Immersed in the Sarasota Film Festival

The 13th annual Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) ended yesterday after a weekend filled with events and honors for two stars, Geena Davis and Christopher Plummer, and a producer, Sarah Green. I attended the SFF the previous weekend, and with the festival’s tag line, “Immerse Yourself,” urging me on, I plunged in for a gratifying festival experience.

Unlike Telluride, Sundance, or Toronto, the SFF is a regional film festival, and part of its agenda is to support regionally based films by offering a showcase for movies shot in the Sunshine State. Whether its home-grown horror films with questionable acting or thoughtful meditations on social issues at the local level, I am attracted to regional filmmaking because of the way character and story are so intrinsically bound to locale. Regionalism is important because it can put a fresh face on familiar genres, or bring the concerns and fears of the under-represented to light. Florida has a history of supporting regional filmmaking, most notably the work of Victor Nunez, a native son who has done his home state proud with such films as Ruby in Paradise and Ulee’s Gold.

This year’s Sarasota Film Festival included a handful of narrative films shot along Gulf Coast locales. Mangrove Slasher 2, directed by Sean Haitz, follows a shadowy character with a machete who stalks a group of partiers in the mangrove swamps. More of a send-up of B-movie clichés than a bona fide horror film, MS 2 depends on its locations to create the eerie isolation central to the slasher subgenre. The musical drama Beautiful Noise by Steve Tatone is the story of a young singer who searches for an aging pop star from the 1960s. In addition to these feature films, the festival worked with local organizations to present documentaries that revealed challenging issues facing the community, including The Secret World of Recovery (addiction), Through the Tunnel (high-school football as a tool for integration back in the day), and The Observer and the Observed (mental health).

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Luck of the Drew

Lillian Travers (Edith Story) makes a surprise visit to her boyfriend Dr. Cassadene (Sidney Drew).  But the surprise is on her when she catches him in what sure seems like a comprising position with a wealthy widow.  He makes the requisite apologies, they make up, and it all goes pear shaped again when he blows their next rendez-vous, once again caught with the same widow.  She gives him a third chance—and as she comes out of her house to meet him, there he is, entangled in the clutches of three fawning women.  If this were any other movie, you’d expect Lillian to blow her top and walk out on him, continuing the cycle of sitcommy complications that you’ve come to expect by this point.  Oh, but A FLORIDA ENCHANTMENT is not any other movie.  And let us uncover its fabulousness in stages:

Smoochy!

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Hooray for Jacksonville!

TCM’s original documentary series Moguls and Movie Stars continues tonight with Episode 3, “The Dream Merchants,” which chronicles the rise of the major studios in the 1920s—the so-called Silver Age of Hollywood. By this time in American film history, Hollywood had been established as the center of the industry, though films continued to be made in New York, where some production companies maintained offices and studios. I am enjoying this detailed and well-organized series, particularly the lesser-known clips and photos as well as the interviews with descendents of the original moguls.

My only complaint is the short shrift given to other American cities that were important in motion picture history. Some cities were hometowns to film pioneers who made major contributions as far back as the 1890s while other locales vied with Hollywood to be the hub of the film industry during the 1910s. Chicago, my adopted hometown, was mentioned briefly in the first two episodes of Moguls and Movie Stars, but considering that the first large-scale studio was built here by William Selig or that the first bona fide cowboy star, Broncho Billy Anderson, originally shot his westerns on the city’s North Side, I thought it deserved more attention. I have already written about Chicago’s early film history in previous posts, so I won’t revisit that topic. Instead I thought I would touch on another city’s contributions to the early film era—a locale completely omitted from Moguls and Movie Stars.

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