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Sunscreen Film Festival shines light on budding talent

Matthew Ziff

Matthew Ziff


Times Movie Critic

Now in its eighth year, the Sunscreen Film Festival has carved its niche as a showcase for filmmakers who aren't quite there yet.

Talented, yes. Certainly productive, with 90 features, documentaries and shorts on tap this year. Yet generally not household names outside the households of their actors, crews and financiers.

What Sunscreen does better than most film festivals is provide education for aspiring film artists in a variety of creative and professional skills. Set their feet in the right direction to get them in the door.

This year's edition offers 11 workshops over three days, on laser-focused topics such as producing movies for appeal to Latino audiences, actor auditioning techniques, selling scripts to Hollywood and the impact of gun violence in movies. Toss in how-to seminars for actors, producers and screenwriters and Sunscreen's purpose beyond showing movies is clear.

Workshops are open to daily ($50) and VIP ($150) passholders only.

"It's an atypical event since a lot of festivals don't really do this kind of thing," said Sunscreen guest Matthew Ziff, 22, an actor from this year's centerpiece movie Treachery. Ziff co-stars with Jennifer Blanc and Caitlin Keats — who'll also attend Sunscreen — and veteran character actor Michael Biehn (Aliens, The Terminator) who won't.

"It's fantastic, with the workshops and everything," Ziff said in a telephone interview. "Some really cool stuff in there. It's really beneficial for people who want to get a good solid taste for where you need to go. … I think it'll be invaluable for people trying to get into it, or honing their skills."

Biehn was a late scratch from Sunscreen's guest list due to an acting gig that popped up, according to Sunscreen co-founder Tony Armer. He'll still be honored Sunday with a Lifetime Bada-- Award that the festival created for him, to be accepted by his wife Blanc.

Another addition to Sunscreen this year is a $5,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, one of 23 that the organization best known for presenting Oscars doled out in 2013. Sunscreen is using the money to present its inaugural Spanish Language Filmmaker Showcase, starting with tonight's opener, the documentary Hecho en Mexico.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow him at @StevePersall on Twitter.

Sunscreen Film Festival

The movies

All screenings are held at Muvico BayWalk 20, 151 Second Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Tickets are $8 per screening session, although if you're seriously diving into Sunscreen, then day passes ($50) or all-access VIP passes ($150) are recommended. Visit for information on films and screening times. Here are some recommendations:

The festival's accent on Spanish language films begins tonight with a 6 p.m. red carpet entrance to a screening of Hecho en Mexico. Duncan Bridgeman's documentary explores Mexico's cultural fabric and geographic diversity, with insights by such artists as Diego Luna and Chavela Vargas.

Friday's lineup begins at 10 a.m. with separate showings of the documentaries Book Club (a 60-year gathering for old friends) and Disney of Duivendrecht about Dutch animator Joop Geesink. Afternoon sessions are chiefly devoted to short film blocks, two of which showcase Spanish language works while others focus on English language drama, comedy, sci-fi and horror.

Friday night belongs to feature-length films, including a 6:30 p.m. screening of The Victim starring Michael Biehn and his wife/co-star/producer Jennifer Blanc. She'll introduce the psychological thriller then conduct a Q&A session after it concludes. Christina Crawford's autobiographical documentary Surviving Mommie Dearest wraps up the evening at 7:30 p.m.

Blanc returns at 6 p.m. Saturday with co-stars Matthew Ziff and Caitlin Keats to present a test screening of Treachery, preceded by Ziff's short film Speed Demon.

Other features scheduled for Saturday include the autism drama The Story of Luke starring Cary Elwes (12:45), Girl in Progress (5:45) and a showing at 4 of the horror comedy Silent But Deadly and a post-show Q&A with director Jason Lockhart and actors Martin Kove (The Karate Kid) and Dawn Wells ("MaryAnn" from Gilligan's Island). The day also offers seven short film blocks, including an animated collection at 4 p.m.

Sunday's highlights include Jeff Thompson's nature-as-healer documentary Florida Suite (12:30 p.m.), foreign films from Japan and France, and the festival-closing documentary Pui Chan: Kung Fu Pioneer at 6:15.

The celebrities

In addition to Blanc, Ziff (left), Kove, Keats and Wells, Sunscreen welcomes actors Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) and Jason Matthew Smith (Star Trek), screenwriters Jerry Eeten (Identity Thief), Ricky Roxburgh (Saving Santa) and Rik Swartzwelder (Old Fashioned), and assorted producers, studio marketers and talent representatives, most of whom will participate in …

The workshops

Above all, Sunscreen is a learning initiative for aspiring filmmakers, with seminars geared toward budding actors (10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Friday), producers (1 and 4 p.m. Friday) and screenwriters (10 a.m. Saturday). Other workshops focus upon auditioning techniques (noon Sunday), selling scripts (2 p.m. Sunday) and various targeted audiences. All are conducted at BayWalk 20. A complete list of workshops is available at

The parties

After the lights go up, Sunscreen gets down at nightly soirees in St. Petersburg starting with tonight's 9 p.m. party at Nova 535, 535 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N. Saturday the festival takes it to the streets at 6 p.m. outside Bluelucy Art Gallery, 653 Central Ave. Saturday's 9 p.m. awards ceremony and closing party will be at Studio 620, 620 First Ave. S.

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

Sunscreen Film Festival shines light on budding talent 04/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 5:12pm]
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