Clown College graduation class of 1978

The Clown College Class of 1978 held its annual graduation show in the old Venice Arena where it posed for this photo.

Covering the Sarasota Film Festival is always interesting. Some films may be destined for fame and fortune.

Many films will only be seen at festivals or possibly on public television or in small screenings if the producer can arrange such showings. Many are learning experiences for the filmmakers who might become famous years from now or not. Some leave one wondering “Why?” But then, ‘Why not?”

Everyone has a story to tell. Whether anyone wants to listen to that story is another thing but that does not mean the film should never be made.

The first film I saw at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, “Florida Water,” was an example. A young man filmed elderly people in a nursing home talking about their lives, present and past. The mechanics of what he did were fine. The story line was a bit rambling but perhaps that is because the subjects were at that stage in life where rambling is the norm. It is not a film I would care to see again, although I did not feel I wasted time in viewing it nor did the young man waste his time in sharing the stories in the film.

The next batch of films I saw were short films by women that were part of the festival’s annual “Through Women’s Eyes” International Film Festival.

I watched block one which comprised four films, “Athena: Goddess of Heroic Endeavor,” Gloria’s Call,” “A Great Ride’ and “Safe Space.”

The first was most intriguing as it was about a girl who was a model and a welder. She succeeded at both careers. In the field of welding where she seemed to hold her own against any of the men, especially those who felt threatened by her presence in their world. The film was 14 minutes in length. “Gloria’s Call,” at 17 minutes told the story of a woman’s venture into the world of art. “A Great Ride” was the longest of these short films at 33 minutes. It told the story of several lesbians who chose to live and work together on their own compound. The final short film of this grouping was “Safe Space.” It tells the story of a woman in a shelter, a possible victim of trafficking. Made in the United Kingdom, this 8-minute film answers questions but also asks others. That I found “Athena” the most interesting no doubt relates to my own eclectic life.

Most of all, these films showcase the depth and breadth of films to be found at the festival and why so many return year after year.

The one film I was most anxious to see was “All There Is — A Circus Story,” was shown Monday at the Municipal Auditorium in Sarasota. It is a wonderful film that tells the story of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey impact on Sarasota, and that is its weakness.

The way it relates the story, it seems as though The Greatest Show on Earth was only in Sarasota. The filming is wonderful and I loved the interviews of many former circus stars, but that there was no mention of Venice which actually was home to the world’s largest circus for a longer time period was a travesty.

In a Q and A after the film, the producer/director Carlos Pagan, used the excuse of time constraints for omitting Venice — a flimsy excuse for his lack of basic research. Most of the stars he interviewed were performers in the Greatest Show on Earth when it wintered in Venice not when it was in Sarasota. That run ended in 1959, three years after the show had nearly fallen into bankruptcy.

Pagan did include the 70-year-old Sailor Circus, which now is under the umbrella of The Circus Arts Conservatory, parent of Circus Sarasota, which was founded by world famous aerialist Dolly Jacobs and her husband Pedro Reis in 1997. Dolly is the daughter of famed clown Lou Jacobs and has always lived in Sarasota although, as Queen of the Air, the world famous aerialist traveled the world with The Greatest Show on Earth for many years, years when the show wintered in Venice.

A film segment on the late Jackie LeClair was endearing. LeClair grew up with the Ringling show in which his father performed as a clown. LeClair then worked as an aerialist and was the stunt double for Cornel Wilde in the film, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Soon after he became a world-famous clown and eventual key player in Laughter Unlimited for the Circus Arts Conservatory.

This is a wonderful film as a film. It is a showcase for some of the greatest performers in circus history. I truly enjoyed it for what it is but came away so disappointed in its omission of Venice where the greatest growth of The Greatest Show on Earth took place. The circus was in Venice from 1960 to 1992. Its Clown College was founded in Venice in 1968 and remained in Venice until 1996.

When Irvin Feld purchased the Ringling Circus in 1968, he added a second performance troupe, created Clown College to train clowns for the show and added ice shows. His son, Kenneth, expanded Feld Entertainment into the worlds’ largest entertainment company. Hounded by animal rights groups and “frivolous” law suits, (The final case awarded $25 million to Feld Entertainment from the Humane Society of America for a case the judge through out for being “frivolous.”)

Feld Entertainment closed the circus May 21, 2017, despite never losing a case to those groups.

How sad that such a wonderful film had a title that was so wrong. “All There Is — A Circus Story” is not all there is or was.

Sarasota FIlm Festival concludes Sunday, April 14. Visit: sarasotafilmfestival.com

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