Hybrid Sarasota Film Festival Holding In-Person, Virtual Events

Todays News


A documentary about legendary actress Rita Moreno and a narrative feature starring Toni Collette and Damian Lewis will open and close the Sarasota Film Festival. The B-52s’ Fred Schneider will host a street party. While subdued and with safety perpetually in mind, organizers for an event known by its extravagant parties say they are happy to bring the celebration of cinema back in person later this month.

“It is clear that for the filmmakers and for the community, the in-person portion of this is very important,” said Mark Famiglio, president and chairman of the Sarasota Film Festival.

The festival this year will run from April 30 through May 9, later than usual and in the thick of Oscar season. The box office will open on Thursday, when patrons can buy tickets to shows at CineBistro and maybe some outdoor and drive-in screenings. as further event details come out, a better view of what exactly this hybrid virtual and in-person event will look like will come into frame.

The festival on Friday announced its tentpole films. Those include opening film Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It, directed by Mariem Perez Riera. The documentary recounts the career of Moreno, whose EGOT-winning career runs from playing Anita in the 1961 classic musical West Side Story to starring as Lydia Riera in the recent Netflix reboot of One Day at a Time.

To close, the festival will screen Dream Horse, starring Collette and Lewis and directed by Euros Lyn. The Bleecker Street film tells a story of a Welsh bartender who ends up breeding and rearing a competitive race hose.

The film will also screen Centigrade as its Midnight Horror Special. The movie, which can already be streamed on Hulu, stars Vinceint Piazza. The documentary My Octopus Teacher, available on Netflix, will screen as the festival’s Centerpiece Film, and filmmakers James Reed and Pippe Ehrlich will be awarded the Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking Award by the festival.

But beyond the programming itself, the mere fact the festival will happen is welcome news to area cinephiles. When the pandemic struck last year, with the first East Coast case a patient at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota no less, the festival had to be postponed weeks before its March 27 opening date. The event ended up going fully virtual, running from April 27 to May 3 but screening films and Q&As entirely online with no in-person events.

The festival isn’t abandoning virtual this year and will still stream some content online, allowing for local and national audiences to partake. Famiglio hopes the festival draws attendance of 5,000 to 8,000. “But I’d be happy if 2,500 people showed up,” he said. From various smaller SFF-managed  Sarasota Native American Film Festival, organizers know there will demand for tickets for virtual screenings.

Beyond that, this year promises more small gatherings and intimate events, where numbers stay intentionally modest and social distancing will be carefully managed. CineBistro will limit capacity in theaters appropriately based on the rate of coronavirus infections reported at the time of the event.

Photo courtesy PBS.

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