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Sunscreen Film Festival brings movie screenings, productions to Tampa Bay

At least 13 productions shot here happened after the event introduced filmmakers to the area.
Pinellas film commissioner and co-founder of the Sunscreen Film Festival Tony Armer poses with event model Brielle Carter on opening night of the 11th annual Sunscreen Film Festival at The Palladium in St. Petersburg in 2016.
Pinellas film commissioner and co-founder of the Sunscreen Film Festival Tony Armer poses with event model Brielle Carter on opening night of the 11th annual Sunscreen Film Festival at The Palladium in St. Petersburg in 2016. [ "LUIS SANTANA | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 19|Updated Apr. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — When Tony Armer founded the Sunscreen Film Festival along with friend Derek Miner, he did so to bring independent cinema to Tampa Bay screens.

But, as the annual film festival prepares to kick off its 17th year on April 28, Armer said the event has impacted the area in another, unplanned way.

Sunscreen has brought independent film productions to Pinellas County, where it is headquartered.

Out-of-town filmmakers attend the festival, fall in love with Pinellas and return to shoot a movie or web series.

Armer counts at least 13 such productions.

“I was not film commissioner when we started Sunscreen,” said Armer, the Pinellas film commissioner since 2014 and current festival board member. “But it certainly makes my job easier now.”

He will have chance to woo more visiting filmmakers at this year’s festival, which runs through May 1 at AMC Sundial 12 in St. Petersburg.

Filmmakers are expected to attend their screenings of the following movies:

Pretty Problems, which, according to IMDB.com, is about two friends invited by affluent strangers on a getaway trip that turns into the most unhinged weekend of their lives.

Love After War, which introduces viewers to veterans and their partners who candidly share how they won the battle to restore emotional closeness and physical intimacy after surviving catastrophic combat-related injuries.

Follow the Dead, which IMDB.com says is about four rural Ireland millennials who can’t discern fake news from real against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.

Each of those filmmakers and others will be invited on a tour of Pinellas County.

“We take them around and show them locations they can use and talk about how great it is to shoot here,” Armer said. “And I am always asking them what we can do to bring their next project here. But to be honest, the area sells itself.”

Filmmaker Sanjeev Sirpal attended Sunscreen in 2008 and returned to Pinellas in 2015 to make Random Tropical Paradise.

Oliver Robins, best known as the son in the original Poltergeist, attended in 2015 and then shot Celebrity Crush in Pinellas two years later.

Michael Baumgarten was also there in 2015 and back in Pinellas in 2019 to film A Brother’s Honor.

Marty Poole has made three movies in Pinellas since attending one of the first Sunscreen festivals — two Bernie the Dolphin movies and Radar the Bionic Dog, which recently wrapped and stars Dean Cain.

“And then there are the number of residents who attend every single year, meet and end up collaborating on a project,” Armer said. “There have to be hundreds who met at one of our parties, screenings or workshops.”

This year’s workshops include “How to Get Talent and Representation,” “Making Documentaries that Will Get Distribution” and “Writing: The Art and Science of Pitching.”

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“It’s all very natural, very organic,” Armer said. “You put a bunch of creative filmmakers in the same place for four days and they’re going to talk and find ways to collaborate.”

Armer recalled being mocked 17 years ago when he first announced Sunscreen Film Festival.

“There were successful niche festivals, but no one had been able to start a successful mainstream festival in the area,” he said. “So, people smiled and told me that it was a sweet idea like I was a little kid they were patting on the head. Well, Sunscreen is still here.”

If you go

Sunscreen Film Festival

When: April 28-May 1

Where: AMC Sundial 12, 151 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

For a schedule and tickets: Visit sunscreenfilmfestival.com.

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