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The Sarasota Film Festival: Sun, Fun, and Herzog

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By Mark Rabinowitz

IFC News

I just got back from the 2006 Sarasota Film Festival and boy is my liver tired!

I tell you, when they invite you to a festival, they never tell you that you might end up at 5am drinking and smoking in a hotel a room full of gay, lesbian and transgendered MCs and filmmakers! Four days and not once did I get out of the room early enough for the maid to tidy up — I’d like to extend a personal apology to whoever had to clean my room…I left you an extra large tip. But lest you think the fest is just one, long party…

When my friend Tom Hall took over as programmer of SFF two years ago, I knew the fest and the city were in for something special. If there’s anyone who could take a small on-again, off-again festival and bump it up a few notches, programming-wise, it’s Tom. To paraphrase the Bard, I don’t mean to bury the pre-Hall fest as much as I mean to praise the current incarnation — executive director Jody Kielbasa, Hall and the active members of the executive board have worked tirelessly to raise the festival to its current level. It’s even more amazing when one is reminded that only two years ago, SFF’s jury refused to award a prize to any of the competition films, opting instead to seed a fund for emerging Florida filmmakers.

By way of introduction, let me point out that I am a festival addict, having been to 80-some events in the past 13 years. I seen festivals so badly organized and programmed that my colleagues and I decided not to write about them at all in order to give the event a chance to grow, and I have been to festivals so fantastic that I intend to be a lifelong attendee. While I won’t go so far as to firmly place Sarasota in the latter category, it’s certainly in the running for hall of fame status and I’m putting the organizers on note that next year I am going down for the duration!

The city of Sarasota is small (I mean small — I was sleeping in my hotel when my airport driver called and woke me up at 9:52am, and by 10:16am I had checked in my bag at the airport), but is a haven for the arts, both performing and visual. I’ve never attended a festival with the level of community support shown to the SFF — not only in audience attendance but also in cold, hard cashish. The fest board and community is forthcoming in helping the organization meet its financial goals, which allows the festival to throw a few lavish parties and to charge relatively low prices for them. For example, $60 got attendees a raucous six-plus hour street party with several bars and dozens of food stations serving the best that Sarasota restaurants (another high point of this Gulf Coast locale) had to offer, in addition to a fantastic Latin band and a demonstration of Polynesian and Hawaiian dancing in authentic costumes. And on top of all this, they had Werner Herzog receiving his World Cinema Master award.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a playground for rich film snobs. The SFF has its financial problems, just like almost any other not-for-profit arts endeavor in the US, but it’s nice to see some of our wealthier citizens put their money where their…you know.

Oh…you want to hear about some films? How about the Florida premiere of Cristi Puiu’s festival circuit hit “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (Tartan Films) or the East Coast premiere of Michael Cuesta’s “Twelve and Holding” and John Hyams’ “Rank” (both IFC Films), the East Coast premiere of Michael Tully’s well-received (and Florida-shot) “Cocaine Angel” and Rotterdam Golden Tiger winner (and SFF 2006 Narrative Feature Competition Award winner) “Old Joy” by Kelly Reichardt? Not enough? How about a retrospective of 14 of Werner Herzog’s non-fiction films, including some rarely seen medium-length docs, and the chance to chat with the maestro? Ever gracious, Herzog took time out during the two speeches I heard to make sure the audience thanked the festival staff and volunteers, pointing out all the hard work that goes into making events like the SFF come off. Nice guy.

All in all, Sarasota knows how to put on a great show, for filmmakers, audience and industry, alike. The climate is perfect, the locals friendly and appreciative of both arthouse cinema and mini-major releases and there’s enough going on that boredom is not going to be a problem. Hangovers, fatigue and sore feet from dancing, maybe, but never boredom. Bring on 2007!

2006 Narrative Feature Competition Award: “Old Joy,” directed by Kelly Reichardt, and starring Daniel London and Will Oldham.

Special Jury Prize: “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” directed by Cristi Puiu, and starring Ion Fiscteanu and Luminita Gheorghiu.

2006 Documentary Feature Competition Award: “Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, OR,” directed by Peter Richardson.

Special Jury Prize: “Black Sun,” directed by Gary Tarn.

The 2006 Independent Visions Competition Award: “Find Love,” directed by Erica Dunton.

Special Jury Prize for Screenwriting: “Somebodies,” written and directed by Hadjii.

Special Jury Prize for Originality: “Wild Tigers I Have Known,” directed by Cam Archer.

2006 Sarasota Film Festival Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature: “Neo Ned,” director Van Fischer.

2006 Sarasota Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature: “Abel Raises Cain,” directors Jennifer Abel and Jeff Hockett.

2006 Sarasota Film Festival Audience Award for Best In World Cinema: “Lady Vengeance,” director Chan-Wook Park.

2006 Sarasota Film Festival Audience Award for Best Short Film: “Dammi Il La,” director Matteo Servente.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.