Sarasota Fla. March 27, 2009. The 11th annual Sarasota Film Festival kicked off with a screening of Oren Moverman’s film The Messenger with stars Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, and Jena Malone, as well as Director, Moverman in attendance. The screening and the traditional after party kick-off gala were held at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The festival will run through Sunday, April 5, 2009.
It was touching to see Woody Harrelson walk down the red carpet with his daughter Deni beaming with enthusiasm. Moverman also brought his children, ages 10 and 13 along. The show of active and retired military from various states joining the audience was heartfelt.
Harrelson and Foster play Iraq War Veterans assigned to deliver tragic news to families of troops who died in the war. The Sarasota Films PR office says, “In a written statement, the U.S. Army endorsed the film by saying "The United States Army began its support of the feature film The Messenger by working on the script with the writers and director. Once the script was accurate in the portrayal of the military, Lt. Col. Paul Sinor from the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Los Angeles Branch, was assigned the mission of working on the production as the Military Technical Advisor. The producers, actors and director met with Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs personnel in Alexandria, Virginia and also visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in order to make certain the portrayal of all military personnel were accurate and responsible. In addition, the production filmed for one week at Fort Dix, New Jersey where they used actual military personnel as extras. In doing so, they were able to add an authenticity to the film not seen in non-DOD/US Army supported projects. The Messenger is a powerful portrayal of military personnel who perform the function of Casualty Notification Officers."
Sinor stated that he does not think a story such as this has ever been told. Harrelson said, “I met with many people in the military, I wanted to tell their stories. It all felt real.” Indeed Harrelson’s character was very realistic as was Foster’s. Also starring in the movie but not in attendance was Samantha Morton. Morton plays a widow who develops a relationship with Foster after learning of her husband’s death.
One of the highlights during the after party was a fireworks display over the Bay. Harrelson’s and Moverman’s children had the honor of pressing the ignition buttons.
The Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) dedicated the opening night screening of The Messenger to the honor of active duty and retired service men and women and their families. The theme of this powerful drama honors the service of our men and women in uniform. The SFF partnered with the filmmakers and MacDill Air Force Base to host over 400 members from all four branches of our armed forces as special guests to this screening. Veterans from all branches of the service were given a special 25% discount to attend this powerful salute to our soldiers past and present. The SFF also offered the opportunity for members of the community to donate tickets and "Send a Solider to Opening Night."
The SFF’s Mission is to celebrate the art of filmmaking and the contribution of filmmakers by hosting an international film festival and developing year-long programs for the economic, educational and cultural benefit of our community. The Festival supports and encourages the filmmaker by supplying indispensable networking opportunities and open dialogue with knowledgeable, creative and inquisitive consumers of film. The Festival attracts audiences from local, national, and international markets as well as promotes Sarasota, Manatee and surrounding Gulf Coast communities as cultural centers which contribute to the financial and cultural success of our region.
The 10-day Regal Entertainment Group Sarasota Film Festival has grown into one of the leading film festivals in North America. This year 160 films will be shown. There will also be Conversations with directors, writers and stars, panel discussions and many other events. To learn more go to http://www.sarasotafilmfestival.com
Photos and Story by Sara Herbert-Galloway
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