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Sarasota Film Festival goes global as event pivots to the virtual stage

The festival moved online due to the coronavirus, but it may have been a good thing.

The show must go on for the 22nd annual Sarasota Film Festival. Instead of canceling because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers decided to take this year’s festival to the virtual world, and it paid off. It achieved global recognition and has been extended to Sunday.

“We did exceedingly well, and in a more expansive and global way than I ever anticipated,” said Mark Famiglio, chairman and president of the Sarasota Film Festival.

Originally, the virtual festival was set to end May 3. A boom in subscribers encouraged festival organizers to expand the run.

“We were forced to expand the scope and the duration of the festival to accommodate the number of viewers,” Famiglio said.

The annual festival, dedicated to supporting local filmmakers and showcasing stories that make Florida home, got attention all around the world. Positive comments came in from everywhere.

“There was a couple in Chile and South America, some people from Peru and the European continent — people from Russia, and Czechoslovakia. People in sailboats from the Baltics,” Famiglio said. “So we’ve had a lot of great feedback from literally all over the world.”

Despite that online success, Famiglio promised live viewings will return. But this has opened the likelihood of future virtual events, too.

“We will likely be using the virtual components as a supplement and to grow the connections we have with our film brethren around the world,” he said. “But it will not surpass the live festival because the need for human interaction in a real space, real time way is something that everyone misses.”

Week two of the festival features more than 80 films, including Darkness in Tenement 45, and several that weren’t available in the first week. Full festival memberships are $30 and include unlimited screenings. A five-film package is also available for $15. To subscribe and watch, go to sarasotafilmfestival.com.

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