The lineup of international celebrities who were already confirmed for this year’s Sarasota Film Festival was impressive. Diane Lane will be in town. So will Aisha Tyler, who’s best known from “Archer” and “Friends” on TV. Documentary filmmaker and frequent SFF guest Rory Kennedy will be back again, with her latest film. She’s the daughter of Bobby Kennedy, and she’s been to the festival before with her films “Last Days in Vietnam” and “Ethel.”
Festival president Mark Famiglio hinted at a kick-off event after the lineup had been announced that Alec Baldwin might be there.
And just a few days ago, festival officials started spreading the news that film actor Stanley Tucci will be at the festival. He’ll attend the Closing Night Film, “Paris Can Wait,” on April 8, and then the next day he’ll be at one of the film’s “conversation” events, where fans can sit in on an intimate interview and then ask questions.
“Obviously, we’ve got really great talent,” said festival associate director Jedediah Shoemaker. “The best talent we’ve had in a couple of years.”
Baldwin, who co-stars with Lane in “Paris Can Wait,” contacted Famiglio some months back and expressed interest in attending the festival. His new, semi-regular job portraying Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” may keep him from making the trip.
“It probably depends on whether it’s a slow news week,” Shoemaker said.
Despite the plethora of big-name stars, this year’s festival is more compact than last year’s. There were so many films in the 2016 festival that patrons actually complained.
“Last year we went a little crazy and had 286 films,” Shoemaker said. “We were getting feedback that people couldn’t see all the films they wanted to see because there were so many. We gave them a paralysis of choices.”
For this year, the festival is down to a little more than 200 films, which is about the traditional number.
Among the most popular, and one of Shoemaker’s favorites. is “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo,” a film about the engineers of the Apollo space program. Its two screenings (at 6:15 p.m. April 2 and 3) are nearly sold out, and Shoemaker said the festival is looking to add a third to accommodate demand.
Besides exploring a riveting topic on its own, he said, the film may be especially popular because of the socio-political factors in the United States. The film explores a time when Americans were virtually unanimously excited about the country and the future. The Apollo astronauts and scientists gave Americans something to cheer for, together.
“Mission Control” is one of several films in the festival that explore science and the environment. Another that Shoemaker recommends is “The University,” about a college that explores futurism. Shoemaker describes the film as “mind-blowing.” It screens at 7:30 p.m. April 4 and 4:45 p.m. April 6.
Another theme for this year’s festival is “Sports in Cinema.” Former NBA all-star Kenny Anderson will be at the festival for a screening of “Mr. Chibbs,” an exploration of his turbulent post-NBA life, at 4 p.m. April 7 and 3 p.m. April 8. He’ll be part of panel discussions at the festival and in Manatee County schools about the impact of sports on our culture.
Kennedy will be here for the Opening Night Film, her new documentary “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” about the superstar surfer. The red carpet event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, with the film showing at 6:30 p.m.
Also at the Opera House is the Closing Night Film, “Paris Can Wait.” It’s the narrative directorial and screenwriting debut of documentarian Eleanor Coppola (the wife of Francis Ford Coppola). In the film, Lane plays Baldwin’s content but unfulfilled wife. A seven-hour road trip across France turns into a journey of self-discovery and rejuvenation. Lane will also take part in the festival’s “In Conversation With ...” series earlier that day at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave, Sarasota. The time for that event hasn’t been set.
Most of the films will screen at the Regal Hollywood 20 Theatre, 1900 Main St., Sarasota.
Tickets for regular screenings are $15 general admission, $11 for Sarasota Film Festival members and $10 for Florida students, educators and school administrators with ID. Matinees are $11 general admission and $8 for members. Spotlight and Centerpiece film screenings are $22 general admission and $18 for members. Call 941-366-6200, visit the festival box office in the lobby of the Regal Hollywood 20 Theatre, 1900 Main St., Sarasota, or go to sarasotafilmfestival.com.