This soon after the holidays, it's difficult to get excited about an out-of-town car trip. If you want to put your life and limb in the hands of lunatics with acceleration issues, bumper cars fill the bill nicely. You don't even have to pack a lunch.
The exception to the rule is next week's Sarasota Film Festival, a clear lure to all but the most road-wary movie buffs. Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 10, more than 125 independent films will be shown on six screens at the city's downtown Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20 Theatres. The five-day, five-night slate of screenings, tribute dinners and other special events is expected to draw the likes of Alan Alda, Danny Aiello, Rod Steiger, Tippi Hedren and Sean Young as guests.
Now, you and I both know that predicting Sean Young's behavior is risky business. (The odds are better with the bumper cars.) But even if the self-styled Catwoman ends up going AWOL, it won't interfere with the festival's emerging reputation for attracting top-flight talent. Two years ago, executive director Jody Kielbasa oversaw a debut event that, though limited to eight films, hosted Jon Favreau, Marlee Matlin and Jonathan Silverman. Its successor welcomed Jon Voight, Ismail Merchant, Brooke Shields, D.B. Sweeney and Gena Rowlands.
Kielbasa, a graduate of Florida State University, credits his nine-year theater career in Los Angeles for much of the festival's upward trend. First as an actor, then as a theater owner, he built up the contacts he now exploits when talking Hollywood players into taking working vacations in Florida.
Having the Regal chain on board as a presenting sponsor has helped the festival to grow from its first-year attendance of 2,800 into breaking the 10,000 barrier, which is expected to happen next week.
"The whole town gets a buzz," Kielbasa says, "an electricity."
Having good films helps. This year's crop includes opening-night offering "Dinner Rush," a family drama set in a New York City restaurant and directed by 1980s MTV kingpin Bob Giraldi. Aiello, the picture's star, will be in Sarasota with Giraldi and featured player Summer Phoenix.
Alda has been designated to receive the festival's Career Achievement Award. His appearance ties into the world premiere of "Clubland," a 1950s period piece Kielbasa calls "somewhat of a departure" for the "M*A*S*H" veteran and sensitive-male prototype. (So he doesn't wear a sweater this time?) The international beat is upheld by entries like the Norwegian "Aberdeen," writer/director Hans Petter Moland's drama about a hopeless alcoholic's familial estrangements.
Florida filmmaking is represented as well, though Kielbasa admits that "not a lot" of submissions came from within the state. The biggest surprise is "The Bags" (The Green Room, Oct. 19), the low-budget horror comedy Queequeg Films introduced at October's Kissimmee Film Festival. "It's a fun film," Kielbasa says.
The only thing that hasn't grown in proportion with the Sarasota Film Festival's pedigree is its personnel list. A full-time staff of only two ("I hope to add a third by the end of the year," Kielbasa says) means big responsibility for a big volunteer base. This year, an estimated 125 workers are needed -- "But we don't know if we're going to get them."
Just promise them a seat next to Hedren. And if that doesn't work, remind them that she's not bringing Melanie Griffith.
Not to be outdone, our area's Loews Universal Cineplex 20 is hosting its own mini film festival just two days before the Sarasota event begins. It seems that Monday, Jan. 8, is Elvis Presley's birthday, an occasion the CityWalk cinema will mark with screenings of Viva Las Vegas and King Creole. The preshow entertainment comes from Elvis impersonator Al Silva. I caught Silva's act during last February's Elvis Fest 2000 convention at the Holiday Inn on I-Drive, and he's a fair approximation of the real thing -- though with a bit of Lorenzo Lamas around the edges.
What's that? You'd still rather be meeting Sean Young? I hear ya.
Like a statue
My favorite fine-art joke is the one about the vandals who broke into the Louvre and put arms on the Venus de Milo. In that spirit, there's creative reconstruction going on this month at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, where visitors can watch Italian master sculptor Roberto Santo work on a re-creation of the late Polasek's 1939 figurative piece "Victorious Christ." (Translation for you wrestling fans: "Christ, Two Falls Out of Three.") Polasek crafted the original sculpture for the high altar at St. Cecilia's Cathedral in Omaha, Neb.; it depicts the crucified savior looking toward the heavens in expectation of his ascension.
Santo's residency, expected to be in full swing by next week, is the first installment in the museum's Artist-in-Action program, an educational initiative designed to deepen the layman's understanding of the sculpting process. The artist will be available to answer questions as he toils away on "Victorious Christ"; a more complete probing of his methods will be possible after the re-creation is complete and he sets to work on some original pieces (probably in February). Until then, "because Albin done it that way" is likely to be his final answer.
Santo is on "artist's hours" during the sculpt-in, which means that his sessions will follow no set schedule. Call (407) 647-6294 before you drop by.
Chuluota painter Carl Knickerbocker has found a new avenue of exposure for his cartoonish, socially conscious images. Thanks to the State Department's Art in Embassies program, a couple of Knickerbocker's works will spend the next two years hanging in the U.S. ambassador's residence in Lilonge, Malawi. Or so Knickerbocker was promised last September, when the department notified him that he had been selected for the program; right now, he's wondering if the onset of a new administration will leave his art without an African home after all. Maybe he can circumvent the issue by applying for the ambassadorship itself.