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Gasparilla International Film Fest puts Tampa Bay in starring role

The Gasparilla International Film Festival takes the second word in its name seriously, with a world cinema competition and a Cuban sidebar.

But it's still Tampa Bay's showcase at heart.

The eighth annual Gasparilla festival opened Wednesday with a movie starring Tampa native Brittany Snow, and closes Sunday with Chu and Blossom, a culture-clash comedy filmed locally in 2012.

In between are several features, documentaries and shorts with Tampa Bay ties, before and behind the camera.

One world premiere is Lies I Told My Little Sister, the feature directing debut of William J. Stribling, a 2008 graduate of the Pinellas County Center for the Arts magnet school in St. Petersburg.

Now working in New York, Stribling recruited five former classmates — composer Dylan Glatthorn, production designer Alexander Whittenberg, actors Bekka Walker and Alex Jennings, and assistant director Jacob Z. Stewart — to assist the production.

"I'm pretty proud of the fact that I've been able to collaborate with people I've known for so long," Stribling said through a publicist.

Lies I Told My Little Sister is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday at Muvico Centro Ybor 20. Stribling is excited that the world premiere is in Tampa.

"My mom hasn't seen the film yet," he said. "She's been hounding me to see it since we finished it, and now she can be at the premiere."

For Ricardo Villarreal, Gasparilla is also a homecoming of sorts. The University of Tampa graduate, who is now making movies in L.A., is co-director and producer of Ride With Larry, a documentary raising awareness of Parkinson's disease and medical marijuana therapy.

"Tampa Theatre is a reason why I started making movies," Villarreal said by telephone. "I remember enjoying so many great films there, especially seeing The Phantom of the Opera with a live organist. It was inspiring."

Ride With Larry is the story of Larry Smith, a decorated police captain who was forced to resign when Parkinson's gripped his life. Smith and his wife moved to South Dakota, where he became a baker, since it made him feel useful and kneading bread exercised his hands. The movie traces a grueling cross-state trip supporting Parkinson's research, and Smith's encouraging reaction to marijuana treatment.

"He always had a dream of doing something big before it's too late," Villarreal said. "He wanted to ride across the whole country but couldn't do it. I told him: It's not about the distance, it's about your will to live."

Ride With Larry screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City.

Gulfport resident Stan Arthur directed another social issue documentary hitting closer to home: Before the Law Was Equal: The Desegregation of the Hillsborough County Legal Community. Arthur collects stories of judicial injustice from attorneys, judges and defendants about an era when not being white defined guilt.

"There are some really unbelievable circumstances," he said. "It's absolutely wonderful to be showing it at Gasparilla. This kind of (topic) is very region specific. We wouldn't be likely to get it into film festivals anywhere else but I'm trying."

Before the Law Was Equal will be shown at 6 p.m. Friday at Centro Ybor 20.

Former Davis Islands resident Katie Oellerich co-wrote and stars in The Cold and the Quiet, playing a withdrawn college student roped into caring for a stranger's children. The world premiere is at 9:20 tonight at Cinebistro in Hyde Park Village.

"First time we're showing it anywhere," Oellerich said by telephone from her Nashville home. "It's kind of funny that it's happening in my hometown."

Oellerich graduated from Academy of the Holy Names in 2003, then Indiana University's drama school, and knocked around Los Angeles like actors do. She moved to Chicago and began writing The Cold and the Quiet with her aunt, Colleen Chappelle, whose husband Joe Chappelle is executive producer for the NBC series Chicago Fire and produced the movie.

There's also the narrative feature Under the Hollywood Sign, co-starring Sherry Romito, a 1996 Gaither High School graduate. Romito also produced the story of a down-and-almost-out actor with her husband, actor-director Owen Williams. Under the Hollywood Sign will be shown Saturday (11:20 a.m.) and Sunday (2:15 p.m.) at Centro Ybor 20.

Short films with Tampa Bay connections slated to be presented at Gasparilla include Welcome to the South from Plant City filmmaker Charles Box, Eye of the Storm by Tampa's Domonic Smith, Red Winter by St. Petersburg resident Ben Daniele, and Near by Tampa artist Skeek Allen. For show times and locations, check gasparillafilmfestival.com.

Finally, the cult splatter flick Filthy gets a 10th anniversary tribute screening, followed by a Q&A session with creator Andy Lalino of Clearwater, joined by cast and crew members. Barf bags are optional. You have been warned.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

.If you go

Gasparilla International Film Festival

The eighth annual festival runs today through Sunday at various locations. Screenings are at Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City, Cinebistro in Hyde Park Village, the Tampa Museum of Art and Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin. Tickets cost $12 to $15 per session, and unlimited screening passes ($120) are available. Visit gasparillafilmfestival.com.

Gasparilla International Film Fest puts Tampa Bay in starring role 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 7:03pm]

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