The 11th season of Tampa’s Gasparilla International Film Festival kicks off Thursday, March 2 at the Tampa Theatre. The fest, which runs until March 9, can be intimidating: multiple venues, a lot of movies you might not have heard of and all kinds of panels and activities to choose from. Unless you happen to have the entire week free, there’s no possible way to see and do everything. So let us help! Here are a few of CL’s picks to make the most out of your GIFF 2017:
Cinephile alert! For film buffs, GIFF offers some heavy hitters. There’s German mainstay Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert (Mar. 3, 5 p.m., Ybor), which debuted in 2015 to fairly universal derision at the Berlin International Film Festival: lesser Herzog, though, is still bound to be worth a watch. I’d also keep an eye out for prolific French filmmaker Francois Ozon’s latest, Frantz (Mar. 4, 5:30 p.m., Ybor), a mournful black-and-white melodrama that employs color to stunning effect. And then there’s the biggest get for film nerds: low-key auteur James Gray’s The Lost City of Z (Mar. 6, 6:45 p.m., Ybor), which follows his rapturous 2013 The Immigrant. Starring the superlatively dull Charlie Hunnam (you know a movie is good if it can make this dude interesting), Robert Pattinson, and Sienna Miller, the film is based on a book that recounts the true story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who discovered the potential remnants of an ancient civilization. Fawcett became obsessed with his findings, obsessed with proving to the world that he found something big. Then, in 1925, he disappeared. If you see any Big Movie at GIFF, make it this one.
Virtual reality! This year, GIFF is offering a slate of VR showcases. I don’t know you, reader, personally, but I’m guessing you don’t own a full-on VR headset like an Oculus or a Vive; they’re hugely expensive and, frankly, they end up collecting dust sooner than you’d think. These showcases are the ideal venue for experiencing what virtual reality has to offer right now. The Presence (Mar. 6, 5 p.m., Ybor) is a short horror film about a seance for Samsung Gear VR; coincidentally, Gear VR is one of the cheapest VR options alongside Google Cardboard, so if you like what you see, it’s totally attainable for home use. Dreams of Dalí (Mar. 5, 11 a.m., Ybor) may be familiar to anyone who’s visited the Dalí Museum; it sends you through three-dimensional renderings of the surrealist master’s most iconic works. Help (Mar. 3, 5 p.m., Ybor) is a bite-size monster movie from Fast and Furious director Justin Lin. Modern-day VR is a mess of buzzwords (take a shot every time you hear “immersion”) and half-functional hardware; take a few minutes and see what all the hype is about for yourself.
Local talent! From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Mar. 5, head over to Centro Ybor to catch the High School Competition, which showcases five shorts from Tampa Bay high school filmmakers. Organizer Evan Smith says his aim with the competition, now in its third year, is to inspire high schoolers to improve their skills. Smith collaborates directly with teachers to get the word out: “I talk to them, they talk to the kids,” he says. Be the first to peep the freshest talent in Tampa at this showcase. Then, when their movies are picked up by A24, you can brag that you were there from the start.
Panels, panels, panels! There are 16 industry panels at GIFF this year: everything from Cult Cinema 101 with Ann-Eliza Taylor and Michael Martz of the Second Screen Cult Cinema screening series (which is showing cult film par excellence Big Trouble in Little China on March 8th at the Vault downtown) to Film School Confidential, advertised as an “honest conversation” between professors from UT and the Art Institute about the utility of higher education. It’s worth going to a few of these to get a feel for the people who make up your local film scene; ask questions and make yourself heard!
Get drunk! Tampa loves a party more than anything, and accordingly GIFF has one almost every night. There are actually two parties on opening night, both at Tampa Theatre: one before the opening film at 5 p.m. and one after, at 11 p.m. Try to pace yourself. Otherwise, you can head to venues like Crowbar, The Attic, Coppertail Brewing, and Bradley’s to down your poison of choice while watching movies, enjoying live music, or mingling with industry folks.
Bring the kids! Sunday, Mar. 5 is Family Fun Day at Ybor’s Centennial Park, with giveaways, a free screening of Zootopia and a bunch of animals from Lowry Park Zoo in attendance. Kid Flix, a duo of short film programs courtesy of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, screens the day before in Ybor as well. The first program is recommended for kids between 3 and 7; the second for children 8 and up. That said, you may as well go to both if you plan to come out!
Exercise democracy! Most everything being screened is up for multiple awards, including the Grand Jury awards and the Audience Choice Awards. Categories range from Best Narrative Feature to Best High School Showcase to Best Florida Production. It’s like the Oscars, but you don’t have to hear one damn word about La La Land. Once you’ve taken in your fill of movies and alcohol, head to Tampa Theatre on March 9 at 7:30 p.m. for the awards ceremony to root for your faves. And don’t forget to vote! We all know what happened the last time everyone sat out an important vote.