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SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL 2009 – Thursday, April 2nd and Friday, April 3rd

As expected, the arrival of so many filmmakers thwarted my plans for daily updates in the latter half of the week, but I still want to post my reaction to the films I saw in Sarasota to preserve this year’s experience, for it was a very, very good one. And now, here are Thursday and Friday’s keepers…

Sorry, Thanks — I couldn’t agree more with Lena Dunham’s take on producer Dia Sokol’s directorial debut. While her review could be interpreted somewhat negatively with its mentions of words like “commercialism” and “sheen,” Dunham nonetheless points out why Sorry, Thanks is a more interesting diversion than it reads on paper. The truth is that nothing much happens in Sokol’s film, and, in many ways, the set-up of each scene recalls television more than cinema, but for some reason this is what makes Sorry, Thanks ride such an interesting line between commercial and the complete opposite of commercial. That said, I look forward to seeing Sokol apply her gift for sharp writing and ability to elicit such casual performances to a more propulsive tale in the future (even as I understand that this was her primary purpose for telling this tale in this manner).

21 Below — Samantha Buck’s documentary about one Buffalo family’s tumultuous interrelations is a very sobering experience. As the Q&A unfolded following the first screening, I coined a new phrase to describe its impact on viewers: B.Y.O.P. (Bring Your Own Prejudice). It was fascinating to witness the audience’s personal reactions, for they all seemed to bring their own baggage to the story that had unfolded on screen. As for the footage itself, it too is fascinating; it’s like watching a strangely familiar train wreck (or maybe that’s just because I grew up with three sisters). Buck’s film says a lot about how complicated and impossible families can be, but it also works as a visceral update on the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner theory. Ultimately, class, not race, appears to be the cause of so much of the friction between the mother and daughter, but the insertion of an African American boyfriend nonetheless plays a vital role in giving 21 Below a new angle on the family dysfunction non-fiction genre.

Loot — I thought Darius Marder’s film was incredible when I first saw it at last year’s Hamptons International Film Festival, but watching it for a second time packed an even more devastating punch. This time, I was able to appreciate the film’s deceptively brilliant construction more fully. What begins as an outright comedy turns into something infinitely more dramatic by the end. Having seen it again, I’m even more amazed at how miraculously the pieces connect in this story about fathers and sons, guilty consciences, and the devastating impact of war on regular men’s psyches. Loot is an unbelievably good film.

Lookin’ To Get Out (Director’s Cut) — Jon Voight and Burt Young were in attendance for what turned out to be the SFF’s main event, the world premiere screening of the director’s cut of Hal Ashby’s 1982 comedy. It didn’t disappoint. While it might sit behind Scarecrow and California Split in my own personal list of buddy movies of this particular ilk, Lookin’ To Get Out is still a laugh-out-loud zany romp of a ride. As good as Voight is, Young steals the show. Having now seen this version of this film in such a high profile setting, my admiration and appreciation of Ashby has only grown deeper.

The Family Jams — (Two disclosures, if I may, as I feel that I should: 1) The Family Jams director Kevin Barker is my former roommate. 2) Vetiver is one of my favorite bands.) While it’s hard to remove these disclosures from the equation, I felt a whole lot better after sitting with an audience of strangers—many of whom confessed to knowing nothing about Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, and Andy Cabic (Vetiver)—and realizing that they too found Barker’s intimate portrait of this unit’s pre-breakout 2004 tour to be very special. For fans of these artists, it’s a must-see, yet both screenings of The Family Jams in Sarasota firmly established that this film plays to the uninitiated as well.

— Michael Tully

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Michael Tully is an award-winning writer/director whose films have garnered widespread critical acclaim, his projects having premiered at some of the most renowned film festivals across the globe. He is also the former (and founding) editor of this site. In 2006, Michael's first feature, COCAINE ANGEL, chronicling a tragic week in the life of a young drug addict, world premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film immediately solidified the director as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s "25 New Faces of Independent Film,” a reputation that was reinforced a year later when his follow-up feature, SILVER JEW, a documentary capturing the late David Berman's rare musical performances in Tel Aviv, world-premiered at SXSW and landed distribution with cult indie-music label Drag City. In 2011, Michael wrote, directed, and starred in his third feature, SEPTIEN, which debuted at the 27th annual Sundance Film Festival before being acquired by IFC Films' Sundance Selects banner. A few years later, in 2014, Michael returned to Sundance with the world premiere of his fourth feature, PING PONG SUMMER, an ‘80s set coming-of-age tale that was quickly picked up for theatrical distribution by Gravitas Ventures. In 2018, Michael wrote and directed the dread-inducing genre film DON'T LEAVE HOME, which has been described as "Get Out with Catholic guilt in the Irish countryside" (IndieWire). The film premiered at SXSW and was subsequently acquired by Cranked Up Films and Shudder.

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