Kennedy's Talks NASA as Sarasota Welcomes Stars

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Just a day after the Senate confirmed a new NASA director in a party line vote, documentarian Rory Kennedy walked the red carpet at the Sarasota Film Festival promoting a film about the agency’s six-decade history. So how did the filmmaker with such a level of insight into the space agency feel about the news? “Well, I guess it’s good to have an administrator,” she says.

President Trump in September nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, to be NASA’s 13th-ever administrator, but his voiced climate change skepticism and the fact he came from politics instead of the space profession made confirmation controversial. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida and a one-time astronaut, led opposition, which came down to a 50-49 vote on Friday. Kennedy’s documentary, which focuses in part on the role NASA plays in studying climate change, measured her response to the confirmation. “You are now part of a legacy and institution that has done extraordinary things,” Kennedy said. “Ultimately understanding the important stakes and efforts going on to understand what we can do to protect this world is enormous and relevant and timely. I’m sure he’ll take those responsibilities seriously.”

Of course, the festival’s Closing Night events on Sunday per usual remained more celebratory and glamorousthrough the night. Actors Virginia Madsen and Steve Guttenberg, in town with respective films 1985 and Chasing the Blues, sat down in the day for In Conversation events at Florida Studio Theatre, as did Kennedy. All walked the carpet at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday evening.

Earlier in the day, another Florida-centric film shared Closing Day honors. Local tennis legend Nick Bollettieri took his turn in front of the flash bulbs for Love Means Zero, a documentary about his coaching career rearing such sports legends as Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. The film will soon reach national audiences with a premiere on Showtime, but Sarasota audiences were the first to see the film. “In my opinion, this was a grand slam,” Bollittieri says of the premiere. 

Filmmakers and stars spoke highly of the Sarasota Film Festival, now in its 20th year, for the way audiences celebrate cinema. “This is such a festival of real respect and consideration for the film industry and for the craft of film,” Guttenberg told SRQ. “Festivals provide the place for a safe atmosphere for everybody to present their work. Not everybody gets distributed or seen by millions, but thank God for film festivals because they present such an opportunity.”

Jurors at the festival this year, an impressive rank themselves with such notables as actress Penelope Ann Miller and New York magazine film critic David Edelstein, picked the films that left Sarasota with the greatest honorifics. I Am Not A Witch, directed by Rungano Nyoni, won the Narrative Feature jury prize while Minding The Gap, directed by Bing Liu, took the Documentary Feature award. The Independent Visions award went to Milford Graves: Full Mantis, by Jake Meginsky and Neil Young. In shorts, Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s The Burden won the Animated Shorts competition, Alireza Ghasemi’s Lunch Time won for Narrative Shorts, and Tal Amiran’s Sand Men won for Documentary Shorts.

For the Audience Awards, Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud won Best Narrative Feature, while Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG won Best Documentary Feature. Dan Habib’s Mr. Connolly won Best Short Film and Oded Raz’s Maktub won Best in World Cinema.

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