The Gasparilla International Film Festival Returns To Tampa With A Roar

By Mary Lou Janson


For one week in early March, eager film fans from throughout Tampa Bay, and beyond, will re-arrange their daily routines to take advantage of a curated selection of more than 100 films from around the world that are showcased during the 11th Annual Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF). Along with the movies scheduled to be shown in downtown Tampa and Ybor City theaters March 2 – 9, film buffs will also have a chance to meet filmmakers, spot celebrities and learn from industry leaders during panel discussions, Q & A sessions, networking events and parties held in conjunction with the film festival. GIFF has presented world premiers, USA premieres and Florida premieres throughout the years, that have spotlighted emerging to established talents in largely independent films, ranging from documentaries to dramas and feature-length to short formats.

Among the high profile and highly anticipated movies coming this way at GIFF are:

  • A world premier of “Danger Close,” a military documentary from the directors of “Citizen Shoulder,” the story of “a National Guard unit’s hellish Afghan deployment.”
  • World premier of “All Nighter” with J.K. Simmons, Emile Hirsch and Shannon Woodward. This is the story of a “workaholic father who attempts to visit his daughter during a layover in L.A. and is forced to team up with her awkward ex-boyfriend, to find her over the course of one transformative night.”
  • The opening night film, “Burn Your Maps,” directed by Jordan Roberts, features a family in emotional turmoil taken by surprise when a boy has an existential epiphany. It stars Vera Farmiga, Marton Csokas and Virginia Madsen.
  • Closing night features the film “Unleashed,” directed by Finn Taylor. A cosmic event turns a dog and cat into two perfect guys.
  • Other scheduled films include “Country Crush” with Sophie Simmons in a country musical that centers on an aspiring singer and “First Round Down,” which features a former hockey player turned hitman.

“Film festivals are where movies that have been made by big budgets get equal billing along with those funded by family and friends,” said Monica Varner, GIFF executive director.

“We feature independent films that stand out, not based on how much they cost or what award-winning star or director was tied to the picture, but for their originality and the creative effort invested in making these movies.”

Festivals have become critical proving grounds for films, their casts and their crews that can lead to bigger and better projects, help resurrect floundering careers or give a fledgling actor or director a chance to show the public their potential.

Not all of the action takes place on the big screen during GIFF. The host city takes on the role of a supporting actor who is auditioning for his, or her, next big break. Tampa and Ybor City hope to catch the eye, spark the imagination and win the heart of some industry leader looking for new talent and new locations. It may take months, or even years, but eventually, that audition can definitely pay off.

“We have a lot of people representing all aspects of the film industry coming through here in March,” said Varner. “Some may be visiting here for the first time, so we want them to see what Tampa has to offer and to meet people who live here and who are trying to create a career in movies.”

As festival details are finalized, movies scheduled and celebrities confirmed, the best place for updates is the festival web site. Advance planning is necessary to ensure getting tickets to movies and events before they sell out. This year’s event features new ticket packages offering VIP experiences and special screenings. Weekday, daily and weekend passes are also available, as well as tickets to opening and closing night parties. There’s even a free Family Fun Day Sunday, March 5, at Centennial Park in Ybor City that features screenings of “Zootopia” and “Trolls.”      M