TAMPA — Celebrities, filmmakers and movie buffs gathered in an historic location Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the eighth annual Gasparilla International Film Festival, which runs through Sunday.
Hundreds of people attended the opening night event at Tampa Theatre, donning everything from evening gowns and suits to hoodies and jeans as they walked a red carpet and enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and drinks before the screening of the opening night film: “There's Always Woodstock.”
Jason Ritter, one of the opening film's stars, came with the movie's producers, Jim Klock and Joe Dain, and its director, Rita Merson.
Ritter, who was visiting Tampa for the first time, had yet to see the film.
“I'm really excited to see it,” said Ritter. “Its a fun, romantic comedy and I play a cheesy actor guy who's not a very good boyfriend. It was a fun and very interesting project.”
The festival is showcasing more than 100 independent films, including shorts, comedies, dramas, animated movies, international films and documentaries. The films are being shown at various locations, including Tampa Theatre, CinéBistro at Hyde Park and Muvico Centro Ybor 20, Tampa Art Museum and Firehouse Cultural Center.
“We've really come a long way from being a small festival to one that brings in more than 100 movies, filmmakers, producers, directors, which is great for economic development,” said Monica Varner, the festival's executive director. “Tampa is a small, big town and it's easy to attract filmmakers to the area.''
Inside the theater, actor August Roads and director Vincent Sabella took a moment from conversing with fans to talk about their short film, “Note,” which makes its premiere Thursday.
The film is about a young man who decides to commit suicide and leaves behind a Top 10 list for writing a suicide note.
“We really hope everyone comes out and supports the movie and this festival,” said Sabella. “(Film) festivals are always a great place to show your movie. That's the reason we're here today.”
Many people who attended opening night were film buffs.
Genais Rupert of St. Petersburg said she looks forward to the festival every year.
“There is just so much diversity and talent that's its hard to pick and choose what to see,'' she said. “I'm always overwhelmed by the selection. And seeing any celebrities is always a plus.”
As the crowd began to file into Tampa Theater for “Woodstock,” the film's executive producers gave the evening their stamp of approval.
“The enthusiasm and energy of this festival is just wonderful,” Dain said.
Charles Chu and Ryan O'Nan also strutted the red carpet Wednesday. The two friends star in the festival's closing film Sunday, “Chu and Blossom,” which they also wrote together. The movie is about the unlikely friendship between a tall, gangly Korean (Chu) and an aggressive performance artist (O'Nan) and was filmed in Tampa, Lakeland, Plant City, Ocala and Pinellas County in the summer of 2012.
“I grew up all over the country and (this area) can double for so many places I've visited,” Chu said. “This is just such a cool small town with a really big town feel. You can't get any better than this.”
For a list of films, screenings, panel discussions, parties and tickets, click here.