Lights! Camera! Meatballs!
Film Fest Director Keeps Cooking in the Picture
Mark Famiglio is the Wizard of Oz for the Sarasota Film Festival. He’s the mastermind who pulls it all together—with the help of his dedicated staff and a veritable army of volunteers, of course. However, unlike the enigmatic wizard, Mark is as comfortable in front of the curtain as he is behind it. A little birdie told us that Mark is a fantastic home cook, and who can resist a powerful man who loves to feed people? We asked Mark to sit down with us and talk to us about life, the universe, and everything—and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. These are a few of his favorite things:
Edible: If this were someone’s first year attending the SFF, what advice would you give them?
MF: Spend some time speaking with the programmers that are stationed inside Hollywood 20. These are truly experts who have a passion for film, and years of experience. They really try to understand the individual moviegoer and tailor the experience to the person. Our strong suit at SFF is our incredible staff. You don’t have to take a chance on a movie you might not enjoy when you can use our people as an interactive guide.
Edible: Where would you suggest to go to eat before or after the movies?
MF: We’re fortunate to have the support of a plethora of great restaurants, particularly Louies Modern and the TableSeide group as a whole. We also love Michael’s on East—especially the wine room. Caragiulos, and all of its counterparts. The bar scene at the new Aloft is beginning to take off and we’re going to be doing parties there with Triforce Pictures and the Arts Alliance. On Main Street there are no less than a dozen restaurants I could swear by—we’re almost spoiled for choice. Thai, Vietnamese, the pizza at Epicure. Main Street and Palm Avenue are like a smorgasbord of taste treats.
Edible: When you were growing up what was your favorite movie(s)?
MF: Harold and Maude, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, The Music Man, The Sound of Music.
Edible: Did you sing along?
MF: Of course!
Edible: What is your favorite candy or food at the theater?
MF: I love really good chocolate. I bring it with me and feed everyone around me. I do it at The Van Wezel too. As far as the concessions go I’m easy: popcorn. No salt. No butter. Maybe a little brewer’s yeast.
Edible: What is your advice to future filmmakers who want to submit their films?
MF: We have more films now than ever. We’ve accepted so many young and new filmmakers and we’ve discovered that many of the filmmakers this year are connected to local residents, and these locals are producing, directing, writing. Literally every day someone walks up to me to tell me about their connection to a film. We are also in the minority when it comes to film festivals in that half of our films are written and directed by women. As far as advice goes: I’m open to bribes [chuckles]. Take me to Louies for lunch!
Edible: What is your favorite part of putting on the SFF in Sarasota?
MF: I get to spend time with and be close to my family. The festival occurs during my [twin] daughters’ birthday. On opening night at the Sarasota Opera House last year I had the crowd sing happy birthday to the girls and I filmed it on my phone. The girls were born during a tribute event being held at the Longboat Key Club. I remember Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci were standing with me and Tucci grabbed the phone and said “I like the name Camilla.”
Edible: What are your daughters’ names?
MF: Camilla and Bryn
Edible: What is your favorite meal to make at home when you’re having movie night?
MF: I cook at home a lot. I love my Viking stove. I’m always making Italian food. It sounds simple but my favorite thing to make is meatballs. Mine are the best. Without question. Actually, I’ve been trying to incorporate a meatball contest into the film festival.
Edible: Speaking of Italian food and being Italian, have you seen the men’s bathroom at Marcello Ristorante on the South Trail? Every inch is papered with pictures of Sophia Loren.
MF: My dad was in World War II. He said the entire base was plastered with Sophia Loren. The image of her kept their minds off all the tragedy, gave them something else to think about. It’s profound for me in a deeply personal way that she’ll be at the festival this year.
Edible: How many films are being screened this year? And what are you excited to see?
MF: We have over 250 films. I’ve been trying to watch a few more of them ahead of time. I’m very excited to view the local films.
Edible: What is your favorite food scene in a movie?
MF: I’d say any scene that involves food is always a sensual experience.
Edible: Like 9½ Weeks?
MF: That’s the one I was thinking of too!
Edible: Which actor or actress that you’ve not met would you most like to have dinner with?
MF: Wow. I’d like to stick with something that seems within the realm of possibility and say Robert DeNiro.
MF: I really enjoyed spending time with Ed Norton when he was here. He’s so intelligent, articulate, and expressive. I like smart people who are engaged and not afraid to express themselves.
Edible: Where would you go to dinner?
MF: I’d take him home and cook for him at the house.
At this point we decide that it would be fun to “pull a James Lipton” and ask Mark to answer the Pivot Questionnaire, “Inside the Actor’s Studio” style. If you’ve never asked someone these questions we challenge you to do it without unconsciously mimicking James Lipton’s inflection.
Edible: What is your favorite word?
Edible: What is your least favorite word?
Edible: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
MF: Music and imagery of dance
Edible: What is your favorite curse word?
MF: I’m not going to answer that specifically; I have young daughters. I go through phases of alliterative cursing. It’s an art form.
Edible: What sound or noise do you love?
MF: The sound of my coffee grinder in the morning
Edible: What sound or noise do you hate?
MF: A foghorn at 6am
Edible: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
MF: I operate half a dozen businesses in a variety of fields. I have a biologics business that is rapidly expanding. I have an aviation business which I love and a construction and real estate company that I’m also passionate about. I’m almost doing too much but I love projects, I enjoy the process of bringing things through to fruition. I love tackling projects that seemed impossible. How would that even work? It’s so complicated. I love finding out I’m capable of doing things I thought I never could.
Edible: What profession would you not like to do?
MF: I could not work behind a desk, period. I worked at the UN for a while and it drove me crazy.
Edible: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
MF: I’d like to see my grandmother and hear her say: “Marko!”
The interview is over and Mark has grown introspective and philosophical. He’s not a sound bite kind of guy. He’s a complicated man with a complicated career, but he’s drawn to the idea of simplifying. He explains that he is attempting to slow down. No, really.
“It’s a truism thing. I saw something the other day that was talking about the question of mortality and what’s really important in life. You’re going to die and a few people will miss you for a little while and then everything continues. You have to live your life and enjoy yourself. Don’t waste time on self-aggrandizing nonsense. Your children are going to grow up so fast. I’ve really been taking it to heart. I want to travel more with my family. I have been trying to ask myself every day: What did you do today to get you closer to your goal?”
He says that his goal is to spend more time with his family, to live a quieter kind of life. We liken it to those famous meatballs: It’s such a simple thing but it takes a lot of work to get it to turn out just right.