For a pair of homegrown filmmakers, Saturday at the Sunscreen Film Festival will be special.
William J. Stribling is showing his latest oddball comedy, Bear With Us, in the same theater he haunted as a kid in St. Petersburg's Old Northeast and Snell Isle. A child of BayWalk, he is now a Sundial man.
St. Petersburg native Corey W. Horton is showing off his hometown's talent in his debut, the wistful comedy Waiting on Mary, filmed with faces and places familiar to Tampa Bay's performing arts scene.
"It's pretty neat that I get to come back and see my movies played in that movie theater," Stribling, 25, and a Gibbs High School graduate said.
Bear With Us is Stribling's second feature at Sunscreen, after 2014's Lies I Told My Little Sister, that began production a day after he graduated from New York University. Stribling works out of Los Angeles now, directing two web series, developing another, doing freelance script coverage.
And making movies with "my dark sense of humor," like Bear With Us, in which a desperate romantic (Mark Sullivan) plans a marriage proposal interrupted by a ravenous bear. That's after his mockumentary short Down in Flames: The True Story of Tony "Volcano" Valenci, about a skydiving fire eater.
"Usually my films tend to be about people trying to pull off crazy things... It's really committed characters, these people so committed to what they're trying to do that they're blinded by that. They have trouble seeing the reality of the situation."
Couldn't that description also apply to filmmakers?
"Maybe," Stribling said, laughing. "Maybe it's just that mirror subconscious just playing out there.
"But that's true, though, especially in indie films. All of those projects have been ambitious in their own ways, not unlike just trying to get a break in the industry."
Horton is just learning how important festivals are to getting those breaks. At Sunscreen, he'll promote his movie to potential distributors at the festival's inaugural film market, and have another gauge of its appeal.
"It's so great to see the reactions from the audiences," Horton said, "when the beats of the film hit when they're supposed to, when you get laughs when you need to, when the dramatic moments really hit and you feel the impact of a scene."
Waiting on Mary stars Brian Shea as a colonial re-enactment park employee whose abrupt firing and jilting causes his break from reality. He thinks he's living in colonial times, a farce Shea pulls off well. It's his first leading role in a feature film, after several local stage successes, including The Santaland Diaries in 2014 at American Stage. The movie was filmed at several local theaters in town.
"We filmed at Freefall, [email protected]," Shea, 46, said. "My personal wish is that maybe our good fortune of being recognized can rub off on the arts community, the theatrical community at large."
Horton said Waiting on Mary shot for two weeks in May 2015, with a $30,000 budget. Locations included Seminole's historical Heritage Village and Central Avenue's Emerald Bar, with local stage favorites like Ned Averill-Snell and Bob Devin Jones.
Sunscreen can be another solid step toward the movie's distribution, after winning the best Florida production prize at the recent Gasparilla International Film Festival. Bear With Us won two awards at that festival.
"Every festival you play is a step forward," Stribling said. "Every time you get eyes on your movie it's a big deal. I had a professor at NYU who said your film isn't done until you screen it for a bunch of people you don't know in a theater.
"That's the key. You can screen it for the crew and family, pat yourself on the back. But until you show it to total strangers... you don't know if it works."
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.