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Sarasota Film Festival Brings Gems to the Gold Coast

Sarasota, Florida is considered ground zero for the recent real estate crash. But any darkness that prevails during April 9-18, 2010 will envelope the inky cinemas where the 12th annual Sarasota Film Festival will unfold.

Bookended by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman’s The Extra Man and James Franco’s Saturday Night, the Gold Coast cotillion spans 168 films. Thirty countries are represented, yielding what director of programming Holly Herrick tallies as the Festival's most diverse lineup to date.

The Extra Man trails a male escort for elderly socialites and the aspiring playwright he grooms. Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, John C. Reilly and Katie Holmes star in this new comedy by American Splendor's Oscar-nominated duo, based on the Jonathan Ames novel of the same name. Opening night festivities continue with a Seriously Sweet Dessert Soiree and &mdash like closing night &mdash with an after-party at Ceviche.

Franco’s documentary, which expands on his NYU graduate film school project, chronicles a week in the frenzied creative cycle behind TV comedy show Saturday Night Live. The actor's feature directorial debut reflects unprecedented access to its notoriously veiled subject, a perk of his personal friendships with the cast.

Festival innovations include an "Investors Lab" brokering relationships between independent filmmakers and the investment community. As part of the Lab, Steve Buscemi will stage a reading of Oren Moverman's unproduced script for Queer, based on the book by William S. Burroughs.

Also a first in this year's program are "Cinema Diaspora: International Perspectives on Jewish Identity"; "Views From The Sunshine State: Sarasota & Florida Filmmakers"; and "Through Women’s Eyes," a showcase honoring films by and about women's lives, co-presented with GCC UNIFEM.

A 2010 Gala centerpiece is a tribute to John Landis, director of such bedrock comedies as Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop III. Following a multimedia presentation of his work, Mr. Landis will muse on his career, and share a laugh from his upcoming comedy thriller starring Simon Pegg, Burke and Hare.

The Festival continues its “In Conversation With…” series, hosting director/Walt Disney Feature Animation producer Don Hahn (whose film, Waking Sleeping Beauty, is being shown out of competition), and actors Kevin Kline, Patricia Clarkson and Vincent D'Onofrio.

SFF also carries on with its "youthFEST" outreach and education programs subsidized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and reaching some 4,000 students. Brownstones to Red Dirt is one youth-friendly title kicking up advanced buzz. Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker's documentary charters the bonds that develop between kids from the Brooklyn projects and the orphans from civil-war-torn Sierra Leone who become their pen pals. Another youthFEST attraction is "Hollywood Nights Student Cinema Showcase."

The Festival runs three competitions. Titles vying in its documentary feature category are Con Artist (Michael Sládek), Gasland (Josh Fox), A Good Man (Safina Uberoi), His & Hers (Ken Wardrop), The Kids Grow Up (Doug Block), Life 2.0 (Jason Spingarn-Koff) and The Oath (Laura Poitras).

Narrative feature contenders are: Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio), A Brand New Life (Ounie Lecomte), The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Love), Holy Rollers (Kevin Asch), I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino), Winter's Bone (Debra Granik) and Women Without Men (Shirin Neshat)

The third competition, "Independent Visions," awards low-budget narrative filmmaking from the US. Its entries are: The Adults in the Room (Andy Blubaugh), Cold Weather (Aaron Katz), The Colonel's Bride (Brent Stewart), The Freebie (Kate Aselton), The Myth of The American Sleepover (David Mitchell), The New Year (Brett Haley) and SXSW narrative feature jury winner Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham).

Festival screenings mostly take place in Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20, though the scatter of other venues may pose a challenge to footloose guests. The Opening Night film will be screened at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center; The Lab holds its panels, funding meetings and presentations at the Longboat Key Club and Resort (though the Florida Studio Theater will host its staged reading of Queer); and the Landis Tribute will unspool at the Sarasota Opera House.

Consult www.sarasotafilmfestival.com for additional details.

By Laura Blum

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