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Here's what movies are coming to Sunscreen Film Festival

James Northcote and Maia Levasseur-Costil star in The Open, a different sort of post-apocalyptic drama.
Published Apr. 27, 2016

You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and you don't build a film festival without breaking a few hearts along the way.

Now Tampa Bay's longest-running mainstream showcase, the 11th annual Sunscreen Film Festival can measure by how much quality filmmaking isn't making the cut. This year, nearly 500 films were submitted for consideration, with 144 features, shorts and documentaries chosen.

"We had to break a lot of hearts because we had a lot of amazing films," Sunscreen co-founder and director Dwight Cenac said during a recent media event.

"It's an amazing thing to make it to year 11. There are about 5,000 film festivals around the United States. Less than 5 percent of them make it to year 10, and here we are at year 11."

At the same event, St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer, who co-founded Sunscreen with Cenac, announced that last year's festival posted a $1.1 million economic impact locally, according to Research Data Services Inc.

As a member of the feature films jury, I'll vouch for several movies previewed in advance.

At the top of my ballot is Marc Lahore's The Open (Sunday at American Stage, 2 p.m.), a different sort of post-apocalyptic drama. Two survivors (Pierre Benoist, Maia Levasseur-Costil) keep hope alive by imagining they're preparing for a tennis tournament at Roland Garros, convincing a soldier (James Northcote) to join the game.

Another pair of features from St. Petersburg directors won awards at last month's Gasparilla International Film Festival: Corey Horton's Waiting on Mary (Saturday at Sundial, 12:15 p.m.) stars Brian Shea as a delusional cuckold, believing he's living in Colonial times, while William J. Stribling's Bear With Us (Saturday at Sundial, 1:15 p.m.) is a farce about a far-fetched marriage proposal gone wrong when an angry bear attacks.

I also enjoyed The Rainbow Kid (Sunday at Sundial, 11 a.m.), starring Dylan Harman as a Down syndrome teenager on a road trip seeking a pot of gold to help his family. It's a heartwarming example of Cenac's standard for selection.

"Last year, we put these films through a cry test," Cenac said. "It had to make me cry. If I didn't cry, it didn't get in. … This year, we've got a lot of inspiration; a lot of emotional impact but inspiring films."

In that regard, Cenac also singled out Spare Parts, starring George Lopez as a high school robotics teacher, based on a true underdogs story. Spare Parts is Thursday night's 7 p.m. red carpet opener at the Palladium.

This year's celebrity guests are actors Paul Sorvino, who'll accompany the road trip dramedy Detours (Saturday at Sundial, 6 p.m.), and Gary Busey, in town with the thriller CandiLand (Saturday at Sundial, 3:15 p.m.). Each actor will join Q&A sessions after the screenings.

"I geeked out when I learned these actors are going to be here," Cenac said.

For a sampler approach, Sunscreen offers two dozen blocks of short films, categorized by genre (horror, sci-fi, comedy, etc.), origins (French, Latin) and student level. This year's Latin cinema sidebar includes Colombia's Oscar-nominated feature Embrace of the Serpent.

Among documentaries, I'll recommend Kristin Catalano's Clarence, profiling an octogenarian World War II veteran returning to college to earn a bachelor's degree. Clarence will be shown Sunday, 10:30 a.m. at American Stage in St. Petersburg.

Sunscreen also presents 15 workshops on a variety of filmmaking topics, from financing and distribution tips, to camera and acting technique. Each will be held at American Stage.

A complete schedule is available at sunscreenfilmfestival.com.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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