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John Travolta, Patrick Wilson, Billy Dee Williams at Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg

Back in 2005, indie filmmakers Tony Armer and Derek Miner daydreamed at a kitchen table about a hometown festival showcasing their kinds of movies. • Then they did something about it.

A year later, the Sunscreen Film Festival debuted at Studio@620 in St. Petersburg, without celebrities and soirees but with a sense of purpose — cultivating Florida and Tampa Bay's film industries with workshops, while screening movies that might slip past larger festivals.

"We really found our niche in education," Armer said on the eve of Sunscreen's fifth year. "A lot of what we do is designed to help (filmmakers) continue to make films, or make the connections they need to enhance their careers. Professors are sending their students to our festival, to help them learn how to be better filmmakers."

Funny thing, but Sunscreen's support for the little guys eventually led to big stars kicking in, and the parties that go with them. This edition boasts its starriest lineup ever, including actors John Travolta, Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, The A-Team) and Billy Dee Williams ("Lando Calrissian" from the Star Wars saga). • Wilson, a St. Petersburg native, will teach a workshop Saturday — one of four sessions for actors — with others throughout the weekend led by Bill Cobbs (Night at the Museum) and Alexa Vega (Spy Kids), with Twilight co-stars Solomon Trimble and Ayanna Berkshire assisting. Information and workshop tickets ($100 to $175) are available at www.sunscreenfilmfestival.com.

But you already knew that, if you're devoted to making movies. Most of us would rather watch them, or rub elbows with people making them at parties. • This Sunscreen rundown is for you.

Who to see:

Williams will appear at 7 Thursday night at Nova 535, 535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg, for a conversation about his career with St. Petersburg Times film critic Steve Persall. Tickets are $35, which also offers access to all of today's Sunscreen events. Like all other Sunscreen events, proceeds after expenses will be donated to Resurrection House, an organization assisting homeless families.

Later Thursday night at Nova 535, many of Sunscreen's other celebrity guests — not including Travolta and Wilson — will join a VIP party about 9 p.m. For $20, you might meet Cobbs, Vega, the Twilight actors and Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl), or perhaps producers Ralph Winter (X-Men, Wolverine), writer Dean Batali (Buffy the Vapire Slayer) and Sean Covel and Doc Wyatt (Napoleon Dynamite). Light refreshments are included.

Wilson and Williams will appear at Saturday's 2 p.m. showing of their new movie, Barry Munday, a dark comedy about a compulsive womanizer. Tickets are $35, providing access to all other screenings that day.

Saturday 8 p.m., Travolta and Wilson will join the rest of the stars at the Sunscreen awards reception at Mirror Lake Lyceum, 735 Third Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Seating is limited to festival VIP pass holders only ($125). Visit www.sunscreenfilmfestival.com to learn if any are still available.

. What to see

All movie screenings are held at Muvico BayWalk 20, 151 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $8 and filmmakers often join their works, answering questions after the show. Visit www.sunscreenfilmfestival.com for information about dozens of Sunscreen entries.

Today's lineup includes Hope for a Thorn (1:15 p.m.), directed by former St. Petersburg resident Erin Kitzinger. This drama about a grudging relationship between a woman and the granddaughter she never met before won the Audience Award at last month's Gasparilla Film Festival.

Or check the Web site for Sunscreen After Dark, a choice of five horror flicks starting at 10:45 p.m., or a pair of short film compilations at 3:15 and 7 p.m.

Friday's lineup includes a free showing of 22 short films created by local students for the Daliwood Student Video Competition, in association with the Salvador Dali Museum. Showtime is 5:30 p.m. The festival concludes Sunday with Sunscreen's own student film showcase (11:15 a.m.), Adam Oxsen's stylized Western Ecstasy of Gold (1:30 p.m.) and a block of experimental videos at 3:30 p.m.

Sarasota Film Festival: This weekend also brings down the curtain on the 12th annual Sarasota Film Festival, with a late rush of movies, celebrities and special events.

Visit the festival Web site (www.sarasotafilmfestival.com) for information about the films and ticket availability, including Sunday's closer, Saturday Night (5 and 7:30 p.m). Actor James Franco directs the documentary of a week spent preparing an episode of Saturday Night Live. Tickets for that special event are $25; all other screenings cost $10.

The weekend's centerpiece is Saturday's filmmaker tribute to director John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) at Sarasota Opera House (61 N Pineapple Ave.). Tickets are $25 for the 6 p.m. salute to Landis, followed by a festival wrap party at nearby Ceviche ($75).

Friday's lineup includes a unique live reading of Oren Moverman's screenplay Queer, based on the writings of William S. Burroughs. Steve Buscemi (Fargo) directs a roster of New York actors in the 7:30 p.m. event at Florida Studio Theatre (1241 N Palm Ave.).

After the reading, folks pile into Michael's on East restaurant for the annual Night of a Thousand Stars gala ($100) at 9:30 p.m., featuring live music, good food and open bars.

Two editions of the festival's In Conversation With . . . series remain at Florida Studio Theatre, both with limited seating ($20): Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April, The Station Agent) discusses her career at 1 p.m. Saturday; actor Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Ed Wood) does the retro routine Sunday at 1 p.m., moderated by Persall.

Florida Film Festival: Tickets are getting scarce (and the foodie events are done) for this fest near Orlando, wrapping its 19th edition this weekend. Visit the festival Web site (www.floridafilmfestival.com) for the latest information on show times and availability. Movie tickets are $10.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

John Travolta, Patrick Wilson, Billy Dee Williams at Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg 04/14/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 17, 2010 3:31pm]
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