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On The Front at the Sarasota Film Festival

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Volcanic ash from Iceland may have paralyzed air traffic in Europe, preventing honoree John Landis from reaching the west coast of Florida for his tribute, but at the Sarasota Film Festival, the show must go on. "What should we do?" asked the affable Mark Famiglio, festival president who playfully is listed as "Head Poobah," half joking, knowing that attendees would opt to party hearty anyway.

In its 12th year, the festival is much like many, screening top notch films in a gorgeous location, here among palms and marinas, golf courses and gulf beaches, but this festival has a twist, attempting to redefine the business of how films are financed. A group of successful producers and other industry leaders in the world of independent filmmaking, "hand picked" by the festival board's vice president Robert Warren -- among them Ted Hope, Mike Ryan, Ira Sachs, Anthony Bregman and Josh Braun -- convened yesterday for the festival's Investment Lab. "Material, material, material," said Rich Jaycobs evoking the language of real estate, is still the starting point for decision making on any film project.

Most interesting was the trajectory of the day, from conference to the evening's staged reading of Oren Moverman's screenplay for a movie version of the book Queer by William S. Burroughs, to be directed by Steve Buscemi.

You wouldn't expect a film on this material, so fascinatingly subversive, based on the life of the American writer and beat era culture icon who happened to be homosexual, a heroin addict, and who, by the way, accidentally killed his wife in a William Tell routine in Mexico City, to be the centerpiece of a mainstream enterprise, a showcase for the business of film.

So the magic, the blend of inspiration and talents, that made the reading work so well came as something of a happy surprise. With rocker/poet Patti Smith introducing, Buscemi's Olive Productions partner Stanley Tucci narrating -- Buscemi as Lee, Lisa Joyce as the ill-fated Joan, Ben Foster as Allerton, and John Ventimiglia in a variety of roles -- the audience had the privilege of being in on the early stages of a film in process. And the result was thrilling. Investors must be lining up.

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