On the tropical themed 24th anniversary poster for the Sarasota Film Festival (SFF), a tagline reads: “Upstream with a Paddle: Navigating Film and Streaming Content in a Topsy-Turvy World.” The verbiage sums up the vibe (and goal) of this year’s ten-day event, which has gracefully pivoted during the pandemic to a hybrid experience. From April 1 to 10, spectators can continue to view a slew of films both in person and virtually. “Each year, we have learned a bit more about how to best navigate the pandemic while also maintaining the integrity of the Festival for our filmmakers and patrons,” says Mark Famiglio, SFF’s chairman and president. “Since 2021, we have adopted a hybrid in-person and virtual format that has been very well-received by our audiences.”

Built into the programming are screenings of 150-plus films (shorts and features), as well as a “Hollywood Nights” event that adds another 20 student-made short films. Pre-pandemic, about 50,000 people attended the festival annually. In 2020, the event was entirely virtual.

“Last year, only about a third of our titles screened in person, but this year we will continue to build on that momentum by screening dozens of films for audiences while following all recommended local health guidelines and protocols,” Famiglio says. “Those who are comfortable can choose to participate in the Festival in Sarasota for its entire 10-day duration. We’re so excited to welcome back more filmmakers, talent, critics and more to the beautiful Florida Gulf Coast this year.”

Founded in 1998, SFF has been known over the decades for showing a diverse mix of independent and international narratives. There have been corresponding events, such as parties and private receptions to honor guest filmmakers, street festivals, and black-tie dinners and concerts, where celebrity entertainers and filmmakers make appearances.

For the past three years, there has also been extensive year-round programming like the “Visions of the Black Experience” film series (which focuses on illuminating the historical, social and cultural aspects of Black life through cinema). The Sarasota Film Festival has also produced an annual Native American film series since 2019, as well as educational film contests for students (a collaboration with the Sarasota County School System), a classic film “Cinematheque” series, outdoor screenings, and summer film camps.

“This April, we will be programming a music sidebar at the Festival that will host some incredible talent and inspiring documentaries that feature some of the greatest names in music—across all genres and generations,” Famiglio says. “We will also host a street party on April 8 to bring together the Sarasota community to celebrate the city’s best offerings in art and culture. It’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful Sarasota weather while keeping everyone healthy and safe.”
Christopher Tuscan of Dog House Studio, who designed the vibrant “Upstream with a Paddle” Festival poster for 2022 (after submitting a proposal and winning the local contest), hopes his cover art will entice newcomers to the event. The blue poster, with seagulls flying overhead, and alligators and dolphins swimming below, shows a kayaker navigating through the Florida waterscape.

“My first thought was to approach the design from a bird’s eye perspective for the navigation aspect. This thought process was taught to me while attending Ringling College of Art and Design,” Tuscan says. “From there on, everything was going to be a topical view. So I searched for the images that would fit the concept and then the design began to take shape. The kayak and mangroves told the navigation side. The Florida wildlife images just came naturally.”

And that story is about adaptation, of course, as the Festival continues to swim toward “streaming” content in entirely new ways.

Some of the headliners this year include American smooth jazz saxophonist, composer and producer Kenny G and the screening of the film Montana following the story of two estranged siblings who return home to the sprawling ranch they once knew and loved, confronting a deep and bitter family legacy against a mythic American backdrop. For more information on the Sarasota Film Festival, visit sarasotafilmfestival.com.