Matt Dillon movie shot in Pinellas to be shopped at Cannes Film Festival

When the tres chic Cannes Film Festival begins next week in southern France, a bit of Pinellas County's seedier side will be shown there.

A dive bar in Lealman, a rundown Clearwater motel, a convenience store in Kenneth City, each inhabited by people in poverty — and displayed on the French Riviera amid the ritzy glitz of Cannes.

Sunlight Jr. starring Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts, filmed locally in late 2011, will be shopped at the festival's Marche du Film, the world's largest market for movie distribution deals.

Not shown in red carpet competition. Just touted to distributors who can get Sunshine Jr. into theaters. They won't even see the finished product.

Writer-director Laurie Collyer's drama about a down-and-out couple and their unexpected pregnancy is currently in post-production. Only a promotional reel — essentially an extended preview trailer — will be shown to potential buyers.

The promo reel strategy is show business as usual. Sunlight Jr. is among nearly 4,300 movies being shopped at Cannes, and just more than half are completed, according to marchedufilm.com. Some works may only be marketed with poster art and promises of star casting.

Sunlight, Jr. is represented in Cannes by Hyde Park International, a longtime player in foreign distribution, with recent overseas releases ranging from niche indies like Blue Valentine and Our Idiot Brother to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3D.

Collyer's movie is expected to be released in the U.S. later this year, although no domestic distributor is currently noted. One could bid for the rights in Cannes, or later this year at a major festival like Toronto's.

Whenever it arrives, Sunlight Jr. won't be the rosy, Chamber of Commerce-friendly movie that Dolphin Tale was in 2011.

A news release from Hyde Park describes Sunlight Jr. as a "gritty, inspirational drama" featuring "hard-working convenience store clerk Melissa (Watts) and her paraplegic boyfriend, Richie (Dillon), who are trapped in a generational cycle of poverty and ignorance. They are genuinely excited, however, once they learn that Melissa is pregnant.

"But when she loses her job and they are evicted from the motel they live in, things go from bad to worse."

Loren Knuth has seen similar stories unfold in reality, as owner of the Boardwalk Tavern, 2600 54th Ave. N, where Collyer filmed Dillon's character drinking his days away. A weathered, wooden ramp leading into the boxy bar was built for "Richie" and his wheelchair; now it's part of the decor.

Knuth isn't concerned about the downbeat image of Pinellas County that Sunlight Jr. will project at Cannes and beyond.

"It's so true to life for some of the people who come in our bar, it's unreal," Knuth said Thursday. "It's not how we want to be viewed but it's who we are. If the rest of the world looks down on us for it, well, I can't help that."

Besides, Knuth said, there's an advantage to living here instead of the French Riviera:

"You get one beer over there at the Cannes Film Festival; for the same price over here at our place you can probably get 10 of them."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.

Matt Dillon movie shot in Pinellas to be shopped at Cannes Film Festival 05/10/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 11, 2012 9:13am]

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