As major talent flies in and out of the Sarasota Film Festival each year, SFF President Mark Famiglio for a decade remains as a larger-than-life force behind the festivities. He’s also a powerful presence year round on the Gulf Coast, running numerous companies and raising his family in the Sarasota area. We spoke with the mogul about movies, mentors and the source of his mirth and moxie.



New College  I went there at a young age and graduated in three years. The first year I was particularly unhappy because I thought I would be at a large university and involved in the political turmoil happening in the ‘70s; I had done a lot of that in high school. When I came to New College it was all Palmetto bugs and mosquitoes in a very sleepy town. My class was about 73 people, with about 200 in the school. Class sizes were minute, but the teachers were brilliant and the students were an interesting combination of straight brilliance and hyper-eccentric brilliance. When I went home after the first semester and got together with high school friends, they were all talking about keg parties and I would just shake my head. I realized it was so different and illuminating to be at New College at that time. I am lucky I went there.

Cambryn Biologics   People hear about my ties to film and real estate, but my major focus is my bio-therapeutics company. We were just named one of the seven global players in the world, which is really a big deal. Years ago I just—happenstance—came across an opportunity with a tenant, and my background is in biological sciences so I wasn’t scared of the equipment and the analyzers and the mass spectrometers. It’s something I always wanted to do. We have a number of orphan drugs we are working on. I’ve been given this opportunity to return to a scientific discipline and it’s invigorating.

George Famiglio  I was one of eight kids and my dad taught us the value of working hard, and understanding that the notion of failure is one that needs to be understood in the context of there not ever being true failure. You learn from every mistake that is made. From his standpoint, he never punished us for failure. To be able to fail and move on will allow you to persevere and then be successful in anything you want.

Rolland Heiser    When I returned to Sarasota, he was the president of the New College Foundation and became a true mentor. He taught me a lot about dealing with politics and people, and the value of integrity. He had been the second-in-command at NATO, and had been involved in the exodus of troops from Vietnam, which made it interesting for me when we brought the Last Days of Vietnam documentary here. But he turned the foundation around between 1979 and the ‘90s, and at several different times took very specific actions to reinvigorate New College and its academic approach. He was a maverick in many ways, yet understood the tradition of New College.

World Travel   I’ve been around the world a few times. The first time was in the ‘80s and I went out in search of culture shock. The first place I found it was in Old Delhi and parts of Nepal, which I still love. I’ve made it to the base camp of Mount Everest. I love Rarotonga in the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea. I’ve done the Antarctica thing a couple times, the first from a supply plane from Tasmania, and then from Argentina. And New Zealand is so lovely and beautiful. I have certain pictures spread around my home and they take me back to these places any time I look at them. 

Broadway Musicals   Some of the most corny ones are the ones I love, like The Sound of Music and The Music Man. I was driving my kids to school and I started singing “Lida Rose, I’m home again, Rose / To get the sun back in the sky,” and I hear my daughters start singing along with me. It was from their music class. Then we started singling “76 Trombones.” I lit up like a firework. I love that some of the musicals that had a big impact on me continue to have an impact on them. 

Nantucket   I live on Nantucket Sound in the summertime, where I have a place there with my children. I just bought a classic inn in the downtown region of Nantucket, across from the children’s beach, and now it’s going to be renovated and converted into a single family home. This is going be a real landmark project.

Powel Crosley Estate  I lived there a little while and it was the most fun I’ve ever had. I bought it from a group in Canada. But my big involvement was because I thought it was important to move USF away from the New College campus. The schools merged for a while, but to have a transient campus combine with New College made no sense whatsoever. Rolland Heiser got involved and told me that if I could arrange to put USF into the front part [of the mansion estate] that would be fabulous. So we did. Then with the mansion, I tried to give it to New College for a student union but they wouldn’t take on the ongoing cost. We talked to Manatee County, and at first there was a lot of pushback. But we ended up getting the county to take it.

Harold and Maude  I always thought that was a wonderful movie. Harold and Maude was about the underdogs and mavericks and unicorns. I related to that. I mean, I didn’t have an 80-year-old girlfriend but I guess I could have.

Godfather Part 1 & 2  I love it because I remember very well the urban culture surrounding Italian life in these ghettos, especially in Philadelphia. Some of the scenes were set in the ‘20s and ‘30s, before I was alive, but I remember well 30 years later what it was like being in the area and just the sense of belonging that would come with that. The acting was absolutely marvelous; it was Francis Ford Coppola’s swan song. The idea of having tomato gravy on the stove every Sunday just all felt very familiar.

That Crazy Pool Party  From the first Film Festival, all these young actors had come to support films they had done with Showtime. After the black tie event, I remember some of them around 10:45pm saying they wanted to see some boxing thing on Showtime, so I said something and all these cars started pulling up to my house. Jonathan Silverman pulls up. It’s crazy. Soon about 12 young actors are on the dance floor having a ball, and none of them knew each other before Sarasota. I have these photos of 12 or 15 people laying on my floor watching the match. And I’ll never forget hearing a banging on my front door and then there’s Marlee Matlin and her interpreter, and she says, “Where did everybody go?” She was this big movie star, and she came in and the party jumped up to a whole other level.

Michael Stipe  I’ve been so honored to have him involved in many aspects of my life. We have maintained a friendship for 20 years now. I went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when he was inducted, which was an exciting moment for him. And he’s been a mentor in film production for me because he’s been involved in that in several ways. He has been helpful to this festival many times through the years and been kind to Sarasota in a way nobody is even aware of. Every year, we do Christmas shopping together in New York City and I’ve spent time in his Athens home. We now have a business operation in Athens as well.

Pine View School  My children are enrolled and it’s absolutely fabulous. It reminds me a bit of New College. They are such a good school with diversity culturally, and their motto of taking it to a degree higher than boiling and providing intellectual stimulation to watch children grow, there’s a lot of truth to that. I thought they were pandering at first, but within a couple weeks of my kids being there, it was like they had taken serotonin pills and their synapses were just firing. It’s a difficult school but it seems to really make a difference.