The Sunscreen Film Festival: Apply liberally

The Sunscreen Film Festival has it made in the St. Pete shade.

click to enlarge Gary Busey in Confessions of a Womanizer. - Sunscreen Film Festival
Sunscreen Film Festival
Gary Busey in Confessions of a Womanizer.

It’s understandable if you’re suffering from a raging case of film fatigue right about now. As if the annual triumvirate of the Gasparilla International Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival and Florida Film Festival weren’t enough, the Bay area is still recovering from the epic party that was the International Indian Film Academy awards (aka the “Bollywood Oscars”) which went down last week in Tampa. With the summer blockbuster season only days away, you’d be forgiven if you just wanted to spend some time in the yard this weekend, before Florida turns into an outdoor blast furnace for the next five months.

It’s into this cinema-saturated environment that St. Pete’s Sunscreen Film Festival arrives, hoping to lure you once again into the theater for three days of screenings, panels, workshops and more at venues around the Burg. Organized by the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Society, which considers film education to be as central to its mission as showing off a bunch of killer, under-the-radar flicks to local audiences. Sunscreen differs from similar events by putting a heavier emphasis on industry workshops than any other local fest.

Addressing nearly every aspect of film production, Sunscreen’s many workshops aim to provide useful tricks of the trade to aspiring filmmakers. Some highlights include: “Writing: Pitching Stories to Sharks” (1 p.m. Friday), which features on its panel longtime Bay area movie critic Joe Belcastro, back in town after leaving Tampa last year for his dream job writing for WWE; “Marketing: Hey, world, I’ve got a movie!” (3:30 p.m. Friday), which breaks down ways to use social media to spread the word about your film; “Directing: But what I really want to do is direct” (1 p.m., Sunday), the first directing workshop in the festival’s history, featuring veteran indie helmer John Putch (the Route 30 films, TV sitcoms like Scrubs and Cougar Town) and Emmy-winning director/writer/producer Rik Swartzwelder offering essential tips and highlighting the many pitfalls of making your own movie; and my favorite, “Writing: Pitch Fest!” (3 p.m. Saturday), which offers attendees the chance to pitch a film to real “movers and shakers in the industry” (exactly which movers and shakers was yet to be revealed as of this writing).

That’s just scratching the surface of Sunscreen’s workshops, which also cover acting, casting, and the business end of working as a professional in the film industry. Consider the fest your weekend crash course in film production.

click to enlarge Confessions of a Womanizer. - Sunscreen Film Festival
Sunscreen Film Festival
Confessions of a Womanizer.

This emphasis on education may have you wondering if the actual movie portion of the festival is lacking. It’s not — though it is uniquely constructed. In something of a departure from the usual festival lineups, Sunscreen is comprised primarily of short films, with 124 screening this year (100 live action, 24 animated). One big benefit of this strategy is that festival attendees can actually catch lots of little movies in the time it usually takes to watch one feature. An added bonus of having so many films is that the crowd at Sunscreen will be teeming with filmmakers and creative talent, on hand both to catch their own flicks and to network with the dozens of other filmmakers. Not in the film industry but always wanted to live the life for a weekend? Here’s your chance.

click to enlarge The Longest Game. - Sunscreen Film Festival
Sunscreen Film Festival
The Longest Game.

As for the feature-length films, the flashiest screening at Sunscreen is Confessions of a Womanizer, which tells the story of a shallow player-type who, with the help of a transgendered prostitute and Gary Busey (of course), learns the value of a meaningful relationship. Womanizer is a product of the burgeoning film-production arm of the WWE, and wrestling hotties the Bella Twins are in the film (Nikki Bella will be on hand, along with WWE superstar John Cena, for the opening night premiere and party on May 1). Also of note are the 16 documentary features, which include Gasparilla holdovers The Longest Game (which took home the GIFF jury prize for best doc) and the adorable Cyber-Seniors.
With Spider-Man, Godzilla and the rest of their summer ilk about to take over the theaters through August, perhaps the best reason to attend Sunscreen is this: It may be your last chance to catch intelligent, independent cinema until Labor Day. 


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