There usually isn’t an overriding theme to the Stony Brook Film Festival, but this year one happened to emerge: actors playing actors.

Three films in the festival focus on actors at varying stages of their careers. In the opening-night film “The Carer,” Brian Cox plays an ailing Shakespearean legend; “No Pay, Nudity” stars Nathan Lane as a thespian waiting for a coveted role; “The Father and the Bear” features Wil Love as a summer-stock veteran whose mind is faltering. What’s more, all three real actors (and many others) are scheduled to attend the festival.

“Brian Cox is a great character actor, and he’s not always in the starring role in movies,” says festival director Alan Inkles. “But this is really his film. It’s his tour de force.”

The lineup also features several foreign films (including “Samira,” about the making of a female suicide bomber) and documentaries (“Screenagers,” about the effects of modern technology, comes from Stony Brook professor Delaney Ruston). As always, most features are preceded by a short, adding up to more than 30 films in all.

Below are some highlights of the festival’s 21st edition, which begins July 21. All screenings take place at the Staller Center for the Arts on the Stony Brook University campus.

THE CARER (July 21 at 8 p.m.). The legendary Shakespearean actor Sir Michael Gifford (Brian Cox) is suffering from an incurable disease and alienating everyone around him. Enter a new caregiver, Dorottya (Coco Konig), a Hungarian immigrant with acting dreams of her own. Cox will attend this opening-night screening.

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THE FATHER AND THE BEAR (July 22 at 7 p.m.). Festival regular John Putch (“Mojave Phone Booth”) returns with a drama about a character actor (Wil Love) struggling with dementia. Inspired by Putch’s own acting family; his father ran a summer theater company for 30 years, and his mother was Jean Stapleton. Putch will attend the screening with members of his cast and crew.

THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA: HOW SWEET THE SOUND (July 23 at 5 p.m.). Leslie McCleave’s documentary is being touted as “the first and only” documentary on the gospel group whose members first sang together as children in 1944. They’ve since won six Grammys, including a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.

LOVE & TAXES (July 24 at 7 p.m.). Another real-life tale — sort of — from monologuist Josh Kornbluth. Here, he decides to file his taxes for the first time in many years. With Helen Shumaker, Sarah Overman and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

NO PAY, NUDITY (July 26 at 7 p.m.). Nathan Lane, Gabriel Byrne, Frances Conroy and others play thespians hanging out in the Actors Equity lobby hoping for that perfect role. The film’s title comes from a particularly inauspicious actors-wanted ad. Lane and director Lee Wilkof will attend this world premiere screening.

A MAN CALLED OVE (July 30 at 8). A grumpy old man, recently deposed from his condo association but still policing his neighborhood with tyrannical authority, strikes up an unlikely friendship with his new neighbor, a pregnant woman. Variety called Hannes Holm’s adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s novel “a touching comic crowdpleaser that may call for a tissue or two by the end.”