POSTPONED: This year’s Gasparilla film festival puts locals first

A message from the GIFF Board of Directors:

After careful deliberation and considering the advice of the Governor of Florida, as well as Hillsborough County and City of Tampa public officials, the Board of Directors of the Tampa Film Institute, Inc. have concluded that they cannot proceed with holding the Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival as planned and are postponing the film festival and ancillary events in the interest of public health. This decision was not made lightly.

"After carefully reviewing all information available to us at this time, the Board of Directors has made the decision to put the health and physical safety of our attendees, staff, volunteers, sponsors and vendors at the forefront of our minds and postpone the festival,” said Tammy Briant Spratling, GIFF Board of Directors President. “The Board is exploring all options that will allow us to bring powerful and engaging independent film to the Tampa Bay area when concerns around COVID-19 have subsided."

 All tickets and passes will be honored at our new date, which will be announced as soon as it becomes available. Please check the GIFF website for further information. 


From a documentary about local jazz matriarch Kitty Daniels to an up-close look at Crowbar owner and resident rock promoter Tom DeGeorge to St. Petersburg’s Girls Rock Camp, Gasparilla International Film Festival’s 2020 lineup has more locals than it has had since the fest’s early years. 

According to Film Tampa Bay Executive Director Tyler Martinolich, who also serves on the festival’s board, local filmmakers founded GIFF, but as more sponsors signed on, the annual fest stopped prioritizing local filmmakers. It cast a broader net to try to be a more high-profile affair.

“We lost a bit of our identity and now we’re doubling down on what made the festival interesting in the first place,” Martinolich says.

This year’s GIFF, however, provides a pastiche of local culture and counterculture for those interested in learning about the people and places who provide the Tampa Bay Area its special uniqueness. 

The 14th annual event opens Tuesday, March 17, at Tampa Theatre with The Lovebirds and a VIP reception in downtown Tampa. The majority of screenings will take place at the HCC Performing Arts Center’s state-of-the-art Mainstage Theatre as well as their Studio Theater in Ybor City. Cineastes can choose from films of all formats and genres, including features, documentaries, shorts, music videos, family-friendly films, international films, and more.

In its almost decade and a half, GIFF has become known as the Tampa Bay region’s largest celebration of independent film. According to Martinolich and his cohorts, GIFF is continuing to grow even though it has prioritized locals. 

When asked if increased equipment and tech accessibility -- such as the convenience of uploading to FilmFreeway, the software platform that GIFF and others around the world use now -- has helped make filmmaking a little more viable for everyone, Martinolich, a producer himself, maintains that the talent has always been here.

“So while the pool of available equipment might have increased, it doesn't mean there are more filmmakers today than there were in the past,” he clarifies. “Florida has always had a very rich history of independent filmmaking. Prior to our film incentive running out, we were third in the nation for independent filmmaking, specifically films that cost $3 million and less, and we were third in the nation by a wide margin. Florida filmmaking goes back all the way to the 1920s. So, we've always been sort of an epicenter for independent filmmaking.”

The selection process 

Around 20 GIFF board members, employees, and organizers collaborate during the selection process, which isn’t necessarily seamless but aims to be fair and efficient. 

“Even though we all collectively have different interests and biases, I think we are able to truly come together to look at what makes a good film a good film,” Martinolich says. “And that's chiefly storytelling. It doesn't matter your budget or your access to, you know, high-end equipment. It really is just about storytelling. Can you tell a good story? Is that story involving, is it socially conscious? Are you teaching us something in the process of viewing the film?” 

Judging by the caliber of topics, locales, and personalities explored in this year’s fest, you could answer yes to all of the above. 

Opening night’s The Lovebirds stars Issa Rae (Insecure) and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) as a couple who experience a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally caught up in a murder mystery. The rom-com screens at Tampa Theatre on Thursday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m.

The documentary Disclosure gets the perspective of leading trans thinkers and creatives, including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Mj Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono, who share their reactions and resistance to some of Hollywood’s most iconic scenes. Screening March 19 at 6 p.m., Disclosure delves into trans identity in films like A Florida Enchantment (1914), Dog Day Afternoon, The Crying Game, and Boys Don’t Cry, and with shows like “The Jeffersons,” “The L-Word,” and “Pose.”

Beauty Is Skin Deep, a horror film by Joe Davidson, was shot primarily in St. Petersburg and screens March 21 at 3 p.m. “It's going to be a movie where if you've been anywhere in St. Pete, you're going to be able to recognize some of the locations,” Marinolich says.

One of the most anticipated films at GIFF, Skyman follows self-proclaimed alien "experiencer,” Carl Merryweather, on the path to filming his own alien abduction.
Dan Myrick directs the film. The recent transplant to the Bay Area and director of The Blair Witch Project grew up in Longboat Key and has relocated back to Tampa. He just opened up a film studio in Ybor City called the Power Station. The film screens on March 21 at 5 p.m.

The experience of filming in Florida

Given that the past two months have been Gasparilla season with big events around music, art, and parades, Martinolich acknowledges that festival fatigue has set in for many, but GIFF is a bit of a lighter lift. GIFF isn’t cordoned off nor does it lock you in for the day.  There’s no fear of rain-out and the festival has scheduled films and events to prevent overlap. Plus, given the pedestrian-friendly locations of downtown Tampa and Ybor, you can spend a couple of hours or all day at the event. Plus, it helps bring business to local restaurants, shops, and bars. 

Film lovers who are cash-strapped might enjoy GIFF’s free educational events on Saturday late morning, early afternoon. Film critics from throughout the Tampa Bay Area and Florida at large will talk about their process of reviewing films and how it has changed in today's digital world. There’s another seminar sponsored by Women in Film and Television that explores sound design and music scoring.

“Going back 14 years, we've never actually done a panel on the scoring of a movie,” Martinolich says. “We have some great musicians coming in to talk about their process when they're looking at a film and how the soundtracks should take shape. We’ll also have a panel of directors  talking about the experience of filming in Florida, both the good and the bad.”

Promoting Tampa’s identity is a major focus of the festival and its choices of locations. Martinolich says he views GIFF as a great way to introduce Tampa to people traveling to the festival and get them acclimated to what makes Tampa special.

“I really hope that the local community, both filmmakers and non-filmmakers come out to support,” Martinolich says. “It's really important not only for the health of the community but also for the sustainability of the Gasparilla International Film Festival.”
For up-to-date information on GIFF, visit the festival's website.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.