Several filmmakers and actors with Tampa ties will be represented among the 100 films featured at the 8th annual Gasparilla International Film Festival. The five-day event, expected to draw thousands of film buffs, gets underway Wednesday at Tampa Theatre.
The opening film is a romantic comedy featuring Brittany Snow, who grew up here and attended Gaither High before heading to Hollywood in 2002 to co-star in NBC’s “American Dreams.”
Schedule pending, Snow may attend the opening of “There’s Always Woodstock,” starring Rumer Willis as a neurotic songwriter who returns to her hometown of Woodstock, N.Y. Jason Ritter, Katey Sagal and Snow are in the cast. The VIP opening night reception starts at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Tampa Theatre. The movie screens at 7:30 p.m.
The closing film “Chu and Blossom,” about the unlikely friendship between a tall, gangly Korean (Charles Chu) and an aggressive performance artist (Ryan O’Nan) was filmed in Tampa, Lakeland, Plant City, Ocala and Pinellas County in the summer of 2012.
Actors and budding filmmakers Sherry Romito, a 1996 graduate of Gaither High, and Katherine Oellerich, a 2003 graduate of Tampa’s Academy of Holy Names, have separate entries and will be here for the screenings.
“I am so excited to be coming back to my hometown with this film,” says Romito, who co-stars along with her husband actor/producer Owen Williams in “Under the Hollywood Sign,” a drama about a down-on-his-luck actor that Williams wrote.
Romito says she has been writing since she penned a play in the fourth grade. She left Tampa 14 years ago to pursue an acting career. “Under the Hollywood Sign,” funded in part by a friend and mentor Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy”), was produced by Williams and Romito’s company, Spirit Hound Productions.
“We got tired of going on auditions and waiting for the phone to ring so we decided to make our own films,” Romito says. “Under the Hollywood Sign” screens at 11:20 a.m. March 22 and 2:15 p.m. March 23 at Muvico Centro Ybor.
Oellerich, who recently relocated to Nashville with her singer/songwriter boyfriend Tim Jones, has been writing scripts with her aunt, Colleen Griffin, who directed their entry “The Cold and the Quiet.” Oellerich’s uncle, Joe Chappelle (a producer on NBC’s “Chicago Fire”), co-produced the film.
“It about a young woman facing her anxiety,” says Oellerich who stars in the film as a college student, isolated over the Christmas holiday, who finds herself responsible for two troubled children (played by Oellerich’s cousins).
“It’s partly autobiographical in that it’s based on my own anxieties,” Oellerich says. “This is exciting to have the film debut in Tampa where I grew up.” Her film screens at 9:20 p.m. Thursday at CineBistro in Hyde Park.
“We make an effort to find and highlight films with Florida connections,” says Elizabeth Fendrick, president of the Gasparilla Film Festival. “We had a record number of submissions this year — more than 500. This is because the Tampa festival has become a place where filmmakers want to show their work. It also is a place where the writers, actors, directors and attendees have a good time. They like Tampa because we treat them right.”
The films will be competing for prizes, and three actors will be honored such as Rising Star Award recipients. They are R.J. Mitte, who played Walter White Jr. in AMC’s hit series “Breaking Bad,” Anna Anissimova, who co-stars in the fest’s opening film “There’s Always Woodstock” and Martha MacIsaac, who has appeared in “Superbad” and NBC’s “1600 Penn.”
Mitte, who also has close ties with the International Shriners (headquartered in Tampa) has a role in “House of Last Things,” a thriller set in Portland, Ore., that screens at 8:05 p.m. Thursday at CineBistro and 8:30 p.m. March 22 at Muvico Centro Ybor.
Also expected to attend the festival are Jason Ritter, also in “There’s Always Woodstock” and NBC’s “Parenthood”; Andre Holland of “1600 Penn”; Blake Berris, who has appeared in “Days of Our Lives,” “House of Last Things” and was the GIFF 2013 Rising Star recipient; C.S. Lee of Showtime’s “Dexter”; Sam Childers, also known as “The Machine Gun Preacher” and Ryan O’Nan of “The Frozen Ground,” “The Iceman” and GIFF Rising Star 2012.
Fendrick says the 100 films will be screened at various locations, including the Tampa Theatre, CinéBistro at Hyde Park and Muvico Centro Ybor 20, Tampa Art Museum and Firehouse Cultural Center.
There will be shorts, comedies, dramas, animated films, student films, international films and documentaries.
One documentary produced by the Hillsborough County Bar Association is moving and historical. “Before the Law was Equal: The Desegregation of the Hillsborough County Legal Community” is a 50-minute film in which veteran attorneys and judges tell their stories of what life was like for minorities in the Tampa area’s legal community in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s (before desegregation). It runs at 6 p.m. March 21 at Muvico Centro Ybor.
“There is such a wide variety of films being offered this time,” says Fendrick. Included are 11 world premieres, two U.S. premieres and 15 Florida premieres. There will be workshops and question-and-answer sessions with producers and directors.
Other films of note include: “The Red Robin,” with Judd Hirsch and O’Nan, about a family reunion that goes awry when the oldest son accuses his dying father, a famed psychiatrist, of using his adopted children for psychological experimentation (10:35 p.m. Thursday at CineBistro and 6 p.m. March 22 at Muvico Centro Ybor).
“Enemy,” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Melanie Laurent, about a glum, disheveled history professor, who seems disinterested even in sex with his girlfriend. After he spots his double, a bit actor in a film, he tracks him down, and their lives become bizarrely intertwined (10:30 p.m. March 21 at Muvico Centro Ybor).
Also, “Winter in the Blood,” about a man on a strange odyssey to find his missing wife and favorite rifle (2:10 p.m. Thursday, CineBistro and 6:10 p.m. March 22, Muvico Centro Ybor); “Hank and Asha,” a Czech Republic romance about a New Yorker and an Indian student on Prague who begin a long distance relationship (4 p.m. Thursday, CineBistro and 6:55 p.m. March 21, Muvico Centro Ybor); and “The Boys of Abu Ghraib,” from the producers of “Blood Diamond” and “The Last Samurai,” is a thriller that follows a soldier from a small town to duty as a guard at Iraq’s most infamous prison (8:15 p.m. March 21, Muvico Centro Ybor).
For a list of films, screenings, panel discussions, parties and tickets visit www.gasparillafilm festival.com.