Movies, stars bring glitz to Tampa Bay Area film festivals

The media gathered outside St. Petersburg’s historic Palladium Theater, waiting for a glimpse of producers, directors and actors affiliated with the Sunscreen Film Festival to drift by on the red carpet.

There was Kirstie Alley, best known for the popular TV series Cheers; Dylan McDermott, who appeared in Steel Magnolias and American Horror Story; and Joe Pantoliano, an actor in The Sopranos.

But the real show-stopper was Apple, a two-foot palomino horse, who wore tiny pink lace-up ballet shoes and a pink scarf.  

Tampa Bay native Castille Landon led Apple through the crowd on a lavender leash as the two stopped to pose for photos and interviews. The mini-horse seemed to know that she had center spotlight and loved it.  A “diva” is what her trainer has called her in other news stories.

That’s not too surprising since the horse is a star in her own right, earning movie credits for her role in Apple of My Eye, a new film written and directed by Landon, starring Burt Reynolds.  

Landon was a commanding presence herself with long auburn hair and over-the-top high heels. An actress, screenwriter and director, Landon grew up in Terra Ceia in Manatee County and gradated from the former Bradenton Preparatory School. She moved to Hollywood in her teens, and then went on to earn an English degree from Harvard University. She’s now completing a master’s degree in creative writing at Oxford University in London.

Coming home to the Tampa Bay region is always a positive experience, says Landon. “If I could live anywhere in Florida, it would be St. Petersburg. There is so much happening here.”

Apple of My Eye tells the story of a young girl her who loses her eyesight after a traumatic horse riding accident. In the movie, the little horse, rather than a dog, is trained by Bradenton-based Southeastern Guide Dogs to be the girl’s companion and “surrogate” eyes.

Apple of My Eye was Landon’s second film. Her third, Albion: The Enchanted Stallion, was the closing film of the Sunscreen Festival. That film was shot locally in Manatee County as well as internationally in Bulgaria.

Independent films like Landon’s are what the Sunscreen Film Festival is all about. 
Held each spring, the festival is a three-day extravaganza of independent films from around the world, combined with workshops where industry professionals offer advice to aspiring local filmmakers.    

Alan Armstrong, a local screenwriter and musician, was there to watch the films, glean some advice from the pros and volunteer.  He’s a board member of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Society, which sponsors the annual Sunscreen Film Festival.

Now in its 12th year, the festival is “very well organized and a wonderful expression of the arts culture in Tampa Bay,” says Armstrong. “It’s art at its finest.”

According to the organization’s website, the festival had a small start with films screened the first year in a local art gallery. Now it’s grown to be a major independent film event that brings people from all over the world who want to come to our beautiful city,” says Joe Restaino, Sunscreen Festival’s programming director.

Jane Seymour, who has a long list of movie credentials and starred in the TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, was one of a dozen Hollywood celebrities spotted around town during the event. 

Seymour attended the Women in Film brunch held at the Morean Arts Center Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District.

Competition for a spot in the Sunscreen Film Festival line-up is fierce. 

“Joe and I watched over 600 films in order to narrow down the list to the award-winning films chosen for this year’s festival,” says Wey Lin, the festival’s senior programmer. In total 125 films -- 37 features and 89 shorts -- were selected for screening at venues ranging from the Palladium and Sundial, to Studio@620, the Museum of Fine Arts, American Stage Theater, and even Black Crow Coffee Shop, which screens cartoons in collaboration with festival organizers.

All of the films were indies with independent filmmakers from around the world submitting entries in diverse categories such as best short, best animated, feature and documentary, as well as best Florida and best Latin. Ten of the shorts were chosen to go on to this year’s international Cannes Film Festival.

Tampa and Sarasota celebrate filmmaking 

The Sunscreen Film Festival is not Tampa Bay’s only showcase of the art of digital storytelling. 

Tampa’s Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival is going strong after 11 years, with opening night at the landmark Tampa Theatre drawing big crowds. The popular week-long event is sponsored by the nonprofit Tampa Film Institute.

Like Sunscreen, Gasparilla also offers classes and panel discussions with industry professionals, networking events and parties, as well as a unique selection of feature films, shorts and documentaries.  

This year’s starring features included Unleashed, a comedy directed by Finn Taylor, The Lost City of Z, starring Charlie Hunnam as British explorer Percy Fawcett, and Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman as feminist Gertrude Bell.

Sarasota is host to the Tampa Bay region’s longest-running film festival. The 19th annual Sarasota Film Festival brought an interesting lineup of films and celebrities to the area, including actress Diane Lane and Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and a top U.S. documentary filmmaker.

The Sarasota festival is noted for screening indie films that are thought-provoking and often push the boundaries, such as this year’s City of Ghosts, about the ISIS-resistance movement RBSS in Syria. Additional films highlighted issues ranging from environmental sustainability and climate change to LGBTQ themes, along with a world premier from the new Sarasota Film Festival Veteran’s Filmmaking Academy. Another long-standing tradition is the screening of films written, directed or produced by women around the world. 

One of the unique aspects of BLUE Ocean Film Festival is its location.  It’s held in alternating years in either St. Petersburg or the principality of Monaco on the French Riviera. This year it’s in Monaco.

Billed as one of the largest marine environmental film festivals in the world, BLUE Ocean Film Festival brings together filmmakers, scientists, conservationists and explorers to discuss the health of our oceans. 83 Degrees Media first featured the festival in a September 2013 story.

In addition, the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has featured "LGBTQ+ films, parties and festival goodness for almost 30 years.'' This year's festival runs October 6th to 14th at theaters on both sides of the Bay.

And, Tampa is home to the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival coming up Nov. 30th-Dec. 3rd 2017. 

A great filmmaking location

Tampa Bay not only celebrates films and filmmakers but the region is considered a top-rated film location. The region’s beaches, historic neighborhoods, iconic landmarks and other landscapes have caught the attention of big budget films, as well as corporate productions.

The Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission and the St. Petersburg Clearwater Film Commission both work to attract filmmakers to the area, all with an eye toward economic development opportunities.

Portions of nearly 30 well-known films have been shot on location locally, from Cocoon back in 1984 to Lethal Weapon 3 in 2001 when the former Sereno Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg was famously imploded for the movie. More recent movies filmed locally have included Dolphin Tale in 2010, Magic Mike in 2011 and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in 2016.
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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.