The Sarasota Film Festival is a fairly young event, only coming to fruition in its current form as recently as Jan. 1999. The only wide-scale film festival in the city beforehand was the Sarasota French Film Festival, which only ran for seven years until its early demise in 1996. Moreover, before the festival got to where it is today, it was much smaller and not as widely recognized. The debut of the event was promoted as a ‘mini-festival,’ featuring only eight independent films and six actors from the films being invited. But now, as of 2014, the festival now boasts over 200 films available for screening, as well as over 100 filmmakers and actors from the featured films in attendance.
Throughout the years, the festival has maintained an emphasis on centering itself around films considered innovative and artistic. The slate of featured films from Apr. 1 to Apr. 10, 2022 was no different, putting a spotlight on some of the most refreshing films from talent all over the world. The lineup this year included intriguing narrative features, such as the YouTube inspired film Porcupine, as well as informative and moving documentary features, like We Feed People.
One of the most interesting films screened at the festival in 2022 was the dramatic narrative feature Down with the King, the second feature film from director/writer Diego Ongaro. Down with the King stars veteran rapper Freddie Gibbs in his acting debut, where he plays “a famous rapper, disillusioned with the music industry and the pressures of being a celebrity, [who] leaves the city and his career behind to find himself in a small-town farming community.”
Gibbs, well-known in the industry for his impressive rapping skill and comedic social media presence, put his rapping on hold and completely immersed himself in the role of Mercury Maxwell. In an interview with Complex, Gibbs spoke about the approach he took to the role, stating that “he had to quit being Freddie Gibbs for six months that he had to be Mercury.”
In the end, the technique worked for Gibbs, seeing as his performance in the film was one of the best contributions to the art world that he’s made in his career yet. Despite the obvious similarities between Gibbs and his character, the distinctions between the two could not be more apparent in the film. Down with the King features a quiet, moving performance from its lead actor, truly showing the effects that the pressures of the music industry and fame can have on a musician.
The film’s script called for a lot of non-verbal acting, which Gibbs executed to perfection. Furthermore, the script was beautifully written, outlining the characters as three-dimensional people, making the film have so much more of an emotional impact. The film doesn’t portray anything as black-and-white, leaving a lot of room for the audience to interpret the film’s plot and characters as much as they want. To the same effect, Ongaro’s directing gives the film quite the ambiguous feeling. Not everything is totally explained, because not everything needs to be. The film’s last 20 minutes encapsulate this perfectly, with one of the most open-ended finales seen on the big screen in some time.
Down with the King is the perfect example of the kind of cinema that the Sarasota Film Festival aspires to bold, highlight and underscore. The festival’s prioritization of the most cutting-edge and innovative modern films is a massive triumph with Ongaro’s feature being screened. The fact that Sarasota’s festival was able to acquire screening rights from Sony Pictures’ Stage 6 Films is a huge win for the annual event, showing its now-widespread recognition in the industry and boosting its credibility even more.