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Columns

Argh, it's another bay-area film fest

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published February 23, 2007


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We have beautiful weather.

Well, usually.

We have lovely beaches.

(They're not too far away, at least.)

We can enjoy every conceivable outdoor activity.

(Maybe not mountain climbing. Or ice hockey. But that leaves a lot of possibilities.)

So why do Tampa residents want to spend so much time in dark theaters, watching movies?

They do, right? Why else would the next two months be loaded with so many opportunities to see so many films?

If you haven't been keeping track, we have more film festivals coming up than you can shake a Nicole Richie at.

And that's despite having lost the Tampa International Film Festival, which is taking off 2007, at least, due to a lack of funding.

University of Tampa professor Rob Tregenza, TIFF's founder and director, contends that the other exhibitions won't offer what his did, and that's true.

But just on the basis of quantity, it's a hearty spring for film buffs.

It kicks off Wednesday with the newcomer and wannabe top dog, the Gasparilla Film Festival.

Though this is the debut year, executive director Sherri Simonetti wants Gasparilla, which runs through March 4, to be the film festival for Tampa.

Simonetti said, "Tampa has never had a true, cohesive film festival" as do other cities, such as Austin, Miami and Cleveland.

Yes, Cleveland.

Really. No kidding. Cleveland.

Granted, if you're in Cleveland, you'd probably rather be inside a movie theater in February. Or March. Or April. Or, more important, any time the Browns play.

But Tampa's no Cleveland. We have a million diversions at our fingertips. Do we have enough movie lovers to support multiple film festivals?

Gasparilla has more than 40 films, including features and shorts. On March 13, the 11th annual Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival kicks off its 12-day event.

The next event is a few weeks later and a good hour south, but it's a biggie: the Sarasota Film Festival, running April 13-22.

Sarasota regularly attracts an impressive array of films and recognizable stars. Last year, attendees included Gene Simmons, William H. Macy and Chevy Chase.

And while Sarasota is wrapping up, Ybor City gets in on the action with its Ybor Festival of the Moving Image, running April 19-22.

At least film buffs can take six months off, save some money and get a little sun before the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival arrives Oct. 4-14.

Does that make for a glut of cinematic events for a city that still struggles to support the arts in many other ways?

One could claim it's an apples and oranges discussion - Sarasota's not exactly next door, and the Jewish and Gay and Lesbian festivals have very specific themes.

But that's still a whole lot of premieres, post-screening parties and filmmakers' discussions, and only so much time and money for cineastes to spread around.

Simonetti is quick to promote the idea of her festival as "movies with parties afterward" and "opportunities to meet the filmmaker" where you can show up in jeans and there's no "snootiness" involved.

Maybe, and maybe she'll get a decent turnout from some Average Janes and Joes who want to come down and check out the movies. More likely, though, most audiences will be people who are into good films and good filmmakers.

Tregenza, the TIFF founder, said there's a definite interest in international and independent film in the Tampa Bay area, but whether that interest is enough to support so many events is questionable.

"I think the best situation is maybe to back up and regroup," he said. "We should see if there are enough people to really make this viable."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.

[Last modified February 22, 2007, 07:46:02]


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