Essential Tampa Bay Film Festivals for Cinephiles

2016 Sunscreen Film Festival Award
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According to film expert and theorist, Dr. Philip Sipiora, Professor of English and Film Studies at University of South Florida, film festivals serve strategic interests of their communities by introducing residents to unreleased films as well presenting a range of documentary and creative long and short films — as well as work by members of the community.

In the Sunshine State, it’s film festival season all year long, with major events from Tampa Bay to Miami to Orlando to Sarasota.

Start locally with these options on both sides of the bay:

TIGLFF 2016. Photo: Nick Cardello

Tampa Bay International Bay Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (TIGLFF)

TIGLFF is one of the longest running film festivals in Florida, featuring films from more than 25 countries, and is considered one of the top 10 film festivals in the U.S. by any metric, according to Executive Director Scott Skyberg.

“Film helps us learn about ourselves and others,” he says. “You’ll always find something you’ll identify with in the dozens of films screened. There’s something for everybody.”

Going into its 28th year, TIGLFF screens films “of or about” the LGBTQIA+ community on both sides of Tampa Bay. Lasting nine days, the fest hosts 5,000 to 7,000 unique visitors annually. Films are screened every two hours starting at 10 a.m. each day;  Saturday, Oct. 7, features a youth program.

Launch party: Saturday, Sept. 16, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg

Festival: Oct. 6-14, 2017, Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St., Tampa


Sunscreen Film Festival (SFF)

Heading into its 13th year with more than 10,000 annual attendees, the Sunscreen Film Festival takes place each spring.

SFF founder and (non-voting) advisory board member Tony Armer is a mover and shaker in regional film circles, serving as a sponsor of TIGLFF, Et Cultura, and Gasparilla International Film Festival and panelist at numerous film events. Armer says:

“The film festival scene in Pinellas County is a microcosm of what you can find in the 5,000 film festivals worldwide. The weather and location add to the appeal of having these fests locally, and the laid back vibe of the area make attendees feel welcomed and excited to come back for more.”

It became unflinchingly clear during the course of researching this article that film industry experts agree that Sunscreen is not to be missed.

Festival: Spring 2018, Venues TBA, St. Petersburg


Et Cultura

This video  tells a compelling 60-second story about St. Petersburg’s eclectic, multi-day, multimedia annual Et Cultura festival. This highly curated event extends beyond the genre of film to include interactive media, music and 2D/3D art. Check their Facebook event page regularly for updates.

Festival: Nov. 15-19, 2017, Venues TBA, St. Petersburg

Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival

Heading into its fourth year, TBUFF is your passport to underground cinema.

Dedication to filmmakers uninterested in corporate-sponsored step and repeats and averse to big blockbuster budgets sets TBUFF apart. One can imagine a young John Waters and Divine (RIP) — and even characters from his Cecile B. Demented (2000) — feeling welcome here. Creative Loafing once covered one of its more memorable offerings about a beauty queen.

Born at the now defunct AMC Seminole 8, the event moved to Britton 8 Theater (2015), and last held court at Villagio Cinemas (2016). This year’s venue hasn’t yet been announced, according to TBUFF Programming Director and founding board member R. Presley Stephens.

Perhaps it will return to Pinellas someday. Everyone loves a good homecoming story, and Pinellas County would be thrilled to have TBUFF back on this side of the Bay.

Festival: Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2017, Venue TBA

Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF)

No Central Florida film fest list would be complete without GIFF, a landmark of Tampa Bay film culture. Past GIFF celeb appearaces have included Colin Ferrell, Josh Ritter and local-made-good Patrick Wilson.

The festival’s organizers present events throughout the year such as the upcoming Dog Film Festival in October. Click here for information on how to volunteer for the 2018 fest.

Festival: March 2o-25, 2018, Various venues, Tampa, FL

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“Film festivals serve as cultural catalysts in bringing together writers, performers, technicians, and filmmakers to interact with film enthusiasts in ways that nourish the interests of everyone involved,” adds Prof. Sipiora, advisory board member of Gasparilla International Film Festival.

Revealing unseen reels, unifying artists, nourishing the community: these are the reasons film festivals are indispensable elements of a culturally vibrant and artistically thriving region.

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