The Sarasota Film Festival wrapped up its final weekend with a whirlwind of activities, so many that it’s only possible to give a brief flavor of several here. (You can read more about the festival here.)
For me Friday evening started with a screening of Barbara Kopple’s Running From Crazy, a movie about the family of actress Mariel Hemingway that had been discussed earlier, in a Conversation Series event with the star. But actually viewing the film (in a packed Sarasota Opera House) was an emotional experience for everyone, even if you knew little about the family’s history going in. Interviews with Mariel Hemingway were interspersed with lots of footage (some from a documentary begun by her late sister, Margaux) to tell a painful story of the devastation mental illness can wreak.
While the ending brought a feeling of resolution for Hemingway, who wanted to make sure her daughters didn’t suffer from “the family curse,” for some in the audience it was probably something of a relief to escape the theater and head to the festival’s Cinema Tropicale party at the Sarasota Yacht Club. A waterfront breeze kept the evening from feeling too humid, and partygoers sipped, danced and whiled the night away.
I headed Saturday afternoon to another Conversation, this time with actor-director Griffin Dunne, at the Court Cabaret. Interviewed by Steve Dollar of the Wall Street Journal, Dunne, who broke into most filmgoers’ consciousness with An American Werewolf in London, talked about growing up in California with his father, producer-turned-writer Dominick Dunne, and other family members, including uncle John Gregory Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion.
One anecdote tells something about the scene the teenage Dunne experienced in the counterculture 1960s and ’70s: At one party, Janis Joplin was slated to make an appearance. Dunne, 13, wanted to be sure the rock star didn’t see him there with his mother in tow. She agreed to let him be on his own, but he was soon latched on to by a bald man with a German accent who was apparently having a bad acid trip and needed Griffin’s help. “I thought it was Colonel Klink,” Dunne said (from the TV series Hogan’s Heroes). Turns out it was actually film director Otto Preminger, who probably stayed away from LSD after that.
Dunne later moved to New York to become a theater actor, but turned to film producing with the movie Head Over Heels or Chilly Scenes of Winter, from a book by Ann Beattie. “I gave myself a small part that got big laughs,” Dunne recalled. Still, his next director, John Landis for American Werewolf, “didn’t know anything about me,” said Dunne. “We met, but I never saw the script. When I got home, he called me and asked if I wanted to read it, which I had to do with a guard standing outside my apartment door.” When he got the part, he ended up spending hours in the make-up chair with make-up artist Rick Baker to achieve the “monster” look needed for the film.
For many fans, though, it was a later movie, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, that remains one of Dunne’s best. Shot in New York (and rated No. 3 among best New York City movies by Time Out), the movie placed Dunne’s character on an increasingly nightmarish descent into late-night New York–long before there were cell phones to extricate him from his lost and broke dilemma. (Full disclosure: Sarasota Magazine’s own Mr. Chatterbox, Bob Plunket, also appeared in the film and has remained friends with Dunne ever since. Their scene together, toward the movie’s end, was, Dunne said, “the funniest day I ever had on the set.”)
Dunne concentrated in the 1990s more on directing than acting, but returned to the screen most recently in the festival’s The Discoverers, by Justin Schwarz. He’s also currently working on a documentary about his aunt, writer Joan Didion.
There was barely time to leave Dunne’s Conversation to make it back to the opera house in time for the evening’s festival awards, hosted by an engagingly loose Cheryl Hines, who appears in the new movie Pasadena (for a full list of winners, both audience and jury, go to sarasotafilmfestival.com), and a screening of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, starring Greta Gerwig as a 20-something dancer in New York trying to make a go of it–and eventually, to grow up and separate from her best friend (played by Mickey Sumner, who appeared onstage to present the film).
Shot in black and white and detailing Gerwig’s character’s journey from address to address in New York and elsewhere, Frances Ha took a little while to grow on me (perhaps that’s a generational thing). But eventually Gerwig’s appeal and the delicate blend of humor and poignancy in the movie won me over.
Next up: saving the best for last with writer-director-actor Peter Bogdanovich, in a Sunday Conversation.