Booker High Team Brings ‘Newtown at 100’ to Sarasota Film Festival

A century of Newtown’s history will be showcased in a new documentary created by some of Sarasota’s youngest voices. Newtown at 100: A Glimpse Through Our Eyes will premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival this year, bringing to screen the first feature-length product of the Booker High School summer film academy. The film will be the center a major event on April 16, complete with a performance by American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado and a panel with high-profile film leaders in the community.

The documentary promises to showcase Sarasota’s minority leaders, living and past residents and the Booker High students themselves. The student group was led by the guiding hand of Judge Charles E. Williams and filmmaker Samuel Curtis of the SFF Education Department, both of whom have had past works screened at the festival in prior years.

Williams, a filmmaker in his personal time, has been to the festival as part of the filmmaking team behind 2011’s Through The Tunnel and 2014’s The Enduring Beauty of Memory. He also has his own connections to Newtown and Booker High, having advised the school’s law academy through his work with the Sarasota Bar Association’s Diversity Committee. The judge now serves on the advisory board for SFF and was excited about the pilot program for a film academy there as well.

Since the launch of the summer film project, the documentary has been a project for the students involved. “It’s been a continuous project,” he said. With Booker located in North Sarasota and the Newtown community getting ready to celebrate its first 100 years, the subject matter seemed a perfect fit, and Williams feels the young filmmakers can offer a fresh perspective on a matter of history. “What we wanted to do was show Newtown to the public through their eyes,” Williams said. “For a lot of Sarasota, they only know Newtown from a byline in a newspaper article. We wanted to show through film that Newtown is like any other neighborhood. It has businesses, residences and children.”

Charlie Ann Syprett, SFF development director, said the festival wants the students empowered by this experience. “Noone ever asks the kids who grew up there about Newtown,” she said. “The Newtown the love and know is a very united community with a solid presence of church and family.”

In addition to the movie’s premiere, the April 16 event will include musical performances by Mercado and by the Booker High School Gospel Choir, as well as a panel featuring Williams, SFF Programming Director Michael Dunaway, Twenty Feet From Stardom producer Caitrin Rogers and students involved in the film.

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