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Indy begets indie

Bet you can't wait for that Indiana Jones sequel this summer, when we find out if the years and mileage have been kind to Harrison Ford.

You can recall Indy as a younger man — actually, a middle-school kid — at the third annual Sunscreen Film Festival, Wednesday through March 22 in St. Petersburg.

In 1982, three Mississippi preteen boys were so enthralled by Raiders of the Lost Ark that they decided to remake it, shot by shot, using a rented video camera, makeshift props and a lot of spunk. They were voting age when they finished.

Steven Spielberg spent a year and $26-million making Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb and Chris Strompolos did it for $5,000 during seven summer vacations.

Zala, now 37, directed the remake and played Belloq, the bad guy. He'll explain how it all happened at two Sunscreen showings of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation on March 21 and 22. Details and tickets for those events and others are available on the festival Web site (

"It's very cool to have the best parts of your childhood set in order to John Williams' music," said Zala by telephone from Washington, where his movie was being shown at the Smithsonian Institution.

Not a bad gig for a movie shown once in 1989 at a Coca-Cola bottling plant before the filmmakers stashed it away for 15 years. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation resurfaced at an Austin, Texas, film festival in 2003 when director Eli Roth (Hostel) brought a VHS copy and suggested it as a time-filler.

The projector broke down shortly before an advance screening of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, making the capacity crowd antsy. Someone plugged in Roth's copy for amusement. The crowd warmed to it — and even booed when the projector was fixed, stopping the video tape before they could see Strompolos mimic Indy's famous truck-chase fight.

"That's the highest compliment I can think of," Zala said.

Roth eventually passed the videotape to someone at Dreamworks who forwarded it to Spielberg. He could have contacted his lawyers but instead sent a letter to the filmmakers, praising their "vast amounts of imagination and originality.

In response to Spielberg's graciousness, Zala, Lamb and Strompolos decided that any proceeds from Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation should be donated to nonprofit organizations. Sunscreen proceeds will go to the sponsoring St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Society, headed by festival director and co-founder Tony Armer.

"I can't wait to see that one myself," Armer said. "Just thinking about three 12-year-olds doing this — when Christmases and birthdays were excuses for getting props or gear they needed — is exciting."

Zala and Strompolos aren't through yet. They formed Rolling Boulder Films — a nod to Indy's first close call in Raiders of the Lost Ark — and plan to make movies in Mississippi. Lamb works online in fine art photography these days.

Sunscreen has plenty more independent productions on tap, including eight world premieres. Nearly 250 entries were whittled down to 73 selections, with many produced in Florida. All screenings except opening night are at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club.

"The thing about independent film is that there are a lot of gems out there that no one ever gets a chance to see," Armer said. "We started the festival because we felt filmmakers needed another outlet to have their work seen."

Some Sunscreen highlights:

• The opening night centerpiece (7 p.m. Wednesday at BayWalk 20) is Thomas L. Callaway's Broke Sky, a Coenesque mystery with all the exaggerated characters and eccentric touches that description suggests. Callaway's idolatry of the Coens is evident, and his osmosis of films like Blood Simple (for the drama) and Raising Arizona (for the comedy) mostly pays off.

Callaway goes to some highly improbable lengths to justify making us wonder about a murder mystery. The resolution is a head-shaker, but the path to it hints at a filmmaker with talent.

• Holler Back: (Not) Voting in an American Town (2:45 p.m. March 21) is an interesting civics lesson, focused on a Pennsylvania county during 2004's tight presidential election. Filmmaker Lulu Fries'dat follows Republican and Democratic advocates from other states converging to swing voter turnout in their party's favor.

That brings up the question of why voters need to be arm-twisted into casting ballots. Holler Back spends a lot of time with those disenfranchised folks. Fries'dat confidently and fairly breaks down a broken political system.

• Adrian Belic's Beyond the Call (12:45 p.m. March 22) is an engrossing world tour of compassion and modest heroism. Ed Artis is a Vietnam veteran who has been giving away lifesaving supplies to war refugees for 30 years, joined by financing partners Dr. Jim Laws and Walt Ratterman. Belic tracks them from Afghanistan to the Philippines.

• Inside the Handy Writers' Colony (2:45 p.m. March 22) is a treasure trove for literature buffs, a profile of the writers refuge built in the 1950s by Lowney Handy, near the birthplace of From Here to Eternity author James Jones, a colony charter member.

Oscar nominee Jane Alexander narrates Handy's writings about nurturing Jones through that novel, and her ensuing influence on other writers until her death. This creative commune and its enduring results are inspiring to anyone longing to be a writer.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or Read his blog at


Film Festival

Wednesday at BayWalk 20;
March 20-22 at Renaissance Vinoy Resort, St. Petersburg. Details: www.

Indy begets indie 03/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2008 10:39am]
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