After a rocky christening last year, the Gasparilla Film Festival is ready to stake its claim among Florida's cinema showcases.
This edition boasts a rangier
81-film lineup and splashier special events. Not to mention visiting artists with better credentials than the dude last year who played Attila the Hun in Night at the Museum (and didn't show up).
Festival president Eric Odum doesn't run from the past but doesn't plan to run into it again.
Odum, first-year executive director John Rosser and their staffs have worked hard for respect: a year of scouring U.S. and Canadian film festivals, screening entries and whittling more than 300 films to a better-focused lineup. Improved marketing has more filmmakers and distributors visiting Tampa than last year.
"We want them to see the treasures of our city, the Tampa Theatre and the Channelside district," Odum said. "If we grow and bring the resources of film to this festival, we can attract film production and have people thinking differently about this city when it comes to film."
The festival's emphasis on building attendance with Florida-connected filmmaking is evident.
Friday night's centerpiece, The Good Fight (8 p.m., Channelside Cinemas), is a documentary of Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden battling through a tough season. "But I guarantee we'll win some fans."
Then there's The Flock (7 p.m. Saturday), which stars Richard Gere as a police profiler chasing a killer. The movie was produced in New Mexico by Bauer-Martinez Studios, an international distributor with offices in Largo.
Not for the squeamish is a 45th anniversary screening of Blood Feast (9 p.m. Saturday), the first splatter film, directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Lewis and producer David Friedman will present this groundbreaking horror film.
Full disclosure: Booking Blood Feast was my idea, at the request of festival organizers. I'll be conducting a Q&A session with Lewis and Friedman after the show. (See Friday's Floridian for an interview with Lewis.)
The festival also features a Latin Panorama sidebar, eight films including the 1966 Cuban milestone Death of a Bureaucrat (5 p.m. Saturday). That Gabriela Doesn't Die (Friday, 9:50 p.m., Friday)
Los Angeles' American Film Institute provides six American independent films, including the Florida premiere of Daydreamer (noon Sunday). AFI adds a trio of sexy/terrifying films including the east coast premiere of 100 Tears.
Florida Aquarium hosts three Saturday screenings (11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.) of Requiem, a documentary about the world's most dangerous sharks.
Short film collections celebrate Women's History Month (5:30 p.m. Saturday) and local student works (12:30 p.m. Sunday).
Many screenings will be accompanied by their directors, producers or actors who will answer questions. The biggest star will likely be at Sunday's closing gala at Florida Aquarium when the festival presents its rising star award to Tampa native and Hairspray co-star Brittany Snow. (See Friday's Floridian for an interview with Snow.)
Nobody will confuse her with Attila the Hun.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.