This time of year, as movie-star sightings around town appear on social media and celebrities participate in projects with local colleges, attention turns to the Sarasota Film Festival. Just one year shy of a 20th anniversary has celebs, industry geeks, and locals buzzing about Sarasota Film Festival.
Everyone wants to know who is coming, what films will be presented, and what does this all boil down to for the community. Endorsement-wise, SFF has been ranked as “One of the Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World,” according to MovieMaker Magazine, and has been voted, “One of the Five Festivals You Must See This Year,” by TravelPulse. This is not new information per Mark Famiglio, the President and Chairman of Sarasota Film Festival. He has seen the evolution before his eyes, as an integral part of the festival since its inception in 1998. He can look back and pinpoint pivotal moments in the history of SFF when he knew it was destined for international acclaim. He has seen it all, from eccentric actors and actresses, to pushy insider execs and, always, a loyal audience of astute filmgoers. He believes this year, SFF may have its most inclusive and impressive year on record.
One of the main components to the success of the SFF, per Mark Famiglio, is that they have always remained true to their original roots, continuing to focus on Independent Films. The press has caught on to the fact that Sarasota has a sophisticated viewing base, which holds the festival coordinators to a higher calling. Local audiences are tuned into the various social and economic hardships these films often tackle and are a loyal group, supporting the ancillary endeavors that SFF is involved with including many community and youth outreach programs at local schools and universities. The press loves the engaged and informed people attending the films and took note of that instantly. Since then, it’s been a bit of a movie-style love scene between festival producers, film-makers, the acting elite and the community of Sarasota. Now SFF is achieving levels on par with just a handful of internationally recognized film festivals, and the local economy and numerous groups, including a local group of Veterans is benefitting in immeasurable ways.
This year, Sarasota Film Festival in partnership with Project Rebirth has brought together four local citizens for its inaugural Veteran’s Filmmaking Academy. Local veterans Rae Chapman, Eddie Cacciola, Mike Scelia and Jeff Garner participated in making the first documentary, “Returning,” with instruction from Shaun Greenspan and Ed Fagan of Triforce Pictures, and Director Jason Benjamin of “Suited.” The film follows the innerworkings of Veteran’s Treatment Court, and the integration of Veterans after deployment. According to Mark Famiglio, “Veterans are an active part of the Sarasota community and we wanted to create a way for them to be involved in the filmmaking process that would teach them a skill and allow them to express themselves creatively.” He went on to say, “Because of our sponsors and the collaboration with Project Rebirth, we are able to provide this program to local veteran’s free of charge.” “Returning” makes its world premiere at Sarasota Opera House on April 4, at 6:30 P.M.
The hubbub around town is palpable with expected appearances at SFF by Diane Lane, Aisha Tyler, and documentary filmmaker, Rory Kennedy. The entire lineup of films and documentaries was recently released and showcases science and sustainability, the environment, sports in cinema, kid-friendly picks, and the LGBTQ community. With over 250 films being screened, many are vying for awards in documentaries, independent films, and narratives. Mark thinks the festival represents a unique movie-going experience for not only the locals, but an international crowd who has recognized Sarasota as a hotspot for world renowned beaches and scenery, and as a hip and knowledgeable film-loving community.
Was there a moment when Mark Famiglio knew Sarasota Film Festival had gone global? Many memories of a growing list of celebs stopping by his home to hang out and talk about films and Sarasota let him know he was on to something special quickly into the game. He will tell you that up until 2008, when the economy crashed, SFF had experienced a great ascent in terms of recognition and respectability. Many balls and galas on lawns extending to the Gulf of Mexico brought in a steady stream of funds to facilitate growth for the festival. At the epicenter of the real estate drama, Sarasota saw many of its wealthiest donors uprooting and leaving the area when the bubble burst. A commitment to independent films and a community who rallied around them, allowed the festival to prosper. A board led by Mark, willing to make tough cuts when necessary, has been able to run the operation smoothly backed by vivacious SFF supporters who have never left their side.
Sarasota Film Festival is another attribute of Sarasota run by invested people wanting to see the community presented in the best light. The films represent a vivid tapestry of local neighborhoods, reaching out to all sectors. If you want to be a part of the fun as a volunteer, or moviegoer, or maybe you just want to sneak a peek at a celebrity, check out the Sarasota Film Festival from March 31-April 9. For a list of films premiering and for ticket information, please visit www.sarasotafilmfestival.com.
photos from Sarasota Film Festival Facebook Page