Tampa Bay has a vibrant film scene and one popular event has especially propelled it for 15 years and running — the Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF).
A staple every March, along with the Gasparilla Arts Festival and the Gasparilla Music Festival, GIFF was started in 2007 by the nonprofit Tampa Film Institute. The Tampa festival has hosted thousands of filmmakers, talent, producers and film experts, along with numerous world, national and state premiere film screenings. The upcoming festival will mark its 16th year. (It took a pause in 2020 due to Covid. )
“It’s a cultural experience,” GIFF executive director Monica Varner notes. “It’s art. People are exposed to things they would have never seen or experienced otherwise.”
From March 23-26, 2023, attendees can enjoy GIFF’s film screenings, workshops, panels and parties. As is tradition, opening night will be held at the historic Tampa Theatre, with other events held throughout Tampa Bay. The festival is known to showcase a variety of independent films and this year it will continue to deliver upon that reputation, showing all types and genres, including features, documentaries, shorts, music videos, family friendly films and international films. Audience and grand jury awards will be given out.
Varner explains how it all started: “We weren’t getting the same films that New York, Los Angeles and even third-tier cities were getting premieres for and we wanted to bring those here to Tampa to be seen on the big screen. Tampa Bay was not quite on the map yet.”
In its inaugural year, GIFF received maybe 50 film submissions (on 35mm film) and around 2,500 people attended. The festival has significantly grown, receiving up to 800 submissions in a year, with digital files making it much more accessible, and drawing up 15,000 attendees so far. Over 100 volunteers bring GIFF to life.
“GIFF has helped spark Tampa Bay as a place to shoot your film to a lot of outside people who wouldn’t have come here otherwise,” Varner notes. “Quite a few independent films, the producers met at the festival and went on to make a movie.”
Board member and Tampa resident Santosh Govindaraju is one of many successful people in the industry who support the festival.
“I’ve met some amazing people with some great ideas there,” he shares.
The CEO of Convergent Capital Partners, Govindaraju is both an executive and creative producer. His first film, “Bernie the Dolphin,” was shot in Tampa Bay in collaboration with other local film producers. He has produced several feature films, including his biggest movie, $10-million “Love, Weddings and Other Disasters,” starring Diane Keaton and Jeremy Irons; and most recently, Meet Cute, starring Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco.
The festival prides itself on being one of the most filmmaker friendly festivals and attendees have found GIFF to be an inclusive event and a valuable networking opportunity.
“Gasparilla is one of the best festivals in the United States,” shares Michael Smith, whose film “Relative” won Best Performance at the festival in 2021 during its world premiere. “It was extremely gratifying to see that the screening of our Chicago-shot movie was packed with appreciative local Tampa moviegoers.”
Aaron Hosé, who has been attending since 2010, says, “This event has it all… Their programming is strong each year and is presented in top-notch theatrical venues. There’s a healthy balance between micro-budget and higher budget indies with some celebrity attendees.”
Actor and screenwriter Jordan Wall served as a jury member judging short films at last year’s GIFF, in addition to debuting his directorial short, “Greater Goode,” at the festival. He grew up doing theater in Clearwater and went on to land roles in “The Glades,” “Harry’s Law” and “My Future Boyfriend,” among others. He’s constantly looking to pay forward the opportunities he was given locally.
“The goal always was to bring something to fruition in the Tampa Bay area where I grew up,” he shares. “There’s a lot of talent down here. I can’t stress enough how much I believe in the area.”
GIFF’s marquee sponsor is Film Tampa Bay, led by Tampa Bay Film Commissioner Tyler Martinolich, who sees great value in GIFF and other local film festivals.
“It can be a tool to educate the community,” Martinolich reflects. “It can challenge them and give them new perspectives on social and economic issues and cultures, opening their horizons as far as what film can be. You see so many different voices and perspectives. It’s really eye opening.”
Learn about the Gasparilla Music Festival here.