Last year, the Sarasota Film Festival included nearly 300 films, way more than most years. (“We went a little crazy,” Jedediah Shoemaker, the festival’s associate director, said.) Patrons actually said they didn’t like the overabundance of choices.
This year, the festival, which opens Friday and runs through April 9, is back to a more-or-less traditional schedule of a little more than 200 films. It’s still way more than anyone can possibly see.
So we asked Larisa Apan, the senior programmer for the festival, to pick 10 films that she most highly recommends.
She obliged, but when she talked about the films she often interjected “It’s really hard to pick just 10.” We’ll list them in alphabetical order. They’ll all screen at the Regal Hollywood 20, 1993 Main St., Sarasota.
▪ “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.” 3:30 p.m. April 1, 7:30 p.m. April 3. In the 2008 financial world, the big banks were deemed “too big to fail,” and came away mostly unscathed. Abacus, a tiny family-owned community bank in New York City’s Chinatown, was not big enough to escape prosecution. The family that owned Abacus resides part-time in Sarasota, and will attend at least one screening of the documentary.
▪ “Beach Rats.” 6:30 p.m. April 7, 11 a.m. April 9. This narrative film, which won the Diversity Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is the story of “a Brooklyn teen who is struggling to reconcile his dream and his sexuality,” Apan said. “It’s a visually stunning experience.”
▪ “City of Ghosts.” 4:30 p.m. April 8, 8 p.m. April 9. Matthew Heineman, the director of “Cartel Land,” embedded himself with an ISIS resistance movement in Syria. The group chronicles the destruction of Syrian cities and sends video to the outside world. Heineman and members of the movement had to keep moving around the region to to stay safe from ISIS. “It was one of my favorite films at Sundance,” Apan said.
▪ “Clash.” 2 p.m. April 7, 3:15 April 9. In this Egyptian narrative film, political activists from opposing ideologies are arrested and detained together in a cramped police van. “It’s a really interesting concept,” Apan said. “The entire film is shot inside the police van. The cinematography is incredible.”
It’s a really intimate, candid look at the title character, Dina. It’s beautiful.
▪ “Dina.” 6:15 p.m. April 7, 1:30 p.m. April 8. The title character in this documentary is a brash 49-year old Philadelphian whom meets her fiance in a social group for the neurologically diverse. “It’s a really intimate, candid look at the title character, Dina” Apan said. “It’s beautiful.”
▪ “Glory.” 3:34 p.m. April 1, 4:15 p.m. April 9. This is the second part of a trilogy of Bulgarian films that began with “The Lesson.” But it’s a stand-alone film, with the same leading actors but no connection in the narrative. In “Glory,” a man finds a large sum of money, turns it over the the police and becomes entangled in his county’s corrupt propaganda machinery.
▪ “Graduation.” 4 p.m. April 6, 5:45 April 9. Cristian Mungiu, Apan, said is one of the most important directors of Romanian’s New Wave. In his latest narrative film, she said, he “shines a light on a dysfunctional society, Romania, where everything is corrupt.”
▪ “Harmonium.” 10:45 a.m. April 1, 1:30 p.m. April 9. This Japanese drama won a Cannes competition called Un Certain Regarde for films with a distinctive point of view. “This family, and old acquaintance comes into their lives and asks for a job, and mysterious things start happening,” Apan said.
▪ “I, Daniel Blake.” 5:30 p.m. April 5, 1:45 April 8. The winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film festival, Ken Loach’s latest drama concerns a middle-aged Englishmen who is unable to work after a heart attack, but who can’t get treatment or benefits from the government-run health care bureaucracy. His friendship with a young single mother seeking housing helps both of them cope.
▪ “Last Men in Aleppo.” 3:30 p.m. April 7, 2 p.m. April 9. A look at daily life and death in the war-weary city, focusing on the founding members of the White Helmets, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated group that combs bombed-out building searching survivors and bodies.. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
After she was done listing her 10 picks, Apan said she also wanted to draw people’s attention to the festival’s Independent Visions series, which features emerging American directors, most of whom will be in attendance. The films this year are “Axis,” directed by actor Aisha Tyler, “California Dreams,” “Fraud,” “Lemon” “Person to Person” and “The Strange Ones.” They’re all great films, Apan said, and they may not be widely released, so this is probably the only time Sarasota audiences will have a chance to see them.
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.
Film fest on the cheap
If you go through your entertainment budget on movie tickets and popcorn, you can still have plenty of film festival fun. Here’s a look at some free events for this year’s festival.
▪ Red carpets. Film makers, local celebrities and even a Hollywood star or two are always in attendance at the red carpet events, and if you’re into star-gazing you can hover around for free and get up-close looks. Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of Bobby Kennedy, will be at the opening night red carpet, 5:30 p.m. March 31 at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Drive, Sarasota. Diane Lane and Stanley Tucci and other notable names will be on hand for the closing night red carpet, 5 p.m. April 8 at the Opera House.
▪ Sensory friendly screening. A Sarasota Film Festival tradition that’s becoming increasingly popular in movie theaters around the country, these screenings keep the volume low, with the lights left on in the theater. They’re aimed at people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. This year’s film is “Into the Who Knows!,” an imaginative film about a 10-year-old with limited social skills who escapes his summer camp and goes on a life-changing adventure in the woods with his friend. 12:30 p.m. April 9, Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20, 1993 Main St., Sarasota.
▪ Youthfest Films: Free films for families, including two additional screenings of “Into the Who Knows!,” at 11 a.m. April 8 and 12:30 p.m. April 9, and two programs of short films at 10:45 a.m. April 8 and April 9. All of those screening are at Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20.
▪ Moonlight Movies. “Finding Dory” screens at dusk on Siesta Beach on April 1.