Thursday, April 19, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Gasparilla's music and film festivals to join forces in 2017

South by Southwest ... by Suncoast?

That's the plan, if not the title, announced Wednesday, when two Gasparilla staples joined forces, hoping to emulate the multifestival vibe of the annual event in Austin, Texas, popularly abbreviated as SXSW.

Starting in 2017, the Gasparilla International Film Festival and Gasparilla Music Festival will run consecutively, creating a 10-day-long arts event.

The alliance was announced by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a longtime advocate for entertainment culture growth.

"I've had a vision," Hagan said at the commission's weekly meeting, "to really have these organizations ... coordinate with each other, with the goal to create a SXSW experience."

Gasparilla's film festival is most affected by the collaboration, moving up its starting date nearly a month to March 2, while expanding from five days to eight, at Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City. It's followed by the music festival on March 11 and 12, on four stages at Curtis Hixon Park.

Officials for both festivals made clear this is a partnership between them, not a merger.

"We're still going to be running independently," Gasparilla International Film Festival executive director Monica Varner said by telephone. "It just makes sense to work together more."

Hagan said at the commission meeting that Gasparilla is a strong brand, but "we're not taking advantage of it from a marketing and tourism perspective."

Combining the film and music festivals further positions Tampa as a cultural destination, where tourists can build vacations around events. Gasparilla International Film Festival president Rachel Feinman thinks Tampa is less crowded and more accessible to visitors than Austin and the like.

"For any people who have tried to travel to SXSW or any other international festivals, it can be very challenging," Feinman said at the commission meeting. "There's really an untapped opportunity for us to be seen as a cultural and arts destination."

Over its 10-year history, the Gasparilla International Film Festival developed into a highly regarded regional showcase, attracting high-profile premieres including this year's opening night selection, Eye in the Sky starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, and Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! on closing night. Industry trade publications like Variety and Hollywood Reporter keep up with the festival's doings.

The music festival now hopes to glean some of that spotlight.

"It's going to help us get our name out on a broader, national scale," Gasparilla Musical Festival executive director David Cox said.

"Music festivals, just about every city has quite a few of them now. This helps us stand out on that national stage a little bit, as part of a bigger cultural happening here in Tampa."

Cox co-founded the music festival in 2011, as a one-day event that attracted nearly 6,000 people. The festival expanded to two days in 2015, averaging more than 20,000 people each year, according to Cox. This year's lineup included headliners Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli.

Although the film festival's lineup won't be set for months, Varner foresees a sidebar of music-related films and live performances throughout the week, leading up to the music festival.

The film festival is no stranger to movie-and-music connections. This year, an after-show party at Crowbar in Ybor City screened a concert documentary with Bradenton-based Have Gun, Will Travel leading a small army of local musicians in recreating the Band's penultimate live album The Last Waltz.

Cox assisted the film festival's programming even before his music festival was created. In 2011, the Gasparilla film festival hosted the world premiere of Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements, the pioneer alt-rockers. Cox hired a local band able to cover Replacements songs for the after-show party, attended by the documentary's director, Gorman Bechard.

Cox expects similar experiences under the new alliance of festivals, although it's too early to know.

"We haven't really sat down and coordinated on that level yet," he said. "The film festival gets into their programming over the next couple of months, starting to see what films are on the radar, that have that music connection ... Every year I think there's going to be several good options for that tie-in."

Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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