If you ever wondered what Las Vegas is like on the non-existent planet of Plutonioid, you should have been at the opening night party for the 2008 Sarasota Film Festival. Held at the historic John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, this party was a ridiculous spectacle, but a fun one to be sure. It’s hilarious to encounter the bipolar divide at the SFF. All day, you attend screenings with receptive, thoughtful audiences, then at night you attend vainglorious, overblown parties with people who don’t seem to even be aware that a film festival is occurring. Which is fine. For some reason, in Sarasota, attending these parties doesn’t fill me with anger at the ostentatious display of wealth and excess. It’s almost too surreal to seriously consider. So instead, I align myself with similar-minded folks who laugh and appreciate the silliness of it all.
That said, there actually is a film festival taking place here. A damn fine one, as a matter of fact. Here are some pics from the first two days of action...
You know how at nice events you always hear beautiful women say, “This old thing? Oh, I just threw it on.” I always thought people who said that were lying. But in the case of SFF programmer Holly Herrick, it’s true. After a long day of running around handling last minute business, she stopped off at her house long enough to literally throw on a new outfit. When we emerged outside only fifteen minutes later, she was ready for the red carpet. Life isn’t fair sometimes. Here she is reuniting verrry briefly with her friend Andrea, who was visiting for the weekend from Venezuela. They got funny faces.
Speaking of the red carpet, here it is before the madness began. In this pic, Ethnee Lea (Springer Associates), Gi Gi Kuster (SFF Talent Liaison), Brian Reiss (Guest Services Director), and Jennifer Blum (Springer Associates) get ready to make sure William H. Macy and Jason Ritter aren’t trampled by the locals when they arrive.
Holly is confused and amused by my strange left upper forehead combover (it was really windy outside).
If we weren’t talking about Sarasota, I might not believe this story, but somebody informed me that this reporter in pink patented the Cubic Zirconia. Obviously, she’s richer than any human should be, so she decided to use her freedom to realize her lifelong dream of being a news reporter (to each her own, I say). Here are Holly and Tom explaining to people what a film festival programmer does (seriously, it seems like nobody grasps this concept in any way, shape, or form). At one point during the interview, she asked Holly to perform a twirl. Joan Rivers, watch yo’ back, Pink Zirconia is about to snatch yo’ spot!
There was an article in a local paper about Holly in which the reporter described her as having an Audrey Hepburn-like quality. All kidding aside, this picture supports that comparison quite nicely, I think.
Just after seven o’clock executive director Jody Kielbasa says hello to a packed house.
See, I told you it was a packed house (that’s festival Director of Development Jennifer Berges next to Holly).
Next up was the supremely awesome Tom Hall, who, as usual, made a point to thank all of the behind-the-scenes staffers for helping to pull off such a mammoth task. After that, Tom brought out the men of the hour…
Actor William H. Macy and director Steven Schachter, makers of The Deal, which was financed with Sarasota money and made the opening night selection an even more special one for the community.
While the film played, festival staffers sat outside and prepared for the insane, sleepless nine days that had just begun. Here, Jennifer Berges tells Alex DiSclafani (left, Director of Marketing Assistant) and Megan Jourdan (center, Volunteer Coordinator) that everything is going to be okay.
I thought I stumbled into retirement when I found a million dollar bill in the parking lot, but…
…It turns out it was some random bozo’s business card.
Speaking of random bozos, I don’t think pictures or words or anything could describe the spectacle that was the opening night party. It was endlessly entertaining to meet first-time festival attendees who were walking around with genuinely stunned expressions on their disbelieving faces. But as I said, the energy was nothing but positive.
Were there hot babes at the party, you ask? I think this picture answers that silly question. Holly, Ray Conner (Call Center Manager), Christine Murphy, and Andrea pose for a picture before hitting the dance floor.
Scrolling through the program of this year’s SFF, one can only wonder: who is in charge of selecting this incredible lineup and putting together the schedule? Here’s who: Holly Herrick and Tom Hall (with help and support from Jessica Bardsley in the middle).
At that point, the dance party began, and as you can see from this picture, muthafuckas was fun-kay.
Here I am with one of the smoothest dudes in Sarasota, Tobey Albright (who helped Holly put together the music video program).
It wasn’t long before the powers-that-be shut the place down and we all went our separate ways to get some rest before the first full day of the festival…
Saturday kicked off with a very special event. Holly moderated her first panel, and while I’m sure she would have done fine with monosyllabic, drab panelists, she couldn’t have had a more intelligent, humble, and thoughtful group.
Panelists included Scott Solary and Luci Westphal (All God’s Children), Jenny Phillips (The Dhamma Brothers), Kurt Kuenne (Dear Zachary), and Mark Brecke and Jason Mitchell (They Turned Our Desert Into Fire).
Another one of Holly, just because. After the panel, I gave her a big hug and kiss and told her how much she meant to me, at which point she proceeded to…
…Dump me for Patrick Dempsey.
Later, I attended the Q&A for Scott Solary and Luci Westphal’s powerful All God’s Children, which received a standing ovation.
Here are the many subjects of All God’s Children, victims of the systemic sexual, physical and emotional abuse inherent in the missionary boarding school system overseas. Midway through the Q&A, an audience member pointed out that this was just one school and how were they all so sure that this happened elsewhere, at which point another audience member raised her hand and said that she had been brought up in a similar system in an entirely different country and felt like she had been watching the story of her own childhood. At which point another audience member said the same thing about being a missionary child in a different country. At which point I had a sinking feeling that the entire audience was filled with individuals who had been abused as children. Disgusting and infuriating.
I abandoned my filmic sensibilities at six o’clock to watch another form of stupid fresh drama, the Final Four. Fortunately, I found a sports buddy in bartender Mark at 5ONE6 BURNS, a lovely establishment operated by Max Burke-Phillips (aka, SFF Transportation Coordinator). It turned out Mark was a fellow graduate of UMBC, which is hilarious to me for some reason. Anyway, sitting alone at the bar I found myself becoming mesmerized by the repetitious pizza making of Brandon. By the end of the first game, I caved and ordered one of my very own, which was oh-so-very yummy. I’m heading back there tonight for the final. (Speaking of that, my wish and hope is that both teams are playing at their very best, but my fear is that one team is going to show up, one isn’t, and that will be that. But let’s hope for the best. These are easily the best two teams in the country and it has the makings of a true classic.)
I forgot my camera battery yesterday, so I missed out on the indescribably ludicrous karaoke festivities last night (Nora Dunn on the dance floor, former NFL wide receiver Freddy Mitchell singing "Don't Stop Believin'," Benny Safdie slipping into character as Ralph Handel and performing the worst stand-up act ever over "Welcome to the Jungle," all of the filmmakers in attendance getting up on stage to perform "Love Shack," etc.). But cameras were certainly out and about, so we’ll just have to wait and see who posts what. For the record, this year, my first selection, DMX’s “Party Up (Up in Here),” actually did start a dance party, as opposed to last year’s “Ghostbusters” debacle.
I might take a break from the photo-blogging until mid-week, when the next wave of filmmakers and parties arrive (this shit takes forrr-evvvvv-errrrr). But suffice to say, Sarasota is off and running and it is as fun as I hoped it would be. Hurry up and get down here, everyone!