An easy drive down Interstate 75 leads to challenging cinema as the sixth annual Sarasota Film Festival begins Friday.
This year's slate includes 65 features, shorts and documentaries from around the world. Most will be shown twice during the 10-day festival, usually at Regal Hollywood 20 (1993 Main St.). Others, such as Patty Jenkins' Monster starring Charlize Theron (Jan. 31) and the documentary Bukowski: Born Into This (Jan. 30), will have only one screening at the festival.
Celebrities expected to attend include actors Woody Harrelson, presenting his environmentally sensitive documentary Go Further, and Sam Elliott, starring in Campbell Scott's family drama Off the Map. Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) joins her film, Finding Home. Actors Betty Buckley, Brad Renfro, Mario Van Peebles, Wendy Malick and Justin Henry have also RSVP'd.
A complete film guide with dates, times and descriptions is available at www.sarasotafilmfest.com.
Special events include Friday's opening night film, If Only, the sole film to be shown at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Director Gil Junger and actor Jennifer Love Hewitt will introduce the dramatic fantasy about a man (Paul Nicholls) attempting to change past events that killed his lover (Hewitt). Tickets are $15 for the movie or $100 for the movie and an after-show party.
Saturday's schedule features a minifestival of short subjects at 10 a.m. for $10. At 7:30 p.m., the Florida West Coast Symphony performs classic movie themes at Van Wezel at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 and $35. The hot ticket is a 9 p.m. party with the B-52's and drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, after his free 4 p.m. panel discussion of B-movies titled Profoundly Disturbing. Briggs will host an 8:30 p.m. screening of the seminal gore film Blood Feast, then head to the party.
Also on Saturday, a 6 p.m. screening of Zero Day, a drama with Columbine overtones, will be followed by a discussion of teen violence and its link to domestic abuse.
Sunday's lineup includes a 6:45 p.m. screening of Sandra Hochman's Year of the Woman, a feminist documentary filmed at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Hochman is expected to attend and answer questions.
Upcoming special events include "An Evening with Patrick Stewart" (Monday, 7 p.m.) with the Shakespearean actor (and Star Trek icon) presenting a film of his choosing; a Tuesday luncheon at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens; a world cinema celebration party on Wednesday; and the annual Night of a Thousand Stars party at Michael's on East restaurant. The second and final weekend of the festival begins Jan. 31 with the Filmmakers Tribute Dinner and a wrap party (where Aerosmith played an impromptu set last year). Festival films that generated the best responses from audiences will be shown all day Feb. 1.
Each day features breakfasts with filmmakers discussing their works at 10 a.m. in the Main Plaza courtyard near Hollywood 20. Other free discussions cover topics such as women's power in Hollywood (Sunday); social tolerance, depicted in the documentary Paper Clips (Wednesday); screenwriting (Jan. 29); Florida's film industry (Jan. 30); and gay cinema (Jan. 31).