A Look Into the Sunscreen Film Festival and Other Covid-Era Film Fests

September 21, 2020 | By Victoria Jorgensen

Should She Stay or Should She Go?

. . .

What’s happening around the world!

Audiences attend film festivals for many reasons, most of which are activities currently shunned if not outlawed at the moment. The pandemic is wreaking havoc within the film industry and slaying many festivals.

Many large festivals have canceled or converted to virtual or a hybrid of digital and in-person screenings. Festivals like Tribeca and Cannes have postponed indefinitely or skipped their 2020 fests altogether. Some, like Venice, TIFF and New York have chosen to adapt social distancing, provide outdoor screening arenas and reduce the number of screenings. Telluride organizers created a list of what they would have programmed in 2020, encouraging their fans to catch suggested films at other festivals.

If nothing else, the pandemic created an atmosphere of collaboration instead of competition between fests.

Press and industry will likely view films online while cast and crew festival guests will be sparse. Some attendees will show in person but where there is a virtual option, a paradigm shift is occurring in the way audiences ingest their content.

Many festivals have been hit below the belt financially, reducing staff and losing sponsors. An average 50-70% of festival revenues have been lost depending on the size and timing of the festivals.

2021 may bring more loss or an incredible turnaround depending on the status of Covid 19 and related regulations, as well as the attending public’s willingness to take calculated risk. Film audiences are extremely loyal and hungry for the latest content.

What’s happening in our own backyard!

The Sunscreen Film Festival takes a deep breath and goes live in person September 24-27. Tony Armer, founder of the Sunscreen Film Festival and St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commissioner is confident the Sunscreen Film Festival can provide a safe screening atmosphere for those who want to attend.

The 15th annual festival originally scheduled last Spring was fully funded by sponsors and grants. The logistics and tech costs of switching to a virtual festival outweighed the cost of a live event, so Armer worked hand in hand with the newly refurbished AMC Theatres to create a scaled-down environment which allows attendees safe distancing and highly sanitized venues. AMC’s “clean and safe” protocols can be found here.

Because screening room capacities will be at 50% during the festival, AMC is opening more screens, so the most popular films will have multiple screenings to accommodate attendees.

There will be no printed programs, ticketing will be digital only. There is no Opening Night Party or Red Carpet. The most important goal is to promote the festival as a healthy safe environment for people to enjoy films. #SafeScreen is the hashtag for this year.

What not to miss!

Find the full schedule at sunscreenfilmfestival2020.sched.com


Workshops, one of the most coveted events of Sunscreen, will go on as usual with a few caveats. The AMC scheduled workshops will follow the same safety cleaning protocols as screenings. Some workshops will take place at the Hilton Bayfront Downtown St. Petersburg, the festival’s official hotel.

Scheduled workshops and panels include writing, marketing, acting and talent producing, finance, legal and the favorite, “Pitchfest.”

Visiting speakers include

Milan Chakraborty (formerly with Warner Brothers), Lucius Baston (well known former Bay Area actor), Robert Enriquez (LA talent director), Ash Greyson (industry PR and marketing go-to-guy) and Scott Goldberg (entertainment attorney).

Visiting Talent Includes

Ramfis Myrthil (New York-based filmmaker who has screened at Sundance and Tribeca), Avril Speaks (multi-talented producer, director, writer, editor, camera and electrical dept.), Liz Cardenas (successful actor and producer).

As ever, many local filmmakers will be present for the screening of their films.

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There are a plethora of excellent narrative and documentary features and shorts. This year’s lineup is very diverse with 50% of the films created by women and many from filmmakers of color. Armer suggests a few of his favorites. . .

Wake Up – short with opening night film.
A woman is forced to rediscover her humanity in an increasingly digital world. Directed by Olivia Wilde, stars Margaret Qualley.

Beast Beast – opening night film, premiered at Sundance, produced by Alec Baldwin and directed by Danny Madden. Three interwoven stories of youth navigating identity, first love, petty crime and gun violence in a Southern, American town.

Schemers – A true story about David Mclean.  His soccer career over, Davie starts promoting gigs in Dundee, Scotland with his friends John and Scot – leading to a hugely ambitious Iron Maiden show. Out of his depth and deep in debt with Fergie, a gangster of legendary violence, Davie needs to pull off the biggest scheme of his life. 

Ultimately, David Mclean and Alex Weston founded Riverman Management in 1989 and partnered with some of the most well-respected artists in music, from Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam, to Cypress Hill, Rage Against The Machine and Beck.

The Illegal – Written and directed by Danish Renzu and starring Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi).
A gritty realistic story about a young film school student from middle-class India who’s forced to drop out to support his family, while staying in the U.S. as an undocumented worker. 

The Seven – Directed by Richard Colton and starring Dean Cain.
A horror thriller. Decades after the members of a satanic cult died in a fire that destroyed their mansion, a college stands on the very spot where the mansion once towered.

A student hopes for a romantic night with the woman he’s fallen in love with. Her friends, however, upon hearing of his plan, set out to sabotage the nights as much as they can. Unfortunately, everyone gets locked in by the college’s live-in caretaker, a shady character who usually cleans up after the students.

The MisEducation of Bindu – Starring David Arquette and Priyanka Bose.
In this comedy, a bullied Indian teen forges her mother’s signature to test out of high school, and discovers she must pay a test fee by the 7th period, leaving her no choice but to turn to the students she desperately wants to leave.

Other Tips

Be safe and courteous if taking selfies in front of the festival step-and-repeat background.

There will be a Saturday night award ceremony at the Birchwood Ballroom. Safety practices will be in place.


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