Put on some Sunscreen

The Bay area's never-ending film festival continues in St. Pete.

Be careful what you wish for, readers. Those of us who love movies have been bouncing bleary-eyed from one film festival to the next for weeks now, with no end in sight. This week's event: the Third Annual Sunscreen Film Festival, rolling into St. Petersburg March 19-22 with an emphasis on local and emerging filmmakers, hands-on educational programs and networking. Here are some of the highlights:

The fest starts off strong Wednesday March 19 with what just might be its best film. Smartly written and professionally crafted, Broke Sky is a small movie that resists labels, seamlessly segueing from quirky Coen Brothers comedy to moody mystery to Southern-fried psychodrama as it spins a tale of two county workers in danger of losing their jobs picking up roadkill. Broke Sky screens at 7 p.m. at Muvico Baywalk 20, with an opening-night after-party following at Push Ultra Lounge.

Sunscreen moves over to St. Petersburg's beautiful Renaissance Vinoy Resort for the duration, beginning on Thursday March 20 with back-to-back workshops for actors seeking to hone their audition skills (10 a.m. and noon). Also at 10 a.m. is a screening of one of Sunscreen's handful of international offerings, Beyond the Fence (Sakugoe), a Japanese import about a mild-mannered businessman and a tough, ex-yakuza (gangster) who meet cute, bond and proceed to walk a mile in each other's shoes. I wouldn't go so far as to call Beyond the Fence a bad film, but the movie is far too obvious when it's striving to be quirky or poignant, and the central relationship between its two misfit heroes is ultimately pretty standard stuff.

A much better way to spend Thursday at Sunscreen would be to catch the 2 p.m. matinee of The Grift, starring veteran actor Jon Savage as the wonderfully sleazy patriarch of a family of con-men hucksters and whores. The Grift offers some fairly compelling storytelling, and it's nice to see a film set in the rural south of the 1940s, as opposed to contemporary urban jungles populated exclusively by 24-year-old hipsters.

Following The Grift at 6 p.m. is a program of surrealist films created by Pinellas County high-school students, and an 8 p.m. screening of The Art of Pain, an indie comedy complete with slackers, geeks and angry ninjas. For those who'd rather kick back with some tunes, the festival is also putting on a concert by indie rock band Fort Pastor at the State Theatre.

On Friday, Sunscreen presents a selection of short horror and sci-fi films at 2:30 p.m., followed by a screenwriters' panel at 4 p.m. But the big event of the evening is sure to be Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a meticulously faithful, homegrown homage that took three Mississippi fanboys seven years to make and wound up being officially sanctioned by His Holiness Spielberg. Raiders: The Adaptation screens at 9:30 p.m. Friday, repeating at 6:30 on Saturday.

Two other Friday offerings are more concerned with sex and love than lost arks. Screw Cupid (5:30 p.m.) is an amusing but wildly uneven rom-com about two unlucky-in-love types attempting to connect. Friday's other fractured romance is One Night (8 p.m.), a sporadically engaging look at the ups and downs of dating, romance and sex, through the dovetailing stories of nearly a dozen mostly young and attractive characters.

The festival's final day is Saturday, which begins with a 10 a.m. panel on film financing and distribution and then segues into a number of Florida-centric offerings, including a nature-in-peril documentary called Finding Wild Florida (10:15 a.m.), a program of local shorts (12:30 p.m.) and Fema City (4:30 p.m.), a look at the aftermath of 2004's Hurricane Charley. Best of all is Cracker Crazy: Invisible Histories of the Sunshine State (2:30 p.m.), a feature-length discourse that manages to be passionate but just a touch ironic as it tells us everything we ever wanted to know about Florida. Ponce de Leon, Leni Reifenstahl, Walt Disney and Andrew Jackson are only some of the players in this fascinating stew, and the archival footage is worth the price of admission all by itself.

The 3rd Annual Sunscreen Film Festival runs from March 19 to 22 at Muvico Baywalk 20, 515 Second Ave. N., St Petersburg and the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, 501 Seventh Ave. N.E., St Petersburg. For more information, visit sunscreenfilmfestival.com.

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