Last year, the Sarasota Film Festival made the unusual choice to open with a documentary. It was an obscure film by a filmmaker who was not well known, but festival organizers thought it was powerful enough to kick off the festival. The film was called Blackfish, and in the months after the 2013 festival, it became a cultural phenomenon.
For 2014, the Sarasota Film Festival will again start with a documentary. This time its a new film by one of the countrys most high-profile documentarians. Last Days of Vietnam, the latest film by Rory Kennedy, will open the April 4 Sarasota Film Festival with a screening at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Festival officials unveiled the lineup of 137 films Wednesday evening.
Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the award-winning filmmaker behind American Hollow, Pandemic: Facing AIDS and Street Fight, will attend the screening.
Her new film combines archival footage from April 1975 during the 24-hour period when thousands of Americans and Vietnamese evacuated Saigon, with new interviews with people who were there.
It will be Kennedys second visit to the Sarasota Film Festival. She was here in 2012 with her film Ethel, a tribute to her mother. The closing night film April 12 at the Sarasota Opera House will be Charlie McDowells The One That I Love.
The festivals centerpiece films will be John Slatterys Gods Pocket, featuring one of the last screen performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Andrew Rossis Ivory Tower.
Besides opening the festival, Kennedys film will launch the festivals Acts of Valor program. All through the festival, the program will offer new and classic films that examine the experience of American veterans from World War I into the present.
The festivals three juried competition lineups feature several premieres and internationally acclaimed films.
The Narrative Feature Competition showcases the festivals finest international films, including Blue Ruin by Jeremy Saulnier, Cannibal by Manuel Martín Cuneca, Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski and If You Dont, I Will by Sophie Fillières,
The Documentary Feature Competition will showcase, among other films, Actress by Robert Greene, Bloody Beans by Narimane, Rich Hill by Tracy Droz Tragos and Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, the directorial debut by Mike Myers.
The Independent Visions Competition devoted to showcasing new American filmmakers, includes BFE by Shawn Telford, Big in Japan by John Jeffcoat and I Believe in Unicorns by Leah Meyerehoff.
The festival also continues the youthFEST program with free films and programs for children and families. Films include advance screenings of Disneynatures Bears, the Oscar-nominated Ernest & Celestine, and a screening of the family classic The Little Mermaid on Siesta Beach.
See a complete schedule of films and events atsarasotafilmfestival.com. Tickets will be available to film festival members starting at 11 a.m. Thursday, and to the general public at 11 a.m. Friday. Tickets are available through the website or by calling the box office at 941-366-6200.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.