Sarasota Film Festival Looks Toward Future Without Tom Hall

The Sarasota Film Festival in the past decade and a half has developed a reputation in the independent film world to rival the best regional festivals in the world. Much of that came from affability, taste and determination of Tom Hall, the festival director who has played some role in programming the event for a decade but is leaving the Suncoast for the bright cinema scene in Montclair New Jersey.

But Hall said he will make himself available to the Sarasota festival organization for a full transition as needed. “I’ve completely left that up the organization at this point,” he said. “I’m happy to help them out and do whatever I can.”

Hall in an interview with SRQ Backlot stressed he has nothing bad to say about Sarasota; he took the job as executive director of the Montclair Film Festival to be closer to his family in Manhattan. SFF President Mark Famiglio expects a smooth transition in leadership before the next festival starts, and Hall said he is happy to help in any way possible to ensure that is the case.

“I love Sarasota, I love the film festival,” Hall said. “I’m very proud of it.” But Hall for the past decade has kept his permanent residence in New York City, and now married with two children, the appeal of a similar job at a festival headquarters 12 miles from his home offered too great an appeal.

Famiglio understands those pressures, and said the festival wished Hall well. “He needed more proximity to his family,” Famiglio said. “He had to have it.” He also noted that the busiest time for the director of the festival historically has been in the six months leading up to the actual festival in April, so now is the right time to conduct a search for someone with programming chops to fill Hall’s shoes. Indeed, as soon as news broke of Hall’s move to Montclair, the festival immediately started getting queries for his old job.

“Tom was literally one part of many. Different parts of the year, different centers of activity are the dominate piece,” Famiglio said. Right now, fundraising and development are central, and local staff handle that part of the operation.  And of course, from 2009 to 2011, Famiglio served as president and executive director of the festival before Hall was promoted to the festival’s top staffer.

Hall echoed that, saying summer was the best time for a transition. In the meantime, he is getting his footing in Montclair. “One of the things I like about Montclair is there is a similar sense of community as Sarasota,” he said. “There is a commitment to education programs and they have a very active board.”

Perhaps the greatest consternation locally about Hall’s departure has been the relationships the director culled through the years with filmmakers themselves. Respected filmmakers like Rory Kennedy and Andrew Rossi made multiple visits to Sarasota in recent years, and a number of personalities within the independent film world like Michael Tully and Robert Greene became regulars at the event as well.

Famiglio noted though that much of the work was mined during visits at major festivals like Sundance, and that work could be taken on by himself or Hall’s successor. Indeed, some well-connected festival personalities from other major events are among hopefuls for Sarasota, though Famiglio did not want to disclose names before a decision on hiring was made.

As for his talents in terms of developing relationships with filmmakers (Hall personally convinced Jason Mamoa to premier his directorial debut Road to Paloma in Sarasota during a barroom conversation at Sundance, for example), Hall said that should not be hard for a successor to duplicate. “I assume and hope that the artists who supported the festival continue to have a reason to support the festival,” Hall said, “which is that the festival supports their work.”

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