ST. PETERSBURG — Entourages often trail movie stars at red carpet occasions. They aren't usually comprised of intergalactic heroes and villains, or a beeping sidekick.
At opening night Wednesday of the Sunscreen Film Festival, Billy Dee Williams counted Darth Vader, a few Jedis and R2-D2 among his posse, after playing space rogue "Lando Calrissian" in the Star Wars saga.
"Happens all the time," Williams, 73, said outside Muvico BayWalk 20, a few seconds before being surrounded by fans, cameras and items to autograph. "At this juncture in my life I'm just having a good time. So, whatever. I'm just having fun."
The actor who defined 1970's smooth in films like Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany and Brian's Song is a key attraction for Sunscreen, now in its fifth year. This festival is devoted to helping amateur filmmakers build creative foundations, with 16 workshops in an array of crafts mixed with nearly 60 features, documentaries and shorts.
"That's a reason I'm here," Williams said. "These are very altruistic people, giving support to a lot of artists who in normal circumstances, well, the opportunities are pretty scarce."
A few minutes behind Williams on the red carpet were actors Ethan Suplee (TV's My Name is Earl) and Bill Cobbs (Night at the Museum), who'll teach acting classes at Sunscreen. As a Star Wars devotee, Suplee eagerly awaited the chance to meet Williams when the preshow crush died down.
"Are you kidding?" he said. "This is a big deal. It's Lando Calrissian, the coolest."
Williams lived up to that title Wednesday, graciously stopping for photographs and small talk with dozens of admirers clogging the theater entrance. At least one female fan will attest that Williams still has that silky charm going on.
"Oh, my gosh, yes he does," Alicia Fiorello, 45, of St. Petersburg said in the lobby. "He's still fine."
Later, Williams and the other celebs joined VIP pass holders at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts for a reception catered by the Parkshore Grille. Guests munched shrimp bruschetta on Asiago toast, curry chicken salad, and pinwheeled portobello mushrooms and peppers.
Two Sunscreen celebrities couldn't make it to Wednesday's opener. Actors John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever) and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, The A-Team) are scheduled to arrive this weekend, each making their second Sunscreen appearances.
Wilson, a St. Petersburg native and son of WTVT news anchor John Wilson, will teach a four-hour acting workshop Saturday ($100 per student), followed by his new film, Barry Munday, at 2:10 p.m. A day pass is required to attend that screening and Wilson's Q&A session afterward.
Travolta and Wilson will appear Saturday night at the Sunscreen awards reception at Mirror Lake Lycium, open exclusively to VIP pass holders. Those all-access passes ($125) are still available at sunscreenfilmfestival.com.
Profits from the Sunscreen Film Festival will be donated to Resurrection House, a St. Petersburg nonprofit support group for homeless families.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.