As the Sarasota Film Society celebrates two decades of its popular annual film festival, Cine-World, we take a look at three of this weekend’s big features

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Published Nov. 3, 2009

A still from Delta Rising, which will be screened at Burns Court Cinemas at 5:45 p.m. Sun., Nov. 8

Cine-World Film Festival
Burns Court Cinemas: 506 Burns Lane, Sarasota, 1-10 p.m. Nov. 6-12; Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, 10715 Rodeo Drive, Lakewood Ranch, 7:45-10 p.m. Nov. 7-12; 955-3456 or filmsociety.org.

The Sarasota Film Festival has become a sizable event in the movie-making industry and our city loves its brief time in the spotlight each spring. But in the off-season, another festival has been entertaining our film-feinding citizenry for the past two decades: Cine-World.

This year’s edition features an impressive list of domestic, foreign and documentary films, screened at Sarasota Film Society’s Burns Court and Lakewood Ranch Cinemas. The Film Society continues its tradition of bringing in top-notch independent movies filled with big-name actors from countries all over the world, and mixing in local flicks and smaller projects that made it happen without the Hollywood budget. This year’s Cine-World selections reveal the many tiers of film production, and prove that no matter what kind of money, talent or location you’re working with, it all comes down to passion. We spoke with the directors from three of the festival’s films to get a glimpse into their process. (And don’t forget, we’re giving away to “Black Passes” to the festival.)

Special O’Laughics
Burns Court: 3:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 7

Sarasota filmmaker Ken Sons filmed Special O’Laughics at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre. The movie highlights club owner Les McCurdy and his work with a group of mentally challenged adults trying to fulfill their dream of becoming stand-up comedians. McCurdy got the idea to start a comedy class for mentally handicapped people after a character in the film, Greg Bates, started showing up to perform at some of his amateur nights. At first McCurdy thought Bates was just quirky, but when he realized Bates actually had a mental condition, he saw it as a calling to do some good.

Sons and McCurdy have been friends since childhood, and have performed as a comedy duo for the past 24 years. So when McCurdy thought they should make a documentary about his new comedy classes, Sons jumped on board. “It was a great experience for us personally,” says Sons. “We didn’t know what it was going to end up being, but they just got better and better and really blossomed. And it was great to have my best buddy in the lead role.”

McCurdy may play the lead, but the stars of the show are his students. It’s inspiring to watch how these people with disabilities are able to overcome their insecurities little by little each class. In the beginning they are very timid and quiet. McCurdy goes around the room asking each member to tell a joke, and it’s hard to imagine some of them performing, let alone delivering a complete comedy routine. But by the end they are all on stage in front of a packed house, hamming it up like pros.

“For us the biggest thing was the final performance,” says Sons. “They all went higher than anything we had seen to that date. Each class they were getting more comfortable with themselves, but the night of the show they all rose to the occasion and far exceeded anything we could have imagined. It’s been a really uplifting story to see them experience these lofty goals.”

Delta Rising
Burns Court: 5:45 p.m. Sun., Nov. 8

The documentary Delta Rising focuses on the impact that blues music from the Mississippi Delta had, and still has, on history and culture. The film revolves around the small town of Clarksdale, Miss., where blues legends such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker developed a sound that would ultimately change the course of popular music. The movie, co-directed by Michael Afendakis and Laura Bernieri, introduces some of the memorable characters that make up the modern Clarksdale blues scene.

The project began seven years ago when Afendakis started making a documentary about a San Francisco blues musician named Chris Cotton, who was embarking on a musical pilgrimage to Clarksdale. “We really picked up on this vibe going on,” says Afendakis. “We found out that Morgan Freeman owns a club there called Ground Zero. So I spent a year tracking him down. That Morgan Freeman interview just led to the whole thing. He is so ingrained in that community.” When Bernieri heard about the project she jumped off a feature film she was working on to join the effort. “I was scouting in Clarksdale on a different project and Michael had put together an hour-long piece on Chris Cotton,” she says. “I told him we should cut out 50 minutes of Cotton and add in the Ground Zero stuff. We decided to make it more about the evolution of the music and where it is now.”

The film showcases a number of lovable personalities: Willie Nelson, James Montgomery, Jimbo Mathus, Ruby Wilson, Pinetop Perkins, James “Super Chikan” Johnson and other blues greats who tell stories that bring home the real spirit of the Delta. “I had never wanted to go to Mississippi but it really opened my eyes,” says Afendakis, “just meeting those musicians and hearing about these amazing lives they led. They were picking cotton and blues was just part of their lives.” Bernieri says the goal was to show people where the true origin of modern music came from. “We had Pinetop Perkins and Honeyboy Edwards on there, who are both in their 90s. They’re considered some of the last original bluesmen. They were the roots music. It started with black people and that translated into rock and roll, and the black music went into soul, which led into rap. So we wanted to give people an idea of the roots of music.”

Looking for Palladin
Burns Court: 3:15 p.m. Fri., Nov. 6 and 8 p.m. Mon., Nov. 9; Lakewood Ranch: 7:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 11

Looking for Palladin is a feature film by director Andrzej Krakowski about an arrogant young Hollywood agent named Josh Ross (David Moscow) who travels to Guatemala to offer a million-dollar movie role to Jack Palladin (Ben Gazzara), a two-time Oscar-winning actor and the former husband of Ross’ late mother. Ross expects the trip to be quick and painless, but locating Palladin is a feat, and getting him to accept his offer even more so. The encounter ends up becoming a soul-searching journey for both characters.

Krakowski spent four months in Guatemala working on the film: “You’re fighting two stereotypes,” he says. “One is the ugly American and the other is the movie industry.” The Guatemalan government was hesitant at first due to money issues, but Krakowski assured them their cooperation was more important than any funding. “What our film did for Guatemala is amazing. They wanted to open Guatemala for film production, but they had no infrastructure. So we put together their first insurance program and the actual film infrastructure and the government funding… It was like a dream. Until you go there you don’t have an idea. The way the U.S, media presents it, Americans remember a junta in Guatemala. They don’t realize it has been a stable democracy for the past 20 years.”

Assembling the multinational cast and crew was challenging, but experience paid off. “In terms of the actors, I knew that Ben would be perfect for this role. He’s an icon. I mean this is the guy that played Stanley Kowalski on Broadway before Marlon Brando took it over. In terms of the crew we decided that it should be a Guatemalan project. I learned a long time ago that if you are shooting in a foreign country you want to get as many local people as possible because they know where everything is at.”

Krakowski’s main goal with the film was bringing generational issues to light. “The ability of self-analysis has been lost on us. It’s never our own fault. Our generation was all about being free, but the freedom got to us and in the process it has destroyed the structure of the family. That’s why this film is so important for us. It’s a social statement about how we screw up as parents and as children and as human beings. Let’s face it — it’s our own fault.”

 

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