The sidewalks of Sarasota serve as red carpets for such Hollywood stars as Diane Lane, Stanley Tucci, Rosanna Arquette and Aisha Tyler over the next 10 days. When documentarian Rory Kennedy walks into the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall tonight, it marks the launch of the 2017 Sarasota Film Festival, now the largest film festival in the Southeast United States, and good luck getting a place inside the Sarasota Opera House tonight.
“I’m excited about the fact we’re sold out for opening and closing nights,” says Sarasota Film Festival president Mark Famiglio. “I’m not surprised, but I’m very pleased.” The festival will show Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, directed by Kennedy, as the Opening Night film before hosting a party that spills out into the streets. Famiglio notes that some seats held for sponsors may open up the night of Opening and Closing events at the Sarasota Opera House, but those who want to get tickets the night of are advised to come early if they want one of those spots.
Michael Dunaway, co-creative director at the festival, notes that Opening weekend will have tremendous cinematic opportunities. In particular, lovers of documentaries can attend an In Conversation event with Kennedy today and see showings of Centerpiece film This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous with director Barbara Kopple, a two-time Academy Award-winning director who significantly influenced the genre with 1976’s Harlan County, USA. “It’s special for us because both Rory Kennedy and Barbara Kopple have been some of the more stalwart friends of the festival in recent years, and this festival really thrives not only from championing up-and-coming artists but being championed by established, legendary figures,” Dunaway says.
Through the week, the festival expects to host other famous names. Lane will be here for the Closing Night film, Paris Can Wait, next Saturday, April 8, at the Opera House. Tyler will premiere her feature directorial debut, Axis, next Friday, April 7, at the Regal Hollywood 20. Arquette comes to town with Born Guilty, which also screens April 7, while Tucci, a producer for festival selection Paint It Black, will come to town for events on Sunday, April 9. Each of the celebrities, along with Kennedy, will participate in public In Conversation events hosted by the festival. And of course, hundreds of other films will screen all week at Regal Hollywood 20, many with directors and other filmmakers in attendance.
As the Gulf Coast briefly becomes a center of activity for the independent film world, Famiglio says the evolving Sarasota market continues to help the festival grow. He believes the festival may clock in as the largest regional festival in the nation this year. “Filmmakers love it because we are always trying to think of ways to support independent film,” he says. “It’s one of those great phenomena that gets better and better every year.”