Movie stars and open bars set the scene Sunday, as the Gasparilla International Film Festival wrapped its fifth edition in downtown Tampa.
Tampa Theatre hosted the annual awards ceremony — including a career achievement honor for Oscar nominated actor Tom Berenger (Platoon) — while audiences and festival jurors each voted Robert Celestino's psychological thriller Leave as the best feature film in the Gasparilla lineup.
In addition to Berenger, the festival honored Joseph Monks of Naples, who was blinded by diabetes a decade ago yet wrote and directed The Bunker, which is being submitted to the Cannes Film Festival.
The closing night film was Billy Corben's documentary Square Grouper: Godfathers of Ganja, winner of the best Florida production award.
After the movie, an estimated crowd of 500 ambled down Franklin Street to the decadently chic Kress Building for one final blowout. The long-abandoned department store was packed, sweaty and stocked with scantily clad dancers. Think Burlesque mixed with Fergie's Be Italian number from Nine and you get the picture.
Attendance totals for the festival haven't been released but president Eric Polins said every screening played to capacity crowds. "I tried to get into a documentary (Friday) and couldn't get a seat," he said. "A documentary. That tells you something about how we're doing."
Other Gasparilla award winners selected by audiences were Voices from Mariel, a documentary catching up with Cuban refugees 30 years later, and the short comedy War of Our Children.
Festival jurors voted special prizes to actors Obba Babatunde (The Fallen Faithful) and Annia Bu Maure (Los Dioses Rotos), the short films Missile Crisis and It's Natural to Be Afraid, and the documentary Hot Coffee, about a famous 1992 case and lawsuit filed against McDonald's by a grandmother in New Mexico.
Former Tampa film commissioner Lindsay Guthrie, now executive director of Film Florida, presented the Sara Fuller Scholarship to Nick Corrao, Peter Salomone and David Hafter , creators of the homeless advocacy documentary Civil Indigent.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.