Sarasota Film Festival 2010

Posted on April 20, 2010

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Life, like most large film festivals, is very much about knowing there is too much to see and never enough time to see it all. You just have to take as much in as you possibly can.

This year’s Sarasota Film Festival, which wrapped up this past weekend, offered ten days and nights of films, workshops, conversations, parties, dinners — and more films.

I managed to fit in two days of it. That was it.

Each day was solid packed, layered with cinematic delights. I felt much like the fat kid in a room of several varieties of cake as each day I had the options of five theaters devoted to individual and independent programming. Nice. If I count right I only caught … well, just a very small portion of the films offered.

This happens every time at film festivals. You do your research, you check festival guide, you maneuver to see your favorites and you walk away only having seen a very small portion.  It’s ok. I’ll deal. The rest I’ll Netflix.

“Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist And Rebel” was near the top of my list of wanna-sees. Why? I guess because I grew up in a strict religious community where he was always kind of painted as a perverted devil of sorts.  I definitely wanted the story from the horses mouth. Directer Brigitte Berman, who won an Oscar for her work with “Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got,” painted his life story using  volumes of footage of Hef just perusing his plentifully packed dossier of memoirs from half a century ago till today. From his days of working at a children’s magazine and securing small loans to purchase rights to Marilyn Monroe’s now famous photo which graced the very first ever Playboy, to his later years recollecting memories of celebrity friends, religious and women’s groups in opposition to him and lovers. Yes, many lovers.

His support of First Amendment rights, of civil rights and of the right to be free about one’s sexuality were profoundly juxtaposed with the lifestyle of a successful mogul, sensitive but seriously sexually-charged playboy, with wonderful archival footage and period photographs with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Jesse Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce and plenty of the bunnies he made helped make famous through the years. The film will have N.Y. and L.A. openings in the summer.

Another film I enjoyed, although not fresh on the cinematic scene,  was Oscar-nominated Animated Feature Film “The Secret of Kells,” by Tomm Moore. Masterfully crafted so that each scene was a hangable piece of art, the story of 12 year old Brendan who awakens to his hidden talents set in mystical days of Viking raids and enchanted forests. There was solid storytelling with a wonderfully thought-provoking theme, which at times gave me inspiring goose-bumps.

“All My Friends Are Funeral Singers,” by director Tim Rutili, is one that I have been trying to shake from my memory. It started off spooky and weird enough, with a couple who seemed to have the kind of relationship that was quirky and believable enough to make me care, but soon turned into a sad attempt to haunt and spook me in ways that I just wasn’t enjoying. Prominent in the story were band members of Califone, dressed in white as ghosts plucking and jamming weird rifts for reasons that I just couldn’t seem to care about as much as I wanted to.

My favorite of the weekend, the one I was most excited about, was a little piece by filmmaker James Franco — “Saturday Night.”  It follows the cast of Saturday Night Live behind the scenes during a Decemeber 2009 episode featuring John Malkovich. From pitch day with a small room of writers, talent, cast and producers to the live performance there are such wonderfully transparent moments giving solid insight to just how this, my favorite TV show ever, gets crafted. Kristin Wiig, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson, Bill Heder and Fred Armisen soldier through the very demanding week suggesting, writing and performing script ideas to be selected for the final live show with insanely creative and wonderfully humorous dispositions that make the show the success that it is. I cannot remember the last time I was so immersed into a film so that by the end I had to almost snap out of it. Franco’s roughly shot hand held and often grainy, black and white footage was the perfect tone for the artistic madness that was ensuing in the satirical genius land of Lorne Michaels.

Tack on to this a wonderfully simple tribute to one of my favorite filmmakers John Landis, who was held up from attending due to the ash cloud that shut down most airlines in Europe that weekend, but not kept from Skyping into the Sarasota Opera house’s mega screen to talk very candidly about his successes shooting Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Thriller to name just a few. Starting off in the mail room of 20th Century Fox was less of a long term career move and more ‘the only job I could get,’ he remarked. His advice to young filmmakers? “Good Luck” he said conclusively and then giggled in a way that made him seem part John Belushi to me for some reason. “Wait,” he continued, “I do want to tell you some advice. Read books,” and explained his biggest beef about today’s films to him was having to sit through shows without any real or good story.

It was a theme that corresponded to some of the other advice prominent stars offered to audiences during the festival. Patricia Clarkson and Vince D’Onofrio were welcomed with warmly packed audiences of fans at the Florida Studio Theatre around the corner, earlier. D’Onofrio also related his irritation with so many scenes being ‘pretty’ without the actors really acting. “If the camera comes past you ­— well, you better be acting,” he said with solid authority and some irritation. He shared stories of how he mastered his alien look from Men in Black by studying insects and how he got that ‘demonic’ look in Full Metal Jacket after Stanley Kubrick directed him to look like Lon Cheney . “I was thinking,  I need to turn into an absolute monster.”

The relaxed environment extracted truths about Patricia Clarkson too about how she claims she has never done any kind of drugs, how she would have to be a good actress to pretend to be romantically interested in Stanley Tucci and how surreal it was working one day with Martin Scorcese, and then taking the train to work the very next with Woody Allen. She was praised for her roles, and lauded as being an amazing motherlover in the SNL sketch with Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg.
The afterparties and closing night events were perfectly peppered with filmmakers, producers, celebrities and volunteers alike.

There is a reason the Sarasota Film Festival has a reputation of being one of the most popular and most enjoyed regional festivals in the world. Part the friendly, accommodating organizers, part highly keen programming professionals and a somewhat of a dash of being in a cool city with first rate performing arts halls, theaters, restaurants, opera houses and beaches all within just a few blocks. I will be back next year. Hopefully I get more than two days to soak more in, though.

Eric Raddatz is a filmmaker and curator living in Southwest Florida. For more information contact Eric by visiting http://www.ericraddatz.com

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