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 it’s a new film by one of the country’s 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 Kennedy’s 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 McDowell’s “The One That I Love.”
The festival’s centerpiece films will be John Slattery’s “God’s Pocket,” featuring one of the last screen performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Andrew Rossi’s “Ivory Tower.”
Besides opening the festival, Kennedy’s film will launch the festival’s “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 festival’s three juried competition lineups feature several premieres and internationally acclaimed films.
The Narrative Feature Competition showcases the festival’s finest international films, including “Blue Ruin” by Jeremy Saulnier, “Cannibal” by Manuel Martín Cuneca, “Ida” by Pawel Pawlikowski and “If You Don’t, 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 Disneynature’s “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.