Sarasota Film Festival eyes Manatee County

April 14, 2013 

Mark Famiglio's unabashedly bullish on Manatee County. He's owned businesses here, went to school at New College, on the Sarasota-Manatee county line. He serves on major arts boards in Manatee County. He likes it a lot.

He's especially excited about bringing the Sarasota Film Festival, of which he's president, to Manatee County.

"We want to have our biggest presence to date this year in Manatee County," he said.

Festival director Tom Hall shared that sentiment.

"Our goal this year is to bring films and filmmakers to Manatee County during the festival itself," he said. "In the past, we did events prior to the festival but never concurrent. We're trying very hard to make that happen."

That's phenomenal news for anybody who loves film or simply wants the burgeoning of arts and entertainment in Bradenton and Manatee County to continue.

But Famiglio and Hall made those comments 14 months ago.

There have been two Sarasota Film Festivals since then -- the 15th annual edition of the festival ends today -- and it's hard to avoid noticing that no films were screened in Manatee County, no parties held here.

That doesn't mean the festival's plans for a northward expansion have ebbed, though. The desire's still there, options are being explored, negotiations are under way.

Nobody involved wants to make concrete predictions, at least not on the record, but when you talk to them, you get the sense that they're sincerely hoping that 2014 will be the year that there's a noticeable Manatee County element to the Sarasota Film Festival.

The festival hasn't been ignoring Manatee County by any means.

"We did some things at State College of Florida that met with mixed success," Famiglio said. But there's something in his voice that makes you think "mixed success" is a euphemism.

But he continued with, "We will be having an increased presence in Manatee County, especially along the river."

Festival officials, he said, have been discussing the possibility of screening films "at some of the new performing arts centers in Manatee County."

Hmmm ... there's really only one new performing arts center in Manatee, so he must be talking about the Manatee Players' new home, the Manatee Performing Arts Center, right?

"I really shouldn't say until things get firmed up," he said.

Denny Miller, the marketing manager for Manatee Players, didn't want to comment either. He said the company's executive director, Janene Witham, should be the one to speak for the company, because she's been the one who's been in discussions with festival officials. (Miller had said earlier that he'd like to see the Manatee Performing Arts Center become the Bradenton location for the film festival.)

It's not just people's words that make it reasonable to expect to see the film festival here. More and more, Sarasota organizations, especially art organizations, are increasingly paying attention to Bradenton. The current "Embracing Our Differences" art exhibit Sarasota tradition that expanded to the Riverwalk this year, is the most visible example.

And that "increased presence" that festival officials talk about doesn't just mean film screenings. There are plans for "multimedia experiences" on the Riverwalk and an increased educational outreach to the Manatee County schools.

"It's becoming increasingly important for the private sector to pitch in and contribute to education, because of budget cuts," Famiglio said. "And we're going to be doing that, we'll in the schools more."

Famiglio doesn't want to mess up negotiations by being specific, but there's no doubt he's sincere.

"I love Manatee County" he said. "I'm enthusiastic about Manatee County and I'm committed to Manatee County."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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