What began with a casting call at the Ringling College of Art and Design last year culminated in a movie premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last week, and the chance for some students and graduates to enter the biggest event each year in the world of independent film. Tim Sutton’s Dark Knight opened to critical affirmation—and gave the Sarasota film scene a moment of celebration.
The film, co-produced by Ringling College and David Shapiro of Semkhor Networks, premiered at the Utah Festival on Jan. 24, with a group of connected Ringling students and graduates on hand to meet with film industry leaders. Outlets including The Hollywood Reporter and Variety have offered raves of the movie and director Sutton, who last year arrived in Sarasota ready to be inspired by the talent. ““What I do is to go have interesting talent and look at their backstory, then create characters mixing my imagination with their real lives,” Sutton told SRQ Backlot last year. The result of the process this time was a movie tackling the public psychology surrounding mass shootings (including the infamous Colorado shooting at a screening for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises).
Tony Stopperan, a filmmaker who has also been involved with heavily Ringling-staffed productions The Lucky 6 and Paradise, FL, served as an associate producer on the film and was amazed by the product and the Sundance experience. “The most striking thing the real power filmmakers have to be agents of change” Stopperan told SRQ. “From Tim’s Dark Night adding its voice to the conversation on gun violence, to Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation for the value in diversity of story and casting, Sundance is a platform that affects change. We were with both filmmakers and their respective casts and crews to celebrate their films, and I have never felt more empowered by them and the energy toward progress.” Stopperan was among 14 Ringling students, grads and representatives connected to the Dark Night.
Ringing officials, of course, also celebrated the premiere. College spokesman Rich Schineller, who also attended the premiere, noted that other productions also had Ringing connections. Adrien Grenier’s Lonely Whale, which the actor-turned-director teased early in the production process during a visit to Ringing College, was marketed with a logo designed by Ringing student Dania Hamad.”No other college is providing collaborative experiential professional work opportunities to students before graduation and preparing them for professional success like Ringling College is,” Schineller said.
And Jeanne Corcoran, Sarasota Film and Entertainment Office director, noted that another film, Kate Plays Christine, was filmed largely in Sarasota. The film is about an infamous suicide by Sarasota television journalist Christine Chubbuck on-air. Amazingly, another Sundance film, Christine, covers the same story. Corcoran said filmakers for that movie did research in Sarasota but ultimately shot elsewhere.