By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
The inaugural Clearwater Film Festival features almost anything you'd expect to find at a grass roots cinema showcase — except a traditional movie theater.
Clearwater hasn't had an honest-to-Avatar multiplex inside its city limits since 2002.
So, festival creator Mike Rembis is utilizing the next-best thing, Clearwater Cinema Cafe, and the next-best places he could find after that. The result is a festival spread over much of Pinellas County this weekend, with the Jolly Trolley available to make commuting easier.
Rembis, 46, is an actor, aspiring filmmaker and unemployed direct-mail salesman who said weeks ago that he started the Clearwater Film Festival "because I needed a job." Not exactly an aesthetic answer but an honest one. He claims to have sunk nearly $50,000 of his own money into the project.
"I feel tremendous pressure in a way," he said. "I've spent every last dime. But I felt better investing in myself than in the stock market or a yogurt shop franchise.
"I've got nothing to lose now because I've spent it."
Here's a peek at what Rembis' investment brings this weekend:
Movies to see
Seventy-two features, documentaries and shorts (live action and animated) are showing at the festival, so don't expect to see them all. I'd suggest focusing on the nine unpreviewed world premieres and six Florida debuts identified on the festival website (www.theclearwater filmfestival.com), or these works screened in advance:
My Name is Jerry: Doug Jones doffs his creature costumes (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy) and proves he's a swell comic actor. Jones plays Jerry, whose midlife crisis leads to punk rock redemption. (Fri. 7 p.m., Largo Cultural Center)
A Lonely Place for Dying: During the Vietnam War, a KGB mole (Ross Marquand) is stalked in an abandoned prison by a CIA agent (Michael Scovotti) in a taut thriller disguising its low budget well. (Fri. 11 p.m., Clearwater Cinema Drafthouse; Sat. 5 p.m., Largo Cultural Center)
Hope for a Thorn: Erin Kitzinger's tale of an elderly woman bonding with her rebellious granddaughter was an audience award winner at the Gasparilla Film Festival. (Sat. 3 p.m., Capitol Theater)
Absent: Absorbing documentary about the effects of absent fathers years after their children are grown. One wrenching testimony comes from Metallica guitarist James Hetfield. (Tonight 7 p.m., Capitol Theater)
Bullfrogs on my Mind: Former St. Petersburg Times reporter turned documentarian Diane Mason traces an ancestor's role in bringing the croaking critters to Kentucky. (Fri. 4:15 p.m., Largo Cultural Center)
Healing Neen: Former prostitute, abuse victim and drug addict Tonier "Neen" Cain uses her recovery against the odds to inspire women in prisons. (Tonight 9 p.m., Largo Cultural Center)
Parties to play
Friday night, the festival sponsors parties at nightclubs along Clearwater Beach including the Hilton, Holiday Inn and Sheraton Sand Key hotels. Each place features drink specials and live music. Saturday's awards luncheon begins at noon at St. Petersburg-Clearwater Marriott, and a wrap party picnic at Largo Central Park starts Sunday at noon. Admission to these events is limited to festival pass holders.
Experts to hear
Panel discussions with festival filmmakers at Holiday Inn-Clearwater Beach include today's sessions on making documentaries and screenwriting (both 11 a.m.) plus auditioning for acting roles and predevelopment of film projects (both 1 p.m.).
Friday's seminars focus on cinematography and editing (both 11 a.m.), production and utilizing new media (both 1 p.m.) and distribution tips (3 p.m.). Saturday's panel discussions deal with securing music rights for soundtracks, and how to manage an acting career (both 10:30 a.m.).
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] and (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.