Could there be four tentpole films in this year’s Sarasota Film Festival line-up? It a very real possibility, according to festival director Tom Hall. “We may have two centerpiece films—a documentary and a fiction film—as well a Closing Night Film and Opening Night Film,” he said.
That could also bring more marquis stars to the event this year. Past tentpole films have often determined which headliners end up on the red carpet here. Think Woody Harrelson with The Messenger, Frank Langella with Robot and Frank or Jordan Gelber with Dark Horse. These are the films that attract many a casual festival observer to attend events at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Sarasota Opera House.
But whether a new centerpiece is added or not, it seems certain the film festival schedule will be larger than ever, Hall told SRQ Backlot in an interview earlier this week. “I’ve got films up to my eyeballs,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about what we have to select from this year.”
The festival received a record number of submissions, more than 1,000. But more important than the number of entries is the quality of the work. “There will probably be a record number of submissions that end up in our line-up,” Hall said. “It’s one think to submit to the festival and another to have it in the festival. We try and give every movie a fair shake, and we are finding good things in the submissions.” Every movie under consideration will be viewed at least twice by SFF staff before it is decided what films make the cut.
Hall’s hope is that number of movies will make their premier at the festival this year. He noted that several other films which made their debut at SFF, including 2011’s The Color Wheel and 2012’s The Unspeakable Act, had a life of their own well after the Sarasota event closed. The Color Wheel was picked up by Cinema Conservancy for distribution last year and The Unspeakable Act has gone on to international raves at festivals in Edinburgh, Rodderdam and other venues.
Hall is predictably mum about what films may get screened in Sarasota this year, but he and programmer Magida Diouri both returned from the Sundance Film Festival enthusiastic about the films there striving for broad release.
When it gets pointed out that Glee star Jane Lynch, a celebrity with strong Sarasota connections, had two films at Sundance this year, Hall is already very aware. “I noticed that too, and would love to know if Jane is reading your column,” he said. “We’re trying to reach out. Local connections matter, and that is part of why we do what we do.”
As for locally made film, Hall said that Sarasota area filmmakers, as always, have submitted a healthy amount of film to consider. “We are seeing roughly the amount that we have seen the last three years, which is good,” Hall said. “That’s the right amount. We won’t pick everything, of course, but we will be as supportive as we possibly can.”
Of course, the term film is becoming a bit dated itself. Hall notes that this will be the first year that not a single frame of actual film will be projected at the festival. This year, everything is 100 percent digital. While that comes with some “nerve-wracking considerations,” it’s a move necessitated largely by changes in technology usable at the Regal Hollywood 20, and one that makes sense as very few filmmakers submit film anymore.
The complete line-up of films will be revealed March 13, but some of the tentpole films could be announced before then. Hall said he would like to announce something before South by Southwest, scheduled this year from March 8-17.