The 3rd annual Gasparilla International Film Festival opened strong Thursday night, drawing a sell-out crowd of about 1,200 to Tampa Theatre for the Southeastern premiere of a political thriller and appearances by three screen veterans.
The evening’s events included a screening of Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth, a taut drama starring Kate Beckinsale, Vera Farmiga and Matt Dillon; a pre-show awards ceremony honoring actress Terry Moore; and a lavish opening-night reception that had festgoers chatting, drinking, and sampling food from a variety of upscale Tampa Bay area restaurants (photo, above, is from Fox 13).
Moore, 80, best known for her work in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) and Mighty Joe Young (1949), and her once-secret marriage to Howard Hughes, received the festival’s first lifetime achievement award.
“My gosh, it’s like attending my own funeral,” the actress, dressed in a flowing white gown and white fur stole, said about the congratulatory emails she’d received this week, including one from Leonardo DiCaprio. Moore advised DiCaprio during the making of Hughes biopic The Aviator.
The award presentation was made by another longtime Hollywood actress — Anne Jeffreys, who appeared in television’s “General Hospital” and “Falcon Crest,” as well as a variety of 1940s films. “She’s been married six times, and all of them were handsome millionaires,” Jeffreys, remarkably poised and elegant at 86, still quipped about Moore. “And besides that, they’re all dead. She killed them,” she joked. Later, Jeffreys amended that statement: “One of the husbands has survived” (photos of Moore and Jeffreys, above, and Assante and Lurie, below, are from Radko Keleman’s photo gallery at Metromix Tampa Bay).
Also on hand, making a red-carpet entrance and sitting for interviews, was Armand Assante (American Gangster, The Mambo Kings), this year’s recipient of the Gasparilla Career Achievement Award. The award will be presented on Sunday (3/1), following the 7 p.m. world premiere screening of The Steam Experiment, starring Assante, Val Kilmer and Eric Roberts.
The crowd warmed to Nothing But the Truth, loosely drawn from the saga of Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed for refusing the reveal the source for a story in which she outed Valerie Plame as a government spook.
Director-writer Lurie (The Contender, Resurrecting the Champ) elicits terrific performances from the cast, particularly Farmiga as a tough-as-nails CIA agent, Beckinsale as Rachel Armstrong, a tenacious reporter who’s willing to sacrifice everything for principle, and Dillon as a folksy, seemingly laidback special prosecutor determined to track down the source of the leak.
Lurie keeps things moving at a pleasantly brisk clip — from the initial excitement Armstrong shares with her editor (St. Petersburg native Angela Bassett) over the publication of a story that could have huge political ramifications to the middle-of-the-night subpoena of Armstrong to the grinding misery she experiences while in jail, away from her family.
Other roles, including Armstrong’s consistently rumpled fiction-writing husband (David Schwimmer), the newspaper’s bulldog of an attorney (Noah Wyle) and the eminently reasonable trial judge (Floyd Abrams, the real-life attorney who represented the Times‘ Miller), are well played, too.
But Alan Alda, as Armstrong’s fashion-plate lawyer, gets the best lines, including a passionate defense of First Amendment freedoms and this quip about the “mistake” made by the special prosecutor: “Sometimes a mistake is like wearing white after Labor Day, and sometimes a mistake is like invading Russia in winter.”
And this, regarding the public’s disapproval of the press: “Somewhere along the way, the press stopped being the white knight and started being the dragon.”
Lurie (pictured, left) and Marc Frydman, the film’s producer, took the stage after the screening, for a Q&A session.
Things we learned:
- The film was shot in 39 production days, in Memphis.
- The production took over the offices of the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper — where several key scenes were shot — for a week.
- When mulling over his decision whether to hire Beckinsale, Lurie called Martin Scorsese for advice; Scorsese convinced Lurie to hire Beckinsale right away.
- The DVD will be released April 28.
Lurie and Frydman are both producers of another festival film, What Doesn’t Kill You, starring Mark Ruffalo and Ethin Hawke, and screening at the fest Friday night at 7:15 and Sunday night at 8:30.
Nothing But the Truth, which received strong reviews last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, and What Doesn’t Kill You were essentially orphaned when their distributor, Yari Film Group, went belly up in December, according to a story published in the Washington Post.
“It was like a drive-by shooting,” Lurie told the Post. “Life was going well, the film (Nothing But the Truth) was extremely well reviewed out of Toronto, it was the best-reviewed movie I’ve ever done, there were [Broadcast Film Critics Association] nominations for the actresses, and then out of nowhere, my partner Marc Friedman gets a phone call from the Hollywood Reporter asking his opinion on the Chapter 11 of Yari Film Group. And that’s it. It’s gone. Now we’re lying with bullet holes in us.”
About 120 fiction features, documentary features and short films will be screened at the festival, which continues through March 7. For all the details go to the official GIFF site.
Check out more coverage and pix from opening night, below:
St. Petersburg Times (Steve Persall)
Tampa Tribune (Walt Belcher)
Metromix Tampa Bay