Sarasota Film Fest set to open at Van Wezel

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SARASOTA, Fla. - The stars are on the Suncoast for opening night of the 16th annual Sarasota Film Festival, where more than 180 films will be screened over the next week.

A very special film about the end of the Vietnam War will kick off the festival Friday night at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. A fitting tribute, as this year the Suncoast's Legacy of Valor campaign is partnering with the festival.

The film was directed by Rory Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, and it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Last Days in Vietnam tells the story of American soldiers evacuating Saigon in the final days of the war. Using film footage shot during the war, along with photos and one-on-one interviews with veterans, it's being hailed as an eye-opening documentary.

Paul Jacobs was the captain of U.S.S. Kirk and is featured in the film. He says being a part of the movie was an emotional experience. "I was emotionally drained, because what it's doing is bringing things up that you've suppressed for a lot of years."

At the age of 19, Randy Smith left for Vietnam and says he was the last Marine to take down the U.S. flag. "I know there will be tears, because just thinking about it in the last couple of can get emotional."

Smith has called Venice home for 35 years and believes this film holds so much meaning for the veteran community on the Suncoast. "Those that were actually in the evacuation, I know there are a few in this area, it's something that lives with you each day and it will live with us 'til our final day on this earth."

The film premieres at 7pm Friday, and the red carpet will officially be open an hour before that.

ABC 7 will bring you more, going live from the carpet on ABC 7 News at 6 as international and national filmmakers fill the red carpet.