Last year's Sunscreen Film Festival featured movie stars so bright that you had to wear shades: John Travolta, Patrick Wilson and Billy Dee Williams among them.
Not this year. The sixth annual Sunscreen festival opens Wednesday at BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg on a red carpet that may as well be a throw rug. The biggest name is a pseudonym: Master Legend, a self-styled crime fighter from Winter Park profiled in the opening night selection, the documentary Superhero Me.
Those who have followed Sunscreen from its humble beginnings see this celebrity shortage as a throwback to its origins, when encouraging shoestring filmmakers was its primary purpose. Once again, co-founder and executive director Tony Armer is touting Sunscreen purely as a chance to discover a future star.
"Just because a film doesn't have a big name in it doesn't mean it's not a good film made by very talented people," Armer said in a telephone interview. "Everybody has to start somewhere. This gives people an opportunity to see a filmmaker's work before they hit it big. We've got that kind of talent involved in the festival."
Convincing the average moviegoer to take that chance is certainly easier when celebrities like Travolta and "Lando Calrissian" are hanging around. Armer said the defection of several key sponsors makes that impossible this year.
"Even though the economy is getting better, a lot of companies that sponsored (Sunscreen) in the past are still feeling the pinch and couldn't step up like they have before," he said.
"Our biggest expense every year is bringing in those guests, and that's what we're known for. But we just didn't get that big sponsor to cover that nut this year, unfortunately."
The economic shortfall hasn't otherwise affected the festival's lineup. Sunscreen will present 57 features, shorts, documentaries and student productions — many of them created by Floridians. Eight workshops will be presented on topics ranging from acting, screenwriting and cinematography to the creative influence of religious faith.
Of course there will be parties, starting with Wednesday's after-show gathering at Salvador Dalí Museum, and continuing each night through Saturday at Nova 535, Cafe Alma and Vue Sushi and Martini Bar, in that order. Admission to those soirees are limited to VIP and day pass holders.
"We just decided that rather than kill ourselves and squeeze blood out of a stone we would just scale it back a little for this year," Armer said. "We'll still put on a great festival with a lot of good films and workshops, then pick it back up (with major guests) next year."
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.