This One’s For The Girls

The Sarasota Film Festival has a long history of supporting women in film. For the past several years, the festival has hosted the Gulf Coast Chapter of UN Women’s Through Women’s Eyes program. Last year, the inaugural Impact Award was given to Geena Davis and her See Jane Foundation for their efforts in improving gender representation in media.

So it comes as no surprise that the Impact Award this year again will celebrate the impact of women on film. Women Make Movies, a nonprofit media arts organization that facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films by and about women, will receive the honor at this years Filmmaker Tribute, April 21 at 6pm at the Sarasota Opera House.  UN Women US National Committee Board Member Carol Poteat Buchanan will make the presentation to Women Make Movies Executive Director Debra Zimmerman.

“Women Make Movies is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year and we are excited to be partnering again with the Sarasota Film Festival and Through Women’s Eyes on such great programming and with the Side by Side mentorship program,” Zimmerman also announced. “This program is one of 40 worldwide events spanning the globe that will celebrate the organization’s work in transforming the landscape for independent women’s films and filmmakers.”

Additionally, Zimmerman will be part of a special panel In Conversation With Women In Film, to be hosted at State College of Florida on April 20 at 5:30pm. Other filmmakers, including director Ingrid Veninger, are also expected to participate.

Why this organization right now? Besides the perfect timing with an anniversary, SFF Women Director Holly Herrick said the longtime partnership with festivals made the award especially prudent. “Working with filmmakers of diverse ethnicities, races, and socio-economic backgrounds, Women Make Movies has made tremendous strides for all women, ensuring a plurality of voices on screen and behind the camera,” Herrick said.


Penelope Ann Miller Returning To SFF!

Remember how festival organizers at kickoff events this week kept teasing a new star coming to Sarasota this year. Well, it has now been confirmed that Penelope Ann Miller (The Artist) will be in town to receive the Career Tribute award this year. She will be the guest of honor at the 2012 Sarasota Film Festival Filmmaker Luncheon at noon on April 20 at the Sarasota Yacht Club.

Penelope Ann Miller in The Artist

This is a return to Sarasota, who in fact was a guest at the very first Sarasota Film Festival 14 years ago. “Penelope Ann Miller has been a longtime friend of our festival and we are thrilled to honor her career,” said SFF President Mark Famiglio.

There should be lots of chances for the pubic to engage Miller. She stars in Think Of Me, which is screening at the festival this year on April 21 at 6:15pm and April 22 at 5:30pm. She will also do an In Conversation event on April 22pm, where she will be interviewed by the New York Times’ David Carr, himself a veteran of the festival thanks to last year’s screening of Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times.

Of course, much of the conversation will surely turn to The Artist, which this year became the first silent film to capture an Oscar for Best Picture in the last 83 years.

We hate to turn all non-Miller-related announcements here into footnotes, but wanted to make sure you all got the following scoops as well.

In addition to Miller’s attendance, the festival also announced Jena Malone would return to town to promote In Our Nature. She was last here when The Messenger opened the festival in 2009. Actor Jordan Gelber will join director Todd Solondz  to support the Centerpiece Film Dark Horse. And though we already knew it, the festival also confirmed actress Jess Weixler would be in town with her film Somebody Up There Likes Me, which I must say is one of the movies I am particularly excited to see.

Jena Malone
Jordan Gelber
Jess Weixler

The Festival also announced that the Impact Award this year will go to Women Make Movies, a nonprofit which produces, promotes and distributes films made by women. Executive Director Debra Zimmerman will be on hand to accept.

As April 13 approaches, we promise to delve deeper into the significance of these actors, award-winners and films. Keep SRQMAGBACKLOT.COM bookmarked and check back here for more news.


Charged Up!

The selection of documentaries at the Sarasota Film Festival is something to look forward to every year, especially those films which get selected by the festival for the docs competition. I got the opportunity to see a screener for Atomic States of America, one of the films which the documentary jury will consider at this year’s festival.

This film is a quaint look at the terrifying consequences of nuclear power and a reminder that it may not be as safe as power companies proclaim, or even very much safer than it was in the 1970s. Looking at everything from Three Mile Island to Fukishima, and a couple of local incidences which likely aren’t on so many radars but which were at least as startling as the high-profile meltdowns, the film gives pause to anyone living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant. (Any relatives near Crystal River?)

The festivals confirmed to us that directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce are both planning to attend the event this year, so those who attend screenings can likely enjoy Q&A time with the filmmakers. The film is set to screen on April 21 at 5:45pm and April 22 at 4:45pm.

Of course, we are trying to get time with them ourselves before or during the festival, so keep checking back here to see what we have to ask and what they have to say about this provoking examination of American energy policy.

We’ll Always Have Bradenton

SFF hosted their third and (we think) final kickoff this evening up at the ever so elusive Tarpon Pointe Grill in Bradenton. If you didn’t make the party because Google Maps led you astray, don’t worry, Tom Hall’s GPS nearly took him to Pinellas County. Those guests lucky enough to find it arrived to a smorgasbord of delicious food as well as the live tunes of Jimmy Buffet (what else, right?) out on the Manatee River. The evening offered the folks at SFF an opportunity to extend their gratitude to all of their Manatee County supporters, some of whom walked away with closing night tickets raffled away by Tom. Or to paraphrase Mark Famiglio, Tom pulled ‘some really cool stuff out of a box.’

And of course, here are some photos to hold you over until the next event. Candid expressions, windswept hair, Tom Hall and his magic box, and Veronica Pastore working the camera for me:

The Unspeakable Act

One of the benefits of being a member of the press is getting advance copies of films that will play at SFF. Jealous? You should be.

The first film I popped into my DVD player last night was The Unspeakable Act. Now, I’m not a film critic, so I won’t give you my opinion (because it doesn’t matter), but I will share a very brief synopsis:

Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy a little more than she should, as boy and girl are brother and sister. Does that make you uncomfortable? Well, it should. And writer/director Dan Sallitt makes sure it does as he follows Jackie (played by Tallie Medel, who does a great job in the lead role) through her inner and outer struggle with loving her brother Michael (Sky Hirschkron) in a more than sisterly way. Before you start to think it’s *that* kind of movie, let me reassure you that Michael does not feel the same way. So get your mind out of the gutter.

You can check out the trailer here:

The Sarasota Film Festival will host the world premiere of The Unspeakable Act and you can see it for yourself during one of two screenings: 8:15pm on April 19 and 9:30pm on April 21. Even better, director Dan Sallitt and actress Tallie Medel (and possibly actor Sky Hirschkron) will be attending SFF. Don’t be surprised if we snag an interview with them.

The next movie I’ll be checking out (before the rest of you) is Richard’s Wedding, another world premiere showing at SFF. Stay tuned to hear more about the nuptials…

Eat Drink Film

Do you want to know how the films for this year’s festival were selected. Tom Hall sat down for an exclusive interview with SRQ’s Sara Stovall and shared the scoop. An excerpt of Stovall’s article appears below. Read the rest in the newest issue of SRQ magazine.

Tom Hall, 1,500 Films Later. Photo by Evan Sigmund

Between the months of September and February, Director Tom Hall and the modest staff of the Sarasota Film Festival watched well over 1,500 movies. They scoured the autumn festival circuit from Toronto to Sundance and sifted through more than 1,000 independent submissions, piecing together a program of the finest new films of the year despite the ever-pressing issue of the calendar.

“You have to be right in the sweet spot time-wise for all the films that you’re going to be showing,” Hall explains. “It’s even more difficult because you fall in love with movies you can’t have; you think the audience can really respond to work that’s being held for Oscar season later in the year—things like that. It becomes a real tightrope walk of getting people to make a decision about April.”

Mid-April isn’t a particularly cushy slot for throwing a film festival as filmmakers vie for high-profile premieres at South by Southwest in March, the illustrious Cannes Festival in May and the Tribeca Film Festival, which takes off right on the SFF’s tail. Despite staunch competition, the SFF dedicates itself to serving the community audience, which Hall praises as “a culture of risk-taking and artistic understanding.” Combined with an equal dedication to artistic rigor in all genres of film, the SFF staff creates a yearly celebration of cinematic art that’s noticed among the top regional festivals in the nation

If we can suggest a good April decision for you to make, it would be picking up the April issue of SRQ, which hits stands today, so you can read the full piece.