Now Playing: The Gasparilla Film Festival

USF students are fully involved in the downtown Tampa festival by volunteering for various events and discussions.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 21, 2013) – University of South Florida students and faculty are an integral part of the 2013 Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) now in progress at theaters in and around downtown Tampa through Sunday. 


USF English Professor Phillip Sipiora’s popular film survey courses attract film lovers. To help take their interest a step further, he keeps them abreast of goings on in the area’s burgeoning film industry. His position as a member of the GIFF Advisory Board connects his students to opportunities both in front of and behind the camera.


Sipiora’s students were invited by GIFF President and Programming Director Joe Restaino, GIFF Board Member Erik Lunseth and Volunteer Coordinator Chelsea Cromar to volunteer during the six days of screenings, panel discussions, receptions and parties that abound day and night.  Several took them up on the offer.


“One of the best ways to get involved in the film industry is to meet the people who are making films,” Sipiora said.  “And you don’t have to leave town to do it now that we have so much going on right here.” 


Among the highlights of the festival was a red carpet world premiere of the feature film “Empire State,” directed by Dito Montiel and starring Dwayne Johnson, Liam Hemsworth, Emma Roberts and Jerry Ferrara. Other highlights include new films starring Morgan Freeman, in “Olympus Has Fallen,” making its Florida premiere, and James Franco in “The Iceman” in a special showcase. There will also be world premieres and Florida premieres of a number of independent films and documentaries, along with a series of programs of short films. 


“Some of today’s leading filmmakers got their starts making short films, including Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and many others,” said Sipiora, who is serving on the GIFF Grand Jury of the Young Filmmaker Showcase.  “You never know who you’ll discover at this point in their careers.”


Another unique opportunity for attendees is the chance to sit in on a table reading where actors go through their lines of key scenes from a screenplay. Education panels, free and open to the public, round out the line-up. Theater majors may be particularly interested in “Behind the Scenes: Realities of the Casting Process” at 11:30 a.m. and “Actors on Acting” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23. For the full schedule, click here or visit


GIFF was launched in 2006 as a summer event and is now a year-round operation of the non-profit Tampa Film Institute supporting production and education projects in the Tampa Bay region throughout the year.   


“We hope to see a growing impact on our local, regional and state economies,” said Sipiora.  “And we’re doing our part at USF to help supply the educated and talented workforce this industry demands.  We want our graduates to stay and work in the area.”


Even children and teens, ages 6-18, can get involved. “ICASTING KIDS,” with Janette Sepwa, offers acting classes with a discount for GIFF members. Student membership in GIFF is $25. Other membership categories range from $50 to $1,500. Membership includes tickets and passes to GIFF and other special screenings, plus parties and other events as well as discounts and insider information. It also allows admission to the monthly Global Lens Film Series at the Tampa Museum of Art.


“The 2013 GIFF,” according to Sipiora, “promises to be a particularly powerful and exciting showcase of filmmaking achievements, from aspiring directors to seasoned veterans of movie making. Much can be learned and savored from the vast array of talented filmmaking in this festival.”


Another USF presence at GIFF is Associate Professor Patrizia La Trecchia, head of the Italian Program in World Languages, who has been involved with GIFF since its inception, first as a judge and then on its advisory board since 2008. In 2009, she brought to Tampa the acclaimed “Il divo” by Paolo Sorrentino, then “Bitter Bread” by Gianfranco Norelli, “Vincere” by Marco Bellocchio and “The Duck Hunter” by Egidio Veronesi.  This year producers Wanda Glebbeek and Francesco Cavaliere have submitted their award-winning documentary “Resistenza.” It has just been nominated for Social Media Impact Award 2013. La Trecchia is introducing the film that is being screened at the Italian Club on Saturday.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.