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Sarasota film fest more blue jeans than black tie


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2001

[Photo: Elmar Picture]
Andrea di Stefano, let, and Javier Bardem star in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls.
Jody Kielbasa wants ordinary moviegoers to know it's fine to dress down for the third annual Sarasota Film Festival.

In the days of the city's now-defunct French cinema showcase, attendees appeared more concerned with fashion than film. Screenings were mostly time-wasters until the next ritzy cocktail reception, reasons to invite celebrities (celebrities in France, at least) to schmooze. Black tie wasn't optional, it was expected. People sighed at the festival's demise in 1996, then found other places to show off their jewelry.

Kielbasa, executive director of the Sarasota Film Festival, is reaching out to people who never make the society pages.

Starting Wednesday, this 5-day event -- with 126 features, documentaries and short films -- aims for the masses, with a few tony exceptions for the yacht clubbers.

"First of all, the French film festival is dead and buried," said Kielbasa, former artistic director of American Stage in St. Petersburg.

"The rap against it was that it was a little too elitist. If you were a connoisseur of French films, it was fine. If you weren't, you were out of the mix."

Changing that narrow view was Kielbasa's first goal when he was appointed to create the Sarasota Film Festival three years ago. He never worked for the French festival but attended, and felt disillusioned by its superficial glamor.

"All film festivals do have a schedule of high-end parties, but you have to have something for people at the other end of the economic scale," Kielbasa said. "That's why we're showing two films (Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood) outdoors for free. If you don't want to pay $75 for Dinner Rush on opening night, you can see it for $7 later."

Kielbasa also pointed to a moderately priced barbecue lunch with independent filmmakers on Jan. 14 and tributes to actors Tippi Hedren (The Birds) and Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night) for $15 each.

"Probably more than half of the films have someone attending to support their project," Kielbasa said. "It's important that the general public has a chance to see and hear filmmakers discussing their work, too."

All screenings will be held at Regal Cinemas' Hollywood 20, 1991 Main St. in downtown Sarasota. Tickets ($7) to individual screenings go on sale today at the box office.

Ticket packages for 10 passes ($50) and 20 passes ($100) are available, allowing any combination of admissions per show up to that limit.

You'll still need a generous bank account to enjoy all of the parties, but star-gazing outside is free starting with opening-night events Wednesday.

Bob Giraldi's Dinner Rush is the evening's highlight at 6:30 p.m., a drama set in an Italian restaurant in New York City. Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing) plays the owner coping with eccentric customers, disgruntled employees and a son (Edoardo Ballerini) who is tired of the family business. The film earned mixed reactions at the Telluride Film Festival in September.

Giraldi, Aiello, Ballerini and other cast members are scheduled to answer questions about the movie before heading to nearby Michael's on East restaurant for the festival's kick-off party. Tickets for the evening are $75 each.

[Photo: Elmar Picture]
Javier Bardem plays Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas, the subject of Julian Schnabel’s biography Before Night Falls.
The most anticipated film of the festival may be Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls, a biography of Cuban author Reynaldo Arenas. Javier Bardem plays Arenas, a Castro revolutionary later persecuted for his art and homosexuality. Bardem was named best actor of 2000 by the National Board of Review. Before Night Falls will be shown at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 12.

Other film selections include Panic (12:30 p.m. Jan. 12; 5 p.m. Jan. 13), a crime yarn starring William H. Macy, Neve Campbell and Donald Sutherland; and The Amati Girls (5:45 p.m. Jan. 12), a drama focused on four sisters and their widowed mother (Cloris Leachman). Amati co-star Sean Young is scheduled to attend the festival.

International flavor is added by foreign films including Aberdeen, a Norwegian tale of alcohol abuse starring Stellan Skarsgard, and Chunhyang, a Korean drama of love and politics. Five German films -- Vasilisa, No One Sleeps, The Piano Player, The Cry of the Butterfly and Midsommer Stories -- dot the lineup.

The best bargain of the festival should occur Jan. 13 when Steiger hosts a 1 p.m. screening of In the Heat of the Night. Steiger won a best-actor Academy Award in 1967 for his role as a bigoted Mississippi sheriff in Norman Jewison's drama. He'll discuss the production during a question-and-answer period after the film. Admission is a reasonable $15 per person.

The festival also features free screenings of children's films on Jan. 13, and a Jan. 14 showcase of Ringling School of Art and Design student films. Two documentaries, Sophie's Homecoming and American Gypsy, will be shown Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. to benefit the UN Development Fund for Women.

The schedule also includes the Jan. 13 world premiere of Club Land, directed by Saul Rubinek and written by Steven Weber, two actors working on the other side of the camera for a change. Club Land stars Alan Alda as a talent agent in the 1950s who loses touch with his profession and son. Show time is 5 p.m.

Alda will receive the Regal Cinemas Career Achievement Award at a black-tie banquet following the Club Land screening on Jan. 13. A retrospective of his career, from Paper Lion to TV's M*A*S*H and beyond, will be shown with comments from visiting celebrities. Tickets are $175 for the event, to be held at the elegant Crosley Mansion after the Club Land screening.

On Thursday, Hedren will be honored at a luncheon for her volunteer efforts at the Roar Foundation's Shambala Preserve in California. Hedren's tribute will commence at Cafe of the Arts at noon. Tickets are $50.

That night, Hedren will host an 8:15 p.m. screening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, the film that defined her screen career. Tickets are $15.

Foreign foods and films get equal billing Thursday at the International Film Expo at the Hollywood 20 megaplex. A ticket ($40) allows access to one of several subtitled works being shown, plus a cocktail party sampling Sarasota's exotic restaurants.

Visitors on Jan. 12 can pay $125 to choose among three featured films at Hollywood 20, then adjourn to nearby Michael's restaurant for the Night of a Thousand Stars Gala. Drinks, dining and dancing are included in the admission price.

A touch of mystery surrounds a late-night party to be held Jan. 13 at an undisclosed location. Make it to the festival and you'll get directions for your $35 ticket.

Closing night on Jan. 14 brings a last round of cocktails at a wrap party. Michael's Mediterranean Grill will host the event following a 6 p.m. screening of Sean Penn's new film, The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson. Tickets are $50.

More information about the festival is available online at, although a complete schedule of show times had not yet been posted earlier this week. That information is available by calling (941) 364-9514.

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