The Gasparilla International Film Festival is roaring back for a seventh edition, armed with its strongest lineup ever, drop-dead parties and a special guest star who's a bona fide Punisher.
Blended with independently produced features, documentaries and shorts that are a hallmark of any festival, Gasparilla is presenting movies like Olympus Has Fallen, Disconnect and Empire State that are coming soon to theaters near you. It's a hook that festival president Joe Restaino picked up from other cinema showcases.
"We looked at a lot of other festivals with great track records like South by Southwest, L.A., Tribeca, and they premiere large films," Restaino said recently. "It brings out an audience that normally wouldn't go to a film festival, and maybe they'll pick up a ticket to see another film."
Maybe those chances will be taken on Lawrence Feeney's Pharmboy and Jane Clark's Meth Head, coming-of-rage tales about young addicts, each in the narrative feature competition. Or perhaps one of six documentary feature entries that as a festival judge I'll attest are worth buying a ticket or two. Or maybe movies like Ginger and Rosa, Hotel Noir and The Iceman that already impressed festivalgoers from Telluride to Cannes.
There's also a world showcase section with six films spanning Europe and Asia, and a sidebar devoted solely to Florida productions like Blind Pass by Sarasota's Steve Tatone and Running with Demons by St. Petersburg's Tony Armer.
More than ever before, the Gasparilla festival has a little something for everyone.
"It was more than just trying to fill programming with top-of-the-line films, which we want to do of course," Restaino said. "But also it was about bringing the community together. So, among the films this year you'll see Asian films, Italian films, Latin films, also military-themed films, movies with deep-heart causes as well."
Complete information about this year's film lineup is available at gasparillafilmfestival.com. For starters, though, here's a peek at the celebrities and special events wrapped around the movies:
This year's career achievement award will be presented Saturday at 5:30 p.m. to Thomas Jane, a three-time Golden Globe nominee in HBO's sexy series Hung, in addition to playing Mickey Mantle in the tele-movie *61, and roles in Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Thin Red Line. The award presentation by Punisher co-screenwriter Michael France of St. Pete Beach is exclusively for premiere festival pass holders and sponsors.
Jane also starred in The Punisher, based on a Marvel Comics character and filmed in Tampa in 2003. The Gasparilla festival celebrates that tenth anniversary with a special screening of The Punisher (Sat., 6:30 p.m.) at Centro Ybor 20. Tickets are $15, if available.
Other celebrities expected to attend this weekend include actors Armand Assante (The Mambo Kings, American Gangster), rising star award recipient Blake Berris (Meth Head), producer Randall Emmett (End of Watch, Alex Cross) and director Dito Montiel (Empire State, The Son of No One). At least two dozen feature films at the festival are expected to be represented by their artists.
Gasparilla presents three educational workshops on Saturday at the Mainstage Theatre on HCC's Ybor Campus in Ybor City. Admission is free for discussions about the casting process (11:30 a.m.), a discussion of acting (1:30 p.m.) and the state of filmmaking in Florida (3:30).
There's also a one-hour filmmakers roundtable discussion of their craft today at 5:30 p.m. at Cinebistro Hyde Park that is expected to include such Tampa Bay directors as Tony Armer (Running with Demons) and Lawrence Feeney (Pharmboy). Admission is free.
TODAY: Irish 31, 1611 W Swann Ave. in Tampa, hosts a Gasparilla happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. with drink specials and no cover. Tonight there's celebrity bartending at 717 South (Howard Ave.) from 10 p.m. until closing, with tips benefiting the festival.
FRIDAY: Smoke and Ice after party at L'Unione Italiana (The Italian Club), 1731 7th Ave. in Ybor City. No cover, cash bar with drink specials plus live music by jazz singer Lisa Casalino.
SATURDAY: The festival's traditionally hottest party moves from the Kress building in downtown Tampa to the former Stumps Supper Club at Channelside. This year's theme is "Rockabilly Revival" with live bands including King of Prussia, a DJ, open bar and appetizers, all included in the $75 ticket (online; $100 at the door if available). The rocking begins at 9 p.m. and rolls until 1 a.m.
SUNDAY: Your final chance to meet filmmakers happens at the Gasparilla film awards ceremony, 3:45 p.m. at Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City. Admission is free with yours truly as emcee.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.