Sunscreen Film Festival brings independent movies, workshops, parties to St. Petersburg

Searching for Sonny, with Minka Kelly and Jason Dohring, is the highlight tonight. Dohring will attend.
Searching for Sonny, with Minka Kelly and Jason Dohring, is the highlight tonight. Dohring will attend.
Published April 18, 2012

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

The Sunscreen Film Festival caught a bad break recently when actor Gary Sinise was injured in a car accident, forcing him to cancel an appearance with his Lt. Dan Band.

Yet the Sunscreen show goes on, with screenings today through Sunday at BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg. This seventh annual showcase of doggedly independent filmmaking continues its tradition of shedding a projector light on artists seeking their big break.

Here's a primer of what's happening this weekend, with complete information available at

The movies

Sunscreen is where moviegoers take risks with their selections, since there is practically no advance buzz for these very independent productions or known actors in their casts. Preview trailers for several films are available at the festival's website.

Selections can wind up exhilarating or exasperating, but that sense of discovery is everything at smaller festivals like Sunscreen. Filmmakers in attendance appreciate the attention. Many entries have local ties, so you may be supporting Tampa Bay's arts scene.

All screenings are held at Muvico BayWalk 20 in downtown St. Petersburg. Tickets are $8 per program or $35 for that day's movies, workshops and parties. Weekend all-access passes cost $150. Visit for complete information.

Here are a few suggestions to kick-start your Sunscreen curiosity:

• The festival opens today at 12:30 p.m. with Running With Demons, a documentary co-created by Sunscreen executive director Tony Armer. It's the inspiring story of Todd Crandell, a former substance abuser now competing in Ultraman endurance races. Also, check out Mark Dissette's There's Still Hope for Dreams (3 p.m.), a documentary about a troupe of physically disabled actors.

• Tonight's red carpet showcase film at 7 p.m. is Searching for Sonny, an offbeat murder mystery starring Jason Dohring (who'll be attending) and Derek Jeter's ex-girlfriend Minka Kelly (who won't).

• Friday's lineup includes a pair of short film showcases (noon, 3 p.m.), and Born & Raised (6 p.m.), a coming-of-age drama filmed entirely in Florida.

• Saturday screenings begin at noon with "Promises & Memories," a collection of documentary shorts including Mermaids of New York, purporting to show the sea creatures living near Manhattan. For a less believable shorts session, try "Thrillers, Kooks & Werewolves" at 4:30 p.m. Evening shows Saturday include The Honey Killer (6 p.m.) and Cross Threads (7:30).

• The festival wraps Sunday with a pair of interesting features: Hush Hush (5 p.m.) traces the sexual awakenings of conservative newlyweds, and Marvin's Room (5:30) is an existential love story filmed in England.

The parties

Sunscreen caps tonight and Friday with cash bars and dancing at two of St. Petersburg's premier nightclubs. Tonight the setting is Nova 535, at 535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. Admission to this and Saturday's wrap party is included in day passes ($35) and VIP all-access passes ($150).

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Friday's shindig begins at 10:30 p.m. at Push Ultra Lounge, continuing until 2 a.m. It's open to public, with a cover charge at the door (waived for festival pass holders).

After Saturday's 8:30 p.m. awards ceremony at BayWalk 20, VIP and day pass holders will amble to the Morean Arts Center, at 719 Central Ave., for a wrap party.

The workshops

More than anything, Sunscreen is about inspiring and educating film artists, with panels and workshops on a variety of production topics.

• Today at 3 p.m., Eric Bean and Terri Emerson conduct a one-hour workshop on screenwriting techniques.

• Friday at 10 a.m. the focus is on acting, with Michael Roberts (Rain Man, Baretta) leading the class. At 1:30 p.m., the discussion turns to "How to Get a Sales Agent and Sell Your Film."

• Saturday is packed with workshops, from an all-day acting studio (for an additional $59.99) conducted by The Descendants casting director John Jackson, to an 11 a.m. symposium on "Building Your Film Audience and Making Money." At the same time, David Paterson shares screenwriting tips, and at 3 p.m. Robert Enriquez explains "How to Make a Movie Under $10K and Get Distribution." Talent agents get into the act at 5:30, with Michael Greenwald offering his experience.

Sunday's curriculum includes tips for child actors from Disney Channel stars, and methods of using social media to promote movies, both starting at 10:30 a.m.

Admission to workshops is included in day passes and VIP packages, with the exception of Jackson's acting class.

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365.