BY STEVE PERSALL
Times Movie Critic
Escaping the heat in a dark movie theater this weekend?
Don't forget the Sunscreen.
St. Petersburg's 12th annual Sunscreen Film Festival won't be fast or furious. The beasts and beauties in these independent gems don't sing. Sunscreen celebrates films and their makers that modern movie audiences don't go out of their way to experience.
Which is exactly why we should.
This year's Sunscreen showcases 125 features, documentaries and shorts from around the world. Nearly half will be represented at Sunscreen by an actor, director and/or producer, enabling connections between artists and audiences that festivals offer.
Festivities Thursday at the Palladium Theater begin at 5 p.m. when Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story, Steel Magnolias) introduces his TV project Sugar, produced at Sarasota's Ringling College. After a Q&A session, McDermott joins the red carpet procession outside.
McDermott also co-stars in the opening night selection Blind (8 p.m.), a love story with Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore. He'll join director Michael Mailer for a post-show Q&A and reception.
Sunscreen career honorees Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos, The Matrix) and Robert Davi (Die Hard, Licence to Kill) will walk the red carpet, perhaps together, reuniting the Fratelli brothers from The Goonies.
Beginning Friday, Sundial 20 handles most festival screenings and industry panel discussions with detours to American Stage, Museum of Fine Arts and [email protected]
Davi's charming Frank Sinatra concert re-creation Davi's Way makes its Florida premiere Saturday at 4 p.m. at Sundial 20. After the movie I'll moderate a Q&A with Davi. On Sunday I'll do the same with Pantoliano at 4 p.m. at [email protected], 620 1st Ave. S.
Keep an eye open on the red carpet for Daphne Zuniga, headlining Saturday's 30th anniversary tribute to Mel Brooks' Spaceballs and starring in Those Left Behind, a drama in the Ordinary People vein.
The weekend's guest list also includes actor-director Bill Duke (Predator), Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black) and dozens of names and faces not yet as well-known, but that's what festivals like Sunscreen are all about.
As a Sunscreen jury member, I've watched seven features in competition and Davi's Way. Each is recommended according to viewer tastes.
I Can I Will I Did (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.) and Tracktown (Sunday 3:15) both use true-life athletes in fictionalized form — a tae kwon do grandmaster and Olympic distance runner, respectively — to uplifting effect. Carter & June (Friday 6:15) and Residue (Saturday 6:15) should satisfy action/horror genre fans. Those Left Behind (Saturday 4:10) is quietly wrenching with Zuniga in fine form. Duke's Created Equal turns Catholic dogma into solid courtroom theatrics.
My vote among narrative feature entries goes to Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse (Saturday, 4:15), a warmly absurd comedy showing at American Stage, 163 3rd St. N. Married comedians Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine play versions of themselves finding love at the end of civilization.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
That's only scratching the Sunscreen surface. The weekend also includes sidebars of Latin cinema, Florida productions and Spotlight selections like The Hero (Friday 8:25) with Sam Elliott's lauded lead performance.
Panel discussions at American Stage cover industry topics like screenwriting, marketing and financing projects. Saturday's acting panels on male (11:15 a.m.) and female characters (2:15 p.m.) are always interesting places with for famous faces. For more information, times and tickets ($8-$150), visit sunscreenfilmfestival.com.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.