Trying to make the most out of your Sarasota Film Festival experience can be intimidating. For every film you're able to see, there will be 10 that you can't. Some of the most exciting films come from emerging independent directors you haven't heard of even (though you may soon). The descriptions on the program talk about the plot or the subject matter, which only gives you the vaguest idea of what the film really is.
This year seems to be an especially intimidating year, according to the people who know the films best.
"Someone in the office makes a list of the films he absolutely has to see," Sarasota Film Festival director of programming Michael Dunaway said. "Last year he had 10. This year he had 30."
But Dunaway, who is the person who ultimately decides which films make it into the Sarasota Film Festival, has some favorites. He sighs when he's asked to make recommendations because he likes all the films. Still, he's willing to offer some picks for films that might be easy to overlook, but deserve to be seen.
Here they are, in no particular order.
"First Girl I Ever Loved" is a narrative film about a schoolgirl coming out as a lesbian. "It may shock you to learn that I have never been a schoolgirl who came out as a lesbian," Dunaway said. "But I still identify with this film, and I think most people will identify with this film. It's about that feeling we have when we're teenagers that we're different, but we can't quite define how we're different." It won the NEXT competition at the Sundance Film Festival. 4:45 p.m. April 8, 6:45 p.m. April 10.
"Raiders!" took more than 30 years to complete. When "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was at its peak of popularity, a group of 11-year-old kids decided to shoot a shot-by-shot remake, in which they played all the roles. "As often happens with this kind of project, it fell by the wayside," Dunaway said. "Then they all got back in touch with each other 30 years later and
finished it." 3:30 p.m. April 2, 10:30 a.m. April 3.
"Unlocking the Cage" is a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. "It's about a lawyer in West Palm Beach who is leading the fight to have animals who have demonstrated advanced intelligence -- chimpanzees, dolphins, although he's involved specifically with chimpanzees -- given more rights." Dunaway called Pennebaker and Hegedus probably the best documentary team in the world right now. They'll both be at the festival. 6 p.m. April 4, 10 a.m. April 10.
"Sunset Song" is a Scottish film that Dunaway describes as a narrative about "a young girl coming of age in the years just before World War I" and "a sweeping, epic costume drama." 4 p.m. April 6, 2:45 p.m. April 7.
"Miss Sharon Jones!" is a new documentary by Academy Award-winner and frequent Sarasota Film Festival guest Barbara Kopple. Kopple directed "Harlan County USA" and "Shut Up and Sing." Her new film chronicles the life and career of Sharon Jones, who became a soul sensation relatively late in life, releasing her first album with her band the Dap-Kings when she was 40. 1:45 p.m. April 3, 6:45 p.m. April 6, 12:30 p.m. April 10.
"The Seeker" is an hour-long narrative film produced by and starring Josh Radnor. What makes the film unusual, Dunaway said, is that it has no dialogue. The only sounds come from music by the band Cloud Cult. But, Dunaway said, the silent storytelling is expertly done. "It sounds strange to say, but you don't miss the dialogue," he said. 4 p.m. April 8, 10 a.m. April 9.
"Cemetery of Splendor" is a moody and mysterious Thai film set in a military hospital where soldiers are afflicted with a strange sort of sleeping sickness. 8:30 p.m. April 8, 10:45 a.m. April 10.
"Nari" is a hybrid experience -- part film, part concert. Performer/composer Ginger Shankar comes from India's most famous musical family (which, of course, includes Ravi Shankar). 8:15 p.m. April 9, 7:15 p.m. April 10.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Please follow twitter.com/martinclear.