Of course, traveling to fests isn’t just about the new discoveries. Our visits this year to several other top festivals re-ignited our thinking on their top status.
At #4, Hot Docs is such an obvious
and easy choice that it might be hard to be impressed (this year was our third
trip in a row). But something about returning to Toronto in the spring once again reminds one of just why the festival works so well. One can’t help but be wowed by the programming - a truly thoughtful selection of international titles selected by Sean Farnel - and the way in which the festival is constantly trying to rethink the long-tired panel templates.
This year, we were also struck by the ease of seeing both films and a global coterie of docu heavyweights. This latter point might be our own process - for some reason Toronto is a city that took us a long while to find our legs in - and maybe this is the year that everything seemed to click. But attending Hot Docs this year felt somehow cozy and, it goes without saying, Toronto's docu-loving crowds just cannot be beat.
Sarasota (our #20), on the other hand, might be easier to overlook – but overlooking Sarasota would be a huge mistake. Sarasota is, in our minds at least, a kind of perfect festival: a terrific and nearly completest look at the best films of Sundance and SXSW (the latter selected by Sarasota prior to their potential breakouts in Austin) as well as a handful that either premiered earlier or had been neglected by the bigger “name” festivals that preceded it.
As is the case with many of our favorite festivals, there are travel issues (and hotels near the main festival venues are few and far between – most folks were lodged in airport hotels) and there’s going to be some considerable walking involved (unless you get smart and ride some of the free bikes the festival secured), but Sarasota remains one of the big American “experience” festivals, the kind of place you tell stories about months and years later: like when a group of (nameless) documentary filmmakers feared they might have left another (nameless) documentary filmmaker to drown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2 AM; or when the bar of the (nameless) resort hotel opened back up after closing at 1 AM when the owner realized that several (nameless) indie film stars were boozing in the lobby with hula hoopers and drag queens; or when Patti Smith belted out “Gloria” five feet in front of this (not nameless) filmmaker in a small restaurant bar.