It has been “Ten years of film,” the Gasparilla International Film Festival touts proudly upon its program magazine. It’s certainly a feat to be proud of for a festival that has had its share of troubles over the years and at one point was seriously close to never happening again. But in 2016 the festival is ready to kick things off on a beautiful spring day in the heart of downtown Tampa, Florida at the Tampa Theatre for its opening night film Eye in the Sky. The red carpet is rolled out for this big-time affair that has drawn a fair amount of media attention and plenty of festival-goers to fill the historic theatre to experience this moment when Hollywood comes into our city to put on a cinematic show. And over the next few days film fans will be flooding down the aisles to look upon the screen, to take in a few films and have a chance to experience a film with the potential to be the next great classic, or perhaps its only public viewing.
Opening night goes just about as you would expect as the beautiful people of the Tampa Bay area gather together for photos while an excited buzz works through the crowd. Flashbulbs ignite as director Gavin Hood (Enders Game, Eye in the Sky) takes photos and fields questions from various reporters. For some fans, over the course of the night this will be their chance to rub shoulders with various filmmakers and go away with stories to tell their friends about who they got to meet. After all, it’s at these festivals where the filmmakers get a chance to step out in front of an audience and discuss their latest film and engage various fans while enjoying some cocktails.
It’s the next day, though, where for me the real festival begins. Sure, it is great to check out the glitz and glamour of a film premiere, but what I’m here for is to enjoy as many films as I can with the hopes of possibly finding a little cinematic gem.
For those who have yet to discover the Carmike Cinemas in Centro Ybor, you’ve missed out on a treat. Sure, it has the smell of popcorn that hits you as you come through the doors, but it’s the interior design that helps set the mood. The Spanish design blends with the cultural atmosphere of the area and sets a tone unlike your typical box theaters, and already there are lines of people waiting to get into their screenings.
I’m here for the new James Franco, Amber Heard, and Ed Harris drama, The Adderall Diaries (a more thorough review to come later). Neither the talent nor director are in attendance, so the audience is a bit different from the previous night; tonight I seemed to be surrounded by film fans who are more interested in seeing a good film rather than an excuse to dress pretty and have drinks. The film seems to play well for the audience and turns out to be what I had expected (and in a good way), a good movie that usually gets lost in the shuffle of Hollywood blockbusters that you usually don’t get to see until it’s on Netflix.
When it comes to go to festivals, I do what I can ahead of time to plan out what I want to see; taking the gamble the day you walk through the doors and just flipping a coin is not the kind of risk I like to take. But on Saturday I was forced to call an audible. Precious Cargo was making its world premiere, with star Mark-Paul Gosselaar in attendance, and who wouldn’t want the chance to meet the man, the myth, the legend Zack Morris from Saved By the Bell? Problem is the lines for this were insane, and the chances of getting a good seat were out of the question. Checking out the schedule, I figured it was best I checked out the block of short films that they would be playing; after all, it’s not as though this would be the only chance I would get to see a Bruce Willis film.
“Love is in the Air” was the theme of this short film block, so I’ll admit I was a little reluctant about getting my hopes up with this set. The previous night I had seen the short film block of Drama entries; though I was entertained, none of them stuck with me. But this time I came away liking Mother’s Day (with a touching performance from Melissa Leo), Pasta, and Sleeping with Earrings On. Each short dealt with separate themes and tones that showed that there are some talented filmmakers out there with some hopefully blossoming careers.
The night was capped off with the late night screening of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. I’ll get into the film more when I do a review of it later, but this for me was the hidden gem of the festival. What’s disappointing were how few people came out to see this film, and this somewhat gets around to my only major criticism of the festival. Each film only gets played once, so basically there is no chance for a film to pick up much buzz and get people to come and discover a previous film. Granted there is the opportunity for the films that are in the “best of fest” category, but the films that did well in these categories did so because they had the talent there to help entice a larger audience. I understand a limited schedule and a limited amount of screens prevents the opportunity to give films a second screening, but it’s something I would hope that possibly down the road would be looked into for those that A) never got into their first film of choice due to capacity issues or B) had to choose between two titles running at the same time.
For those who may not be able to handle sitting in a darkened theater for hours watching various films, GIFF does offer up plenty of alternatives for those curious about dipping their toes into the entertainment industry with opportunities to pitch your own film ideas to producers while also offering panels with informative conversations about acting as well as other positions behind the scenes. These panels are a part of what makes GIFF unique, because it holds open the door for everyone to have the chance to learn how about to pursue their dreams and ask questions to those who are actively working in the industry.
Who won awards at this year’s festival? The lifetime achievement award was given to Academy Award winner Rita Moreno who was in attendance for her new film Remember Me. For those who may be struggling to figure out where you may know her from, well, for me I best remember her for her performance in West Side Story, and if you haven’t seen that one yet, well, what are you waiting for? For the other winners of the festival, here you go.
10th Annual GIFF award winners
Best College Short: Dixie
Best Short: Lionheart
Best Florida Production: Waiting on Mary
Best International Feature: Love and Friendship
Best Documentary: Craving Cuba
Best Narrative Feature: Bear With Us
Best Short: Come Away With Me
Best College Short: Hush
Best Florida Production: Dooder & The Lighthouse
Best Male Performance: Joel Kelley Dauten for Remember Me
Best Female Performance: Christy Carlson Romano for Bear With Us
Best International Feature: The Debt
Best Documentary: Forbidden Shore
Best Feature: The Truth About Lies
Following the awards came the closing night film Everybody Wants Some, which would lead into the after party. For those that may not be familiar yet with Everybody Wants Some, it’s the new film from Richard Linklater, and you can read my review for it on the site right now. This was the perfect way to close out the festival, with a film that simply leaves you happy and ready to party.
It took me some time to get around to writing this up simply because this was an experience I felt deserved more than just a few words. I don’t think there is a festival that runs without a few hiccups despite the months of planning; things will always have a little shake-up, but the staff seemed prepared and was more than helpful to smooth out any difficulties that I saw arise.
The Gasparilla International Film Festival has come a long way after a decade of presenting films to hundreds over the years. Things seem to only be moving in a positive direction as it continues to grow in quality with every passing year. Already I’m looking forward to see what 2017 will bring to the festival, a weekend filled with what I love most, cinema. Hopefully next year I’ll see you there along the red carpet or in a neighboring seat and we can talk film, because that’s what these festivals do; they bring film fans together where they are given the opportunity to forge new friendships and for some even inspire them to discover the story inside them, simply itching to get out and onto the big screen.
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