Celebrating its 15th edition this year, the Sarasota Film Festival begins this Friday, April 5 and runs through Sunday, April 14. Screening over 200 films, Sarasota is one of the largest regional festivals in the US, presenting some of the year’s standout films for Florida audiences and visiting industry. I’ve never been to the festival, but industry colleagues who have attended have raved, and its Director, Tom Hall, is one of the most liked figures in the indie film community. Its feature lineup includes more than fifty documentaries, including two Sundance alums in key Gala slots – Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s BLACKFISH screens as the fest’s Closing Night film, while Barbara’s Kopple’s RUNNING FROM CRAZY is one of two Centerpieces. Other newer docs that perhaps haven’t had as big a spotlight yet include the following:
Eight films are in the running for Sarasota’s Documentary Feature Competition. Among these are Jeremy Xido’s DEATH METAL ANGOLA (pictured), about the efforts of a pair of committed Angolans to organize a metal concert; Benjamin Greené’s SURVIVAL PRAYER, an intimate exploration of the people and fading traditions of the Haida Gwaii archipelago; and Cary McClelland and Imran Babur’s WITHOUT SHEPHERDS, a portrait of the lives of six diverse Pakistanis.
Sarasota’s “Through Women’s Eyes” section is part of a collaboration with a local film festival that aims to increase public awareness of issues especially relevant to women through screenings of women-focused films. Included in this year’s selection of seven films are: Cecilia Peck’s BRAVE MISS WORLD (pictured), in which a pageant winner speaks out about her rape, empowering other women to do the same; Nancy M Tong’s TRAILBLAZERS IN HABITS, the chronicle of the Hong Kong mission of the Maryknoll Sisters; and Kathleen M Ryan’s HOMEFRONT HEROINES: THE WAVES OF WWII, the story of the female Navy veterans of WWII.
The festival’s non-fiction programming is rounded out with more than thirty additional titles screening in the Documentary Features section. A sample of the offerings here are: Alex Stonehill and Bradley Hutchinson’s BARZAN, an exploration of the personal consequences on an immigrant family of a charge of terrorism; Noga Ashkenazi’s THE GREY AREA, in which female inmates discuss a range of critical women’s issues that informed their past and shape their present circumstances; Maria Yoon’s MARIA THE KOREAN BRIDE, a response of the filmmaker to cultural pressures to get married; Jason Banker, Jorge Torres-Torres, and Tiffany Sudela-Junker’s MY NAME IS FAITH, about the efforts of a young traumatized girl to make an emotional connection with her new adoptive family; Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s REMOTE AREA MEDICAL, which offers a look at the state of American healthcare through the lens of a pop-up medical clinic set up at a Tennessee NASCAR event; Erica Scharf’s UP HEARTBREAK HILL (pictured), a portrait of three Native American teenagers who must decide if they’ll stay or leave their community; Peter Mettler’s THE END OF TIME, a far-reaching exploration of the nature of time and our perception of its meaning; and Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart’s MEDORA, in which a downtrodden Indiana high school basketball team reflects the challenges faced by their larger community.