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Gasparilla International Film Festival still carves niche in Tampa


In its eighth year, the Gasparilla International Film Festival appears at a crossroads. 

The people who put together the five days of films and workshops want us to surmise that it is on the verge of breaking through the horse race of the film festival circuit.  However, the Gasparilla International Film Festival still permeates like a place happy to pick up the breadcrumbs from the feasting table of major festivals.  

This is not to mitigate the hard work that organizers and volunteers put into running the festival here in the Bay area, but what is obviously lacking is a clear identity that other festivals – such as Sundance or Tribeca – have. 

Perhaps Sundance came at a rather fortuitous time, when the last great wave of independent filmmaking burst open a geyser of cinematic riches from self-proclaimed film geeks, such as Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” and Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket.” 

Unfortunately, the wave has long dissipated, and anyone with enough capital in 2014 can host a festival.  So how can Gasparilla forge ahead? The answer is simple: it needs a hit. 

Wednesday night’s opening film, Rita Merson’s “There’s Always Woodstock,” did not seem to have that potential. But with five days of films, organizers only hope that a film premiered at the festival could soon have potential for theatrical release. 

Tampa Bay Times film critic Steve Persall, who resides on the grand jury for the festival, said he was excited about the quality of films in competition – particularly the narrative films.  

One in particular, Mark Raso’s “Copenhagen,” is like “‘Before Sunrise,’ plus ‘400 Blows’ and ‘Manhattan’ put together,” he said. 

“I’m really excited for people to see it here.” 

The Festival prides itself on its “international” component, so naturally a film titled “Copenhagen” will make filmgoers and organizers thrilled to have as part of its lineup. 

Newscaster John Wilson was emcee for the evening, spreading a regrettable absence from son and actor Patrick Wilson (“Insidious”) who remained in New York for Broadway rehearsals of “Guys and Dolls.” 

Wilson took the Tampa Theatre’s stage to ebulliently announce the start of the festival with a declaration that felt sincere, considering his filmic background.  

“In Tampa, we love going to the movies,” he said. 

As the festival moves forward into the week, and more importantly the future, organizers must ponder how the city accepts this cultural phenomenon known as the “film festival,” and make it truly theirs – an event that represent Tampa’s desire for national awareness of a growing art community.