephants,” said Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. “They may be experts on how to make a movie, but this film is not a reflection of what we do.”

Continue reading ‘Tyke,’ Debuting in Circus-Rich Sarasota, Reignites Elephant Debate

Toska Unearths Greek History Forgotten Too Soon in ‘Beneath The Olive Tree’

I know things will go well in my interview with Stavroula Toska when I know how to properly pronounce her first name. Few Americans know to stress the second syllable in a Green name, but my maternal grandmother was a Greek immigrant, and I’ve heard Hellenic names in casual conversation my entire life. So Toska and myself both know from the outset we share some interest in the birthplace of democracy.

But pretty soon, she surprises me with a history lesson about Greece. Toska’s new documentary, Beneath The Olive Tree, explores a period of history I know nothing about, the three-year period after the end of World War II when the nation was torn by a civil war. My grandmother left her homeland for the United States before that ever happened, but I’m stunned to here of concentration camps set up by Western-friendly Greek leaders with the help of communist-hating U.S. support. What’s more amazing, though, is that Toska, born and raised in Greece, also never heard about this until she was an adult. “It was never talked about in my family,” she said. The war doesn’t deem serious mention in history books, even though many people who lived through the ordeal are still alive today.

But Toska is telling the story now. Beneath The Olive Tree, narrated and executive produced by Olympia Dukakis, will make its world premiere today at the Sarasota Film Festival.

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Cinema Purgatorio and the Weird World of Independent Filmmaking

With his latest film underseen while his rival packs the house, Neil and his actress wife, Liz, face growing disillusionment and despair at their dreams of being successful filmmakers. But when they hear of a nearby 48-hour film festival with none other than Bill Murray in attendance as judge, they just can’t resist. Mustering themselves once more, Neil and Liz wrangle up an oddball gang of the usual suspects for one last shot at celluloid glory.

This is Cinema Purgatorio, the latest meta-comedy from director Chris White, chronicling the ups and downs and inherent madness and masochism of independent film production and the pursuit of fame, and showing at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival. Continue reading Cinema Purgatorio and the Weird World of Independent Filmmaking

‘Select(ed)’ Studies Superior Schools

Kayla McCormick
Kayla McCormick

How valuable is an education in improving students’ lives? A new film from documentarian Kayla McCormick follows the lives of a handful of students at a Chicago high school, including one that would go on to stardom playing basketball at Duke, and finds tremendous value, but also inequity. “It’s about the power of good education in a system where not everyone has access,” McCormick told SRQ.

Select(Ed) holds its world premiere tonight at the Sarasota Film Festival, where the movie is part of the Documentary Feature Competition.

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Branciforte To Debut Paternity Dramedy ‘Don’t Worry Baby’

Julian Branciforte has attended film festivals for years with colleagues in the indy world, but today marks an important first. The New York director is at the Sarasota Film Festival for the world premiere of Don’t Worry Baby, his feature writing and directorial debut. The movie, a dark comedy about fatherhood and matters of confused paternity, will offer the entire film-going world a first glance at his vision.

“I felt like this was the right way to introduce people who hopefully would like to see my films,” he tells SRQ. “I’ve got a lot of time to be sad. I don’t want to get there right away.” Continue reading Branciforte To Debut Paternity Dramedy ‘Don’t Worry Baby’

REVIEW: ‘Paradise, FL’ Pleases

Nothing ties a stomach in knots for someone covering regional film more than the statement, “We shot this movie here with local talent.” The only words producing more anxiety may be the follow-up question “What do you think of it?” This became a timely issue as a huge number of local filmmakers involved themselves somehow in the making of Paradise, FL, a film shot entirely in Cortez and Sarasota, starring actors trained at the Asolo Conservatory. Most every significant film institution in the region banked a small part of their reputation on the success of this film, including the Sarasota Film Festival, which scheduled a screening in its largest available venue for an opening weekend premiere.

It was nerve-wracking walking into the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday, but an immediate relief then to see Paradise, FL is a film that satisfies, one that connects stunning imagery with a captivating story that produces ample emotional resonance. This film can stand up next to the independent films filmed anywhere in the country. And while this industry carries no guarantees of success regardless of a job well done, producer-writer Tony Stopperan and director Nick Morgulis have produced a work of art worthy of the increasingly crowded indie marketplace where this movie must now compete.

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The Resilience of Mimi

Growing up in Israel, the concept of homelessness was completely foreign to Yaniv Rokah, the director of Queen Mimi. Although things have worsened there since he was a boy, and the plague of homelessness has now spread to the Holy Lands as it has throughout the rest of the industrialized world, the move to New York to attend acting school as a younger man opened his eyes to what was previously unimaginable. Nor did he imagine that one day his life would be so changed by a relationship with one of the unimaginables. Continue reading The Resilience of Mimi