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Virtual, shmurtual: Sunscreen Film Festival is back, live and in person

Bill DeYoung



Writer/director Chris White will attend Thursday's opening-night screening of his musical comedy "Electric Jesus."

Year 16 of St. Petersburg’s Sunscreen Film Festival begins Thursday, and while the pandemic continues to mute our city’s cinematic circus, the 2021 edition is at least bigger and better than the 2020 one, which got bumped to last September and was, to put it mildly, underwhelming.

Still, the Palladium Theater – a regular venue for Sunscreen events – has not yet re-opened. All the screenings and workshops take place this year at the Sundial AMC Theaters. And all screening theaters are operating at 50 percent room capacity, masks are mandatory, and seating is spaced.

Unlike other national and international festivals, Sunscreen has not converted to virtual events – not last year, not this year. That was, organizers say, a priority. Still, “We’re following all of AMC’s rules,” said co-programming director Doug Tschirhart.

There aren’t any scheduled celebrity appearances this year, although a good number of indie filmmakers are planning to attend to meet, great, answer questions and participate in the movie-biz workshops.

“We knew a lot of people from other states, and other countries, aren’t going to want to travel,” Tschirhart said. “So we picked more Florida, or regional, films that would possibly bring more people in. And we actually have a lot of filmmakers coming out this year, compared to last year.”

The opening night party, Thursday from 9 p.m. until midnight, is happening at NOVA 535. Although Sunscreen is a four-day juried event, continuing through Sunday, the traditional awards ceremony takes place Saturday, from 9 to midnight, at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Electric Jesus, a musical comedy about an ‘80s hair band that’s rockin’ for the Lord, opens the Sunscreen Festival Thursday. Brian Baumgarten (The Office) is the only “name” in the cast (unless one counts Judd Nelson, who has a minor role), but reviewers have called the film warm, funny and moving “in an endearing, John Hughes kind of way.” Writer/director Chris White will be in attendance.

Electric Jesus, said Tschirhart, is “a lot of fun. It’s very ‘80s, and I’m an ‘80s kid so I’m really jazzed about it.”

Screening May 1 and 2 will be the Orlando-made documentary Forgotten Pulse Survivors, which Waveney Ann Moore wrote about last month in the Catalyst. Director Alexa Sheehan will be in attendance.

Filtered, a film about teenagers and social media from local writer/directors S. Roy Saringo and Katie Combs, is Sunday’s final feature.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on with this festival is the networking we put together,” Tschirhart added. “We’ve always had really fun events, and also out workshops are some of the best. I’ve been to other film festivals, and some don’t even have workshops.”

Here’s the schedule.



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