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Florida Festival season in high gear

With most of the United States in the grip of a devastatingly cold winter, more than a few eyes (and hearts) turn to Florida, the sunshine state, which is having an intensely active “high season”. As much as the sun and the beach are major attractions, this is also the kick-off to the Florida film festival season.

Two of Florida’s most interesting film events are happening this week. The Sarasota Film Festival, now in its seventh year, opened this past weekend, with an ambitious slate of premieres, seminars, receptions and visiting filmmakers and celebrities. The Festival opened last Friday with The Thing About My Folks, a comedy of manners starring Peter Falk and Paul Reiser, both of whom are in town for the festivities

Sarasota has a reputation in Florida as a citadel of culture and taste. For a city of its size, its fine arts and performing arts scenes have a worldwide reputation. Also a film lover’s town, the Sarasota Film Festival has been enhancing its reputation and stature as one of the best regional film festivals in the country. Past celebrity guests and honorees have included such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Sydney Pollack, Gena Rowlands, Richard Dreyfuss, Olympia Dukakis, Jon Voight and Alan Alda.

The Festival is in a definite growth mode, with expanded attendance to almost 50,000, an increasing adventurous programming platform and some of the best parties on the festival circuit. “Filmmakers have a great experience here because the audiences are attentive and sophisticated”, Executive Director Jody Kielbasa noted. “We try to reach out to all segments of the audience, and invite people to experiment a bit with their choices.”

This year, the Festival is targeting women filmmakers, short films and family-friendly films. A special tribute to arthouse distributor Wellspring Media will screen, including such celebrated titles as Palindromes (Todd Solondz), In The Realms of the Unreal (Jessica Yu) and Kings and Queen (Arnauld Desplechin). A new program, Independent Visions, mixes three films with three live music events in an exciting mixed media experiment.

Celebrity guests are also to be feted. Leslie Caron, one of the remaining stars of the golden age of the Hollywood musical, will receive the Regal Entertainment Lifetime Achievement Award. The French-born actress has starred opposite such performers as Gene Kelly, Mel Ferrer, Jean Pierre Aumont, Fred Astaire, Maurice Chevalier, Henry Fonda, Charles Boyer, and Cary Grant. Her classic films range from her debut in the Oscar-winning An American In Paris, and include such classics as Gigi, Lili, The L Shaped Room, Daddy Long Legs, Father Goose, and Is Paris Burning?, and such recent films as Funny Bones, Le Divorce and Chocolat.

Also receiving Festival honors this coming weekend is Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, who will be on hand to receive the Sarasota Film Festival Career Achievement Award. Hauer first came to international attention appearing in such acclaimed films, of his Dutch countryman Paul Verhoeven, as Turks Fruit, Keetje Tippel and Soldier of Orange. In America, he has starred in such memorable films as Nighthawks, The Osterman Weekend, Ladyhawke, Flesh and Blood, and his most well-known film, the sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

Also in town is actor Gary Busey, whose most well regarded film The Buddy Holly Story will screen at the Festival. Busey, who is also a recognized musician, with join rock legends Levon Helm, David Johanson, Tom Scott and others for the Musical Graffiti: At Tribute To Legends In Rock And Roll Music & Movies event on Thursday, February 3rd.

Beginning on Friday, February 4th, the Miami International Film Festival, now in its 22nd year, will begin a 10-day event filled with outstanding US and international films. In a city with more than a dozen specialty festivals, the Miami International Film Festival is the grand dame. In its two decades, the Festival has launched the US careers of such film artists as Pedro Almodóvar, Lasse Hallstrom, Fernando Trueba, and Atom Egoyan, and attracts more than 50,000 enthusiastic film buffs.

Under the discriminating directorship of Nicole Guillemet, this year’s event will unspool 120 Films from 45 countries, a host of premieres, and some of the film world’s most chic parties. “I am proud to bring a program to Miami this year of the highest cinematic diversity, scope, and quality,” Guillemet announced.

The Festival has blossomed to include sections devoted to international films, American independents, Latin American cinema, as well as world-class documentaries and short films.
The Festivities begin with the Opening Night Premiere of writer/director Mick Davis’ Modigliani, a magnificent recreation of the life and anguish of Modernist artist Amedeo Modigliani, played with hypnotic fervor by Andy Garcia. Bookending the Festival is the Festival closer, Spanish director Joaquin Oristrell’s Unconscious, an outrageous look at the underground art scene in turn of the century Barcelona.

Among the Premieres to be presented at the historical Gusman Theater (a true film palace!) are The Ballad of Jack and Rose, directed by Rebecca Miller (Sundance Grand Prize Winner for her first film Personal Velocity), starring Miller’s husband Daniel Day-Lewis; Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia’s Ferpect Crime, a black comedy about a murderous department store salesman; Heights, a New York ensemble drama starring Glenn Close, James Marsden and Isabella Rossellini; actor-turned director Charles Dance’s Ladies In Lavender, a period comedy starring Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith; Spike Lee’s Sucker Free City, an unnerving look at San Francisco’s youth gang culture; and Agnes Joui’s Cannes prize winner Look At Me.

Receiving the Festival’s Career Achievement Award is the luminous Liv Ullman. The actress/director will be honored for her achievements in a career spanning over 40 years. The Festival Tribute will be followed by the screening of Saraband, her latest collaboration with muse Ingmar Bergman.

The Miami International Film Festival is a competitive Festival, and this year Ms. Guillemet has brought to South Florida an astonishing array of talents from North America, Latin America, Asia and Europe. A complete list of films on offer is available at the Festival’s website:

As a city whose population is half Spanish speaking, the Festival has always taken a special interest in Latin American and Spanish cinema. Two competition sections, one for fiction features and one for documentary features, is devoted exclusively to new works from these regions.

In addition, the Festival has a role in stimulating new productions. The Miami Encuentros initiative, now in its third year, gives emerging producers from Spain and Latin America the chance to present their new projects to U.S. industry professionals: producers, sales agents, television stations and distributors. This intensive, productive three-day event fosters dialog, builds lasting connections and offers opportunities for networking.

The nine projects presented are features from filmmakers at all stages of their careers, with a special emphasis on first-time filmmakers. Over 60% of the '03 and '04 Encuentros projects have been completed or are in production, including Rolling Family by Pablo Trapero ('03 Encuentros) and The Holy Girl by Lucrecia Martel ('04 Encuentros). The Holy Girl is being screened in competition this year.

So, if winter is giving you a bad case of the blues, think about coming to Florida to revel in the sunshine, the beautiful beaches, and some of the best Festivals on the circuit.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor

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