The 2010 spring film festival season in Tampa Bay gets off to a rousing start this weekend with the Gasparilla International Film Festival
(GIFF), which invades the Tampa Theatre, CinéBistro in Hyde Park and the Muvico Centro Ybor starting on Thursday. In coming weeks the Sunscreen Film Festival
, Ybor Festival of the Moving Image
and the Sarasota Film Festival
will light up screens across the region. But in the current economic climate, where funding for the arts is often the first thing cut by governments and patrons, we shouldn’t take our film-related bounty for granted. GIFF, for example, almost didn’t happen this year.
“We thought seriously about taking a year off,” says Chad Moore, president of GIFF when he’s not living a double life as a lawyer and family man, who spoke to me a week before opening night. The economics of putting on the festival, combined with the massive amount of work involved in screening films, negotiating with venues and raising money had the organizers thinking it was too big a task this year. “Like most arts organizations,” Moore continues, “we were dramatically affected [by the recession]. The largest supporters we have as a non-profit is corporate giving, and corporate giving is down dramatically.”
But the organizers were reluctant to sacrifice the momentum they’d gained since the festival’s inception in 2007, and ultimately decided that the shows must go on. Their solution was to truncate the festival, presenting a four-day weekend instead of a 10-day marathon like last year, and to sign up some new partners. The big name is Digital Domain
, a special effects house started by Avatar
director James Cameron in the early ’90s that has announced plans to build a facility in Port St. Lucie that could create 500 jobs. Digital Domain came on as a presenting sponsor, and chairman John Textor will be speaking at the opening gala, explaining what the company does. Moore promised me the guy is charismatic as all get-out, and his presentation will be great for aspiring filmmakers and those interested in film production in general.
Even with a more manageable schedule and Digital Domain’s added cachet, getting GIFF together was no vacation for the planners, most of whom work as volunteers and at the good graces of very understanding family members. Though the programming committee of Moore, David Cox and Eric Odum thought the economy would slow film submissions this year, they were still inundated with over 300 entries. Of those, 150 were watched in full, with about 75 films (28 features, the rest shorts) making the final program. Ask Moore about his favorites, and he shifts from serious festival organizer to giddy film fan in a flash.
“Breaking News Breaking Down
is high quality. It’s paired with a film on Haitian women called Poto Mitan
, which is strong. Poto Mitan
talks about the poverty in Haiti and how the women keep order in a tragic situation. It’s a good story, and it makes for an interesting pairing.” (4 p.m., Saturday at CinéBistro.) Moore is also high on local product Endure
was shot here in Florida, right next door in Lakeland. It immediately caught our eye because we want to support local filmmakers, but we also have a level of quality we look for. Endure
met that level, and it has even some known actors, like Tom Arnold and Judd Nelson.”
Like any film festival, GIFF will have its share of celebs on hand. Armand Assante will be back for another go-round (Moore tells me he really dug last year’s festival), Melora Hardin (Jan from NBC’s The Office
) will be in town with a film called You
, Sarasota’s own Jerry Springer will be hosting a Q&A after his film And The Winner Is …
, and veteran character actor and all-around renaissance man Raymond J. Barry will receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award at Thursday night’s red carpet gala. Governor Charlie Crist will make an appearance closing night, while Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp will be on hand at the Tampa Theatre on Thursday.
Speaking of opening night, the big news there is that GIFF landed Happythankyoumoreplease
as the first screening of the festival. Written and directed by How I Met Your Mother
’s Josh Radnor (he also stars, opposite Couples Retreat
’s Malin Ackerman), Happythankyoumoreplease
is fresh off winning the Audience Award at Sundance, so landing the film is a real coup for the GIFF. “[They told us] they turned down about 50 film fests and the way we got it was one of the producers happens to be from Tampa … and it was a chance for him to bring one of his films home, and he loves the Tampa Theater.” Moore takes a breath. “And we got a little lucky.”
The volunteers who run GIFF will need more than luck, however, if the festival is to become a Tampa mainstay for years to come. “We’re hopeful that this is a festival that 10 years from now people are talking about all over the country,” Moore tells me. As for this year? “It’s going to be a great festival. I know it. We have something really good going here and people are taking notice. It’s a source of pride.”