Tampa’s 2021 Gasparilla International Film Festival finally returns to theaters next week

64 weeks after coronavirus put the kibosh on its party, GIFF stages a four-day run set for June 10-13.

click to enlarge Megan Fox (L) and Bruce Willis play FBI agents in 'Midnight In the Switchgrass' screening next weekend in Tampa. - Lionsgate
Megan Fox (L) and Bruce Willis play FBI agents in 'Midnight In the Switchgrass' screening next weekend in Tampa.

As February 2020 came to a close, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay printed its annual Gasparilla Arts Month guide. Inside were previews of the art festival happening in Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, the two-day music festival set for the Curt, and Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) slated to bring more than 40 movies to screens in downtown Tampa, Ybor City, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts went off without a hitch, and Gasparilla Music Festival—which probably served as many hand sanitizer squirts as it did beers—ended up being the last big event Tampa got to attend before the world shut down. The film festival was relegated to casualty status as a collective, paralyzing fear of the unknown and desire to stay safe at home effectively pressed the pause button on life as we knew it.

March 17—GIFF’s set starting date in 2020—was the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs closed for 30 days

At the time, Executive Director Monica Varner touted how GIFF—kickstarted in 2006 when the Hillsborough County Film Commissioner asked filmmaking brothers Pete and Paul Guzzo if they’d be interested in starting a film festival—was going back to its roots by showcasing local filmmakers next to the studio-recruited films GIFF diehards had come to know and love.

But as 2021 rolled around, Gasparilla parades got canceled, the Festival of the Arts went virtual, and the Distance Classic eventually pivoted to a virtual format, too. Gasparilla Music Festival has since settled on a three-day party in October, but now—64 weeks after coronavirus put the kibosh on its party—GIFF gets to welcome folks back to the big screen with a four-day run set for June 10-13. 

Announced in April, GIFF’s new dates initially placed the festival at Tampa Theatre and Cinebistro in Hyde Park. Cinebistro has since changed its plans to host GIFF, but on Tuesday, a public relations rep for the film festival told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that AMC Westshore Theater has since stepped up to host festivities on Friday and Saturday, June 11-12 (see a schedule below and on the GIFF website).

As expected, the festival features  a mix of virtual online screenings and in-person showings featuring both local and international filmmakers.

A free, pre-GIFF event is set this weekend on Saturday, June 5 at Tampa Theatre, which hosts a presentation of “Frozen II.” The purpose of the community screening is to promote the idea of getting back to the movies.

Opening night—Thursday, June 10 at Tampa Theatre—will feature a screening of “Lady of the Manor” written and co-directed by brothers Justin and Christian Long, who’ll both be in town for the screening. As CL contributor  Chelsea Tatham wrote for WTSP in January 2020, Long brought the production of “Lady of the Manor” to Tampa and St. Petersburg for two weeks of filming last winter.

“The crew also aims to employ dozens of Hillsborough County residents for supporting cast, day players, extras, stand-ins and production crew along with utilizing local students and recent graduates for the filming crew,” Tatham added. “The Tampa Bay Film Commission estimates about $1 million will be directly spent in the area, including production days, more than 79 hires, 150 hotel rooms and spending on food and equipment.”

As Paul Guzzo—aforementioned co-founder of GIFF—pointed out, Tony Stopperan, producer of “Lady of the Manor” has a resume that includes “Skyman” which was directed by Dan Myrick (“The Blair Witch Project”), a Tampa resident who has a production studio in Ybor City.

Closing night—Sunday, June 13 at Tampa Theatre—is a change of speed for GIFF thanks to a screening of “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” a crime thriller from longtime producer Randall Emmett who makes his directorial debut with this based on a true story film about a Texas serial killer. “Midnight in the Switchgrass” stars Megan Fox and Bruce Willis who play two FBI agents that happen to be in Florida trying to solve a case. During their stay in the Sunshine State, the agents team up with a Florida cop (played by Emile Hirsch of “Into the Wild” fame) who’s working a separate string of murders that appear to be related. The film’s cast also includes Colson Baker who’s better known as rapper Machine Gun Kelly.

Emett, Hirsch and another “Midnight in the Switchgrass” cast member Lukas Haas (“Inception”) will be in attendance at GIFF, which offers moviegoers a chance to see “Midnight” before most film critics (there are no reviews allowed, so we’re just gonna enjoy it).

Tickets will be $10 for regular films, with opening and closing night screenings priced at $15. The closing night event will require an additional ticket. GIFF offers student, senior and military discounts at the box office.

2021 Gasparilla International Film Festival Schedule

Thursday, June 10 at Tampa Theatre

  • Lady of the Manor (7:30 p.m.)

Friday, June 11 at AMC Westshore (5:15 p.m.-7:45 p.m.)

  • Mentally Al
  • Inspirational shorts block (local filmmakers)
  • First Date
  • Drama/thriller shorts blocks (local and international filmmakers)

Saturday, June 12 at AMC Westshore (5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.)

  • Khape
  • Made in FL music shorts (local filmmakers)
  • Clean Slate
  • Documentary shorts (local filmmakers)
  • Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

Sunday, June 13 at Tampa Theatre

  • Midnight in the Switchgrass (7 p.m.)

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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