Tale of two film festivals

Sarasota and Pensacola are about the same size. Pensacola has a dinky film festival that has a quiet cult following. It lasts two or three days – it’s sort of hard to figure out if the films playing at some of the venues are part of the festival or just showing at the theaters.

The 2008 Sarasota Film Festival lasts nine days. It’s opening night screening of director Steven Schachter’s comedy “The Deal,” and its Opening Night Gala at the Ringling Museum sold out last night. There will be film screenings, workshops and panels, the KidFest and other events throughout the festival 9-day run -attracting about 45,000 people. www.sarasotafilmfestival.com

Sarasota Film Festival is in its 10th year. It was created to promote tourism and stimulate the local economy. One thing that Sarasota has done successfully is attract stars to their event. At its first festival, they showed eight films, including two world premieres. Celebrity appearances included Samantha Mathis, Jonathan Silverman and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin.

The next year (1999) more than 30 films were shown and attendance jumped from a mere 2,500 to 7,000 with appearances from Jon Voight and Brooke Shields. And its taken off since then. This year’s guest list has more than 200 people from the film industry.

Pensacola Film Festival’s big star has been the villain from Kindergarten Cop.

The Film Festival is a fantastic idea – especially to draw attention (and dollars) to our area in the shoulder seasons. Tom Roush has selected some excellent films over the years, but the chamber, business community and local government haven’t embraced it.

Sadly, it may go away like the Pensacola Open/Blue Angel Classic, SpringFest, First Night Pensacola, Grace Fest, etc. We are a city of minor festivals….which may be what some people want because it spreads our meager sponsor dollars around to more groups.