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Documentary (Feature)

Naked Ambition: Bunny Yeager

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Bunny Yeager, once heralded as the world’s prettiest photographer, had a huge influence in 20th-century pop culture though few people know her name. Whether by popularizing the bikini, helping discover Bettie Page, shaping the image of Playboy or inventing the selfie, Bunny was a trailblazer whose work bucked against conservative 1950s America and helped pave the way for both the feminist movement and the sexual revolution. Yet the very changes she helped usher in would soon render her a forgotten relic…till now. Dennis Scholl’s incisive, entertaining documentary, with comments from Yeager’s adult children and testimonies from cultural icons such as photographer Bruce Weber, Dita von Teese, and Larry King, and (of course) chock full of her work, reinstates Bunny as an iconic artist and portrays the evolution of women’s autonomy in postwar America.


In Attendance: Dennis Scholl, Director; Kareem Tabsch, Producer

Nocturnes

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. An immersive viewing experience of sound and imagery, Nocturnes weaves together an intricate and poetic tapestry of our world. Ecologist Mansi sets out on a quest to study moths in one of the most vibrant places on earth. She teams up with Bicki, a young man from the indigenous Bugun community, to seek clues about what the future has in store for the moths. Together, Mansi and Bicki traverse the landscape, meticulously working night after night to put up light screens that transform into a dynamic canvas with moths of varying sizes, designs and textures, creating a painterly effect with their form, movement and color. Meanwhile, the human beings wait, watch and listen with patient anticipation and wonder. By focusing on a small, ephemeral, nocturnal creature like the moth, Nocturnes seeks to question a human-centric view of the world. The lush forest, throbbing with a vast diversity of life, emerges as a breath-taking character as the film responds to the symphony of sounds and the inherent rhythms of the trees, the wind and the rain. The result is a rare and transformative experience that invites us all to look with more attention and care at the hidden interconnections in nature.

Luther: Never Too Much

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. Luther Vandross always thought he would be a star. In Luther: Never Too Much, director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) traces that journey to stardom, beginning with his formative years at the epicenter of black culture, Harlem’s very own Apollo Theater, through to his big break with David Bowie, where he would go on to sing background vocals and arrange Bowie’s iconic Young Americans album. Porter explores his process of creation, an exacting style that culminated in the most exquisite compositions, and delves into the man behind the music — insights from musicians and friends alongside archival interviews with Luther himself that reveal his humor, frustrations, loneliness, personal issues, and unwavering dedication to his craft as expressed through his exquisite music, experienced here in a new light. Both new converts and devout admirers from back in the day will enjoy this sensitive and joyous exploration of the life and career of a performer who left us way too soon.

Aftershock

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

In October 2019, 30-year-old Shamony Gibson tragically died 13 days following the birth of her son. Two months later, the film team began documenting Shamony’s surviving mother, Shawnee Benton Gibson, and bereaved partner, Omari Maynard, as they began to process what happened and figure out their new normal.

In April 2020, 26-year-old Amber Rose Isaac, died due to an emergency c-section. Within weeks of Amber’s death, Omari reaches out to Amber’s surviving partner Bruce McIntyre and a lifelong bond is formed. Together, Omari and Bruce begin the fight for justice for their partners with their families and community by their side, while caring for their children as newly single parents. The film witness these two families become ardent activists in the maternal health space, seeking justice through legislation, medical accountability, community, and the power of art. Their work introduces a myriad of people including a growing brotherhood of surviving Black fathers, along with the work of midwives and physicians on the ground fighting for institutional reform. Through their collective journeys, the film brings us to the front lines of the growing birth justice movement that is demanding systemic change within our medical system and government.


This is a special screening on Saturday, April 6 at 1pm at Ringling College. A panel discussion will follow. The panel is led by Dr. Washington Hill, Founding Director, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System, Senior Physician CenterPlace Health.


Admission to this event is free.

Soundtrack to a Coup d'Etat

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Jazz and global history have never intertwined in such a compelling and convincing manner as in Johan Grimomprez’s Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat, an engrossing documentary that examines how the great American art form and geopolitics collide in a nefarious chapter of Cold War history: the murder of Patrice Lumumba. The year is 1960, the Voice of America Jazz Hour broadcasts the likes of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie behind the Iron Curtain, while a wave of decolonization movements tears through the African continent and the struggle for civil rights marches on stateside. Beat by beat, director Johan Grimonprez traces Lumumba’s rise of the 36-year-old independence leader to become Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister—and how corporate and colonial interests, along with machinations at the United Nations, conspired in his assassination. Deeply researched, the film interweaves archival records, home movies, newly unearthed speeches by Lumumba, and published memoirs by Congolese activists and writers with the story of the Black jazz legends (Armstrong, Gillespie, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln among others) who defined the era in more ways than one. Pulsating with the energy of the period, Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat plays like both a dense historical text and a lively jazz concert while proving itself to be an invigorating piece of documentary filmmaking.

Organic Rising

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. Organic Rising demystifies organic agriculture for the consumer. U.S. consumers are confronted with the U.S.D.A. organic label on a daily basis but only a handful of people know what it represents. Director Anthony Suau provides us with a thorough guide on the history of organic farming, the regulatory practices, and most of all the farming practices that have led to organic produce at your local grocery store or outdoor market. And to understand what organic is, it is also necessary to know what organics is not. Suau also takes a close look at conventional agriculture through the voices of farmers and renowned scientists. The research presented by the scientists, on the human and the environmental effects of synthetic pesticides, is profoundly disturbing and unprecedented. Organic Rising is a profound look that demystifies the regulatory process and farming methods to give us informed choices for maintaining a strong and robust agricultural future.

Daughters

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Audience Award Winner: Documentary, Sundance Film Festival. In 2019, inmates of a Washington DC jail are given the opportunity to attend a father-daughter dance held in the prison gym. After a ten-week “responsible fatherhood” counseling program, and much soul-searching on both sides of the bars, the men reconnect with their offspring for just a few hours. But while the contact may be short, this sensitive, powerful documentary shows that the effects can be far-reaching. Co-directed by Natalie Rae and Angela Patton, CEO of Black advocacy group Girls For A Change and founder of the ‘Date With Dad’ program documented here, Daughters places its focus on these girls who are left behind when men are incarcerated. With the ages of the daughters ranging from five to 15 years-old at the start of filming, both their and their fathers’ frankness and honesty give this documentary an emotional authenticity which challenges many stereotypes around incarceration and serves as a poignant reminder that maintaining family bonds can be both healing and empowering. We get to witness a lot of joy, but Rae and Patton don’t shy away from more challenging moments, including heartbreak, skepticism, reluctance to engage, and anger. While this life-changing program is not a magic bullet, it emerges as one very important step on the road to change.

Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge Present: The Making of Within Us -The 25th Anniversary Album

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

One of Central Florida’s most celebrated jazz ensembles embarks on the exciting journey of celebrating and recording their 25th Anniversary Album “Within Us”. While in the midst of the COVID uncertainty, we gain a fascinating and informative inside look at the creative process of how a jazz big band recording evolves. From finding inspiration, to reuniting with old friends, to performing extremely difficult music with technical issues and having the studio being shut down in the middle of recording, this inside look at the process of recording and releasing a big band jazz album moves through a range of emotions and gives insight into the creativity, patience and resilience of the band and their composer, Chuck Owens, who shows what “Within Us” means.


Common Ground

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Common Ground is the highly anticipated sequel to the juggernaut success documentary Kiss the Ground, which touched over 1 billion people globally and inspired the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to put $20 billion toward soil health. By fusing journalistic exposé with deeply personal stories from those on the front lines of the food movement, Common Ground unveils a dark web of money, power, and politics behind our broken food system. The film reveals how unjust practices forged our current farm system while profiling a hopeful and uplifting movement of white, black, and indigenous farmers who are using alternative “regenerative” models of agriculture that could balance the climate, save our health, and stabilize America’s economy – before it’s too late. Common Ground is the recipient of the 2023 Human/Nature Award, a prize established to amplify a film that best exemplifies solution-oriented environmental storytelling.

Susan Feniger: Forked

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. When celebrity chef Susan Feniger decides to open her own restaurant without her longtime business partner Mary Sue Milliken, the task is daunting. With no support from their co-owned restaurant kitchens and staff, Feniger must use her home to test brand new recipes, figure out design and construction, gather the team, and basically start over like a “newbie.” Her dream is to open a new Los Angeles restaurant serving global street food: Susan Feniger’s STREET. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and Feniger’s spouse Liz Lachman, a constant companion on her journey, follows Feniger across the globe tasting street food and bonding with the street stand owners, and all the way back home where she tackles the logistics of the opening. In this wildly entertaining film, Lachman covers Feniger’s passions and struggles in a business where often it’s not about IF one fails…but HOW.

Lady Like

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

London-born, ballet-trained, San Francisco-based Rex Wheeler, known to the world as drag queen Lady Camden, is catapulted into the spotlight when he becomes a contestant on season 14 of RuPual’s Drag Race. As Rex/Lady struggles to manage the demands of newfound fame, he must come to terms with a traumatic childhood in Camden that drove him to seek joy, fantasy, and escape through the performing arts. Tracing the journey from local San Francisco queen to international celebrity, this inventive and heartfelt film explores how Lady Camden helped Rex deal with his past traumas and embrace the joys of life.

Highlighting the art of drag as a tool for hope, purpose and healing for so many in the queer community, Lady Like is a fitting celebration of an artist who, no matter how hard the fall, they’ll always pick themselves back up.

Porcelain War

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. U.S. Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival. Amidst the chaos and destruction of the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, three artists defiantly find inspiration and beauty as they defend their culture and their country. In a war waged by professional soldiers against ordinary civilians, Slava Leontyev, Anya Stasenko, and Andrey Stefanov choose to stay behind, armed with their art, their cameras, and, for the first time in their lives, their guns. Despite daily shelling, Anya finds resistance and purpose in her art, Andrey takes the dangerous journey to get his young family to safety abroad, and Slava becomes a weapons instructor for ordinary people who have become unlikely soldiers. As the war intensifies, Andrey picks up his camera to film their story, and with tiny porcelain figurines, Anya and Slava capture their idyllic past, uncertain present, and hope for the future.

My Name is Alfred Hitchcock

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

2022 marked the hundred-year anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature. A century on, Hitchcock remains one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. But how does his vast body of work and legacy hold up in today’s society? Mark Cousins, the award-winning filmmaker behind The Story Of Film: An Odyssey, The Eyes of Orson Welles and The Story of Film: A New Generation tackles this question. Armed with clips from Hitchcock’s biggest hits as well as his rarely-screened features, Cousins’s one-of-a-kind mischievous documentary allows “the director himself” (with the help of actor-impersonator Alistair McGowan) to take the viewer on an entertaining journey through his favorite narrative and stylistic tricks. As Hitchcock rewatches his films and reflects on them in all his sardonic humor and tongue-in-cheek pomposity, we are taken on an educational, entertaining odyssey through his vast career – his vivid silent films, the legendary films of the 1950s and 60s and his later works – in playful and revealing ways.

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Taking Venice

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government is determined to fight Communism with culture. The Venice Biennale, the world’s most influential art exhibition, becomes a proving ground for them in 1964. Alice Denney, Washington insider and friend of the Kennedys, recommends Alan Solomon, an ambitious curator making waves with trailblazing art, to organize the U.S. entry. Together with Leo Castelli, a powerful New York art dealer, they embark on a daring plan to make emerging artist Robert Rauschenberg the winner of the Grand Prize. The artist is yet to be taken seriously with his combinations of junk off the street and images from pop culture, but he has the potential to dazzle. Deftly pulling off maneuvers that could have come from a Hollywood thriller, the American team leaves the international press crying foul and Rauschenberg questioning the politics of nationalism that sent him there. Rumors about this “plot” have swirled for decades; Taking Venice lays it all out in thrilling fashion.

How To Come Alive With Norman Mailer

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. Norman Mailer is routinely valorized as one of the preeminent writers of the 20th century, but the brash, swaggering persona he cultivated and the controversies he invited stood in stark opposition to his upbringing. Born in Brooklyn to a typical middle-class Jewish family, Mailer was accepted into Harvard at age 16 where he discovered his talent as a writer. Drafted into the army during WWII, his experience as an insecure rifleman would form the basis for his first best-selling book, “The Naked and the Dead.” At 25, Mailer was hailed as the new Tolstoy and catapulted onto the world stage. A tumultuous series of personal and professional events follow, including an involuntary commitment to Bellevue after stabbing his second wife, winning Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards, and even having an unsuccessful bid for Mayor of New York. Gunning for the Hollywood success that had always eluded him, his antagonism results in an infamous event involving Rip Torn and a hammer on the set of his film Maidstone. Zimbalist’s deft documentary portrait of Mailer connects his story to many aspects of the current discourse around cancel culture, censorship, and free speech, finding new relevancy in his work for our current times. A bounty of interviews including Oliver Stone, John Waters, and ex-wives provides insightful new context while previously unseen footage and candid interviews with Mailer himself present the notorious literary lion in all of his complicated duality.

The Death Tour

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Each winter, when the lakes freeze over, a motley gang of professional wrestlers leaves Winnipeg on a one-of-a-kind wrestling trip through remote Indigenous communities of Northern Manitoba. Wrestling insiders call it the “Death Tour” – both for the physical hardships endured on the road and the emotional toll it takes on those who experience it. Famous for its star-studded alumni, the trip offers wrestlers a rare taste of fame and a chance to see if they have what it takes to make it in professional wrestling. But the tour goes both ways: as the wrestlers develop their skills they also provide entertainment for the communities in the dead of winter and form personal connections with audience members, especially the kids. From the taunting and body slams comes a warm documentary that travels through Canada’s frozen North and into the wrestlers’ minds as they battle the elements, each other, and the impacts of North America’s colonial past.

Left Alone Rhapsody – The Musical Memoir of Pianist John Bayless

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. At 25, Leonard Bernstein protégé John Bayless debuted at Carnegie Hall, performing “Rhapsody in Blue” with full orchestra, initiating a 30-year-long concert and recording career as a solo pianist, composer, and improvisor. At 54, a left-brain stroke immobilized his right side.The music stopped. John’s magical ‘first act’ disappeared. Left Alone Rhapsody – The Musical Memoir of Pianist John Bayless chronicles John’s rise from four-year-old Texas musical prodigy to international star; his fall post-stroke and struggle to transcend paralysis; and his determination to reinvent himself as a one-handed musician and storyteller. The question is: With just his left hand alone, how far will he go? This is John’s musical story.


In Attendance: John Bayless, Stewart M. Schulman, Director

Minted

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

In the gripping documentary, director Nicholas Bruckman masterfully delves into the captivating and often perplexing world of the forty-billion-dollar NFT (non-fungible token) digital art market, chronicling its meteoric highs and lows through the perspective of artists around the globe. Through a combination of vérité footage, candid interviews, and powerful archival film, Bruckman expertly weaves together the multifaceted story of this groundbreaking phenomenon. The film introduces us to a rich tapestry of artists who have found incredible success in this new landscape, such as Beeple, the creator of the record-breaking $69 million artwork, to emerging artists from the U.S., Latin America, and Africa, whose lives are forever changed by this technology. Minted spans the entire arc of the NFT craze, from its early origins in digital art, to the explosive boom in 2021, to its dramatic crash in 2022. Bruckman doesn’t shy away from presenting the critical voices within the NFT conversation who question the long-term viability and social implications of NFTs. It’s a fascinating exploration of the perils and possibilities of this volatile and vibrant world, offering insights into the very essence of human creativity, the value of art, and the transformative power of technology.

Swamp Dogg Gets His Pool Painted

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. Jerry Williams had his first national chart success in 1966, when “Baby You’re My Everything”, which he co-wrote and produced, rose to #32 on the R&B chart. He subsequently produced the likes of Patti LaBelle and wrote and co-wrote hit songs, most notably the country smash “She’s All I Got.” In 1970 he created Swamp Dogg “to have an alter-ego and someone to occupy the body while the search party was out looking for Jerry Williams, who was mentally missing in action due to certain pressures, maltreatments and failure to get paid royalties on over fifty single records.” In this new persona he has released a number of individual, uncompromising, critically-acclaimed if not commercially successful soul and R&B albums beginning with 1970’s classic Total Destruction To Your Mind. Replete with archival footage and his deep catalog of music, Swamp Dogg Gets His Pool Painted takes us to his Southern California abode, where he looks back at his unique career, holds court when friends drop by, and continues to make music. Along with housemates Moogstar and Guitar Shorty, he has transformed the home into an artistic playground. Together, they navigate the tumultuous music industry, forging a unique and inspiring bond across time and space.

This is a Film About The Black Keys

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

East Coast Premiere. This Is a Film About The Black Keys traces Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s journey from a home basement jamming session in Akron, Ohio to rock ’n’ roll super-stardom. They barely knew each other when they made their first recordings, yet quickly realized they shared a powerful musical connection and a drive to succeed. Touring relentlessly for ten years, the duo navigated the highs and lows of life on the road, finally reaching escape velocity with their hit records “Brothers” and “El Camino.” As so many forces have threatened to pull them apart, the band has managed to stick together. Twenty-four years on, they’re tighter than ever, still making great music and still asking what’s next.

Sugarcane

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Directing Award: US Documentary, Sundance Film Festival. In 2021 an investigation of unmarked graves at an Indian residential school and long-circulating, long-denied, rumors of physical and sexual abuse at St. Joseph’s Mission, a Catholic-run Indigenous boarding school that operated until 1981 in British Columbia, ignite a reckoning in the lives of survivors and their descendants, including the film’s co-director whose father was born—and nearly buried—at the school. Both intimate and epic, Sugarcane follows co-director Julian Brave NoiseCat and others as the investigation ranges from the school grounds to the Vatican. Drawing on their backgrounds in activism and journalism — as well as NoiseCat’s own personal connection to the story and community — the filmmakers deftly weave together multiple strands to form this compelling, heartbreaking narrative. Demonstrating unparalleled humanity, compassion, and grace for the affected Indigenous communities in North America, their powerful documentary operates from a place of pure and total empathy. At the same time, NoiseCat and Kassie recognize the resilience of the survivors and their descendants, and their unflagging determination to seek answers to long-buried secrets.

No One Asked You

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. No One Asked You follows reproductive rights organization Abortion Access Front over five years at the frontlines of the escalating war over Roe Vs. Wade. Led by The Daily Show co-creator, comedian, and disruptor-extraordinaire Lizz Winstead, the intrepid team of activists and comics battles misogyny with comedy on their “Habitat for Humanity Meets USO Tour” to connect communities, eradicate abortion stigma and protect choice for all. Winstead and her merry band of activists take us to the very front lines, risking their own safety by coming face-to-face with clinic protestors by day and performing and raising awareness by night. An urgent and humorous account of the serious work that this audacious group is doing to battle misogyny and fight for reproductive rights in a divided country.


In Attendance: Andrea Raby, Producer

Stylebender

Sarasota Film Festival 2024

Florida Premiere. An intimate look at Israel Adesanya, the Nigerian born New Zealand based MMA champion, which goes beyond the ring and delves deep into an unlikely fighter’s journey. Exploring themes of masculinity, bullying and even the healing power of dance, this documentary is a poignant examination of the complex, exciting and sometimes controversial person known as “The Last Stylebender.” Zoe McIntosh traces Adesanya’s UFC career starting with his 2019 middleweight title win. In the process, she unwraps a fascinating portrait of the modern athlete, charismatic and complex in equal measure. Both MMA fanatics and those who have never seen a match will find Adesanya’s journey toward greatness captivating, engrossing, and illustrative of the larger-than-life personality you need to succeed in athletics.

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