Stunning Cinematic Treasures Offered at the 26th Annual Philadelphia Film FestivalIn keeping with the tradition of cultivating, showcasing, and nurturing films, from near and far, the 26th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival offers an array of memorable cinematic treasures.
The much-anticipated event, which runs through October 29, has a staggering number of offerings: 92 features, 18 short films, and 200 screenings taking place over 11 days.
There are also several foreign films that may be up for Oscars, and memorable American movies that are Oscar contenders, that have already thrilled festival audiences at Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto. It is a scrumptious smorgasbord for film lovers of every genre.
Philadelphia Film Festival Executive Director J. Andrew Greenblatt, is extremely proud of being involved in his 9th festival, and he said that the festival is an extraordinary undertaking for everyone involved.
“What’s not to love? I get to watch incredible films, and then I get to bring those films to Philadelphia,” Greenblatt recently explained. “We want to educate, empower, enlighten, and of course, entertain; that’s why I love what I do.”
Philadelphia Film Festival Artistic Director Michael Lerman sees 700-750 movies a year, and Greenblatt views 250-300 a year; all to find just the right mix for the festival.
“We are always looking for the gems; the game changers,” Greenblatt said. “We want to show movies that shake people up, educate them, and help them explore an issue that they may never have thought about – that’s what we are looking for.”
Several of the movies being featured at the current film festival are already receiving Oscar buzz, critical acclaim, as well as strong reactions from audiences.
The opening night movie was “I, Tonya,” in which Margot Robbie stars as Tonya Harding, the champion figure skater turned Hard Copy sensation in a dark, energetic, shockingly hilarious, and touching biopic. The movie also stars Julianne Nicholson, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney.Several movies that are capturing great attention are “Flesh and Blood,” “Lady Bird,” “Roman J. Israel Esq,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “The Florida Project.”The director of “The Florida Project” Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) sets his riveting movie starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valerina Cotto, and Bria Vinaite, at a dilapidated motel in the shadows of “the happiest place on earth,” and examines the innocence of childhood against the harsh realities of life.
“Lady Bird,” directed by new filmmaker and actress Greta Gerwig, and starring Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and Laurie Metcalfe, is an electrifying coming-of-age story about an awkward teen yearning to escape her hometown.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the closing night film on Friday, October 27, at the Prince Theater, from director Martin McDonagh, (“Bruges,” stars Frances McDormand as the grieving mother of a daughter whose violent murder is still unresolved.)
One day in a fit of frustration she rents three billboards in her small town and sends a message to the town sheriff, played by Woody Harrelson: “Still No Arrests,” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying.”
This thought-provoking movie, also starring Sam Rockwell, as a hotheaded deputy, is a darkly comic take of anger and anguish rippling through a small Midwestern town. It is also able to evoke both laughter and tears within moments of one another. The movie won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
“I think this festival has taken a tremendous upturn since Andrew [Greenblatt] took over, both he and Michael Lerman are brilliant,” said Sharon Pinkenson, the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, who has long been synonymous with film in Philadelphia.
She has been responsible for bringing in scores of notable films, with incredible talent during the past 20 years, including “Philadelphia,” “The Sixth Sense,” “In Her Shoes,” “National Treasure,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Creed.” In production, and slated for a January 2019 release, is “Glass,” starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Sarah Paulson, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and “Creed II,” directed by Sylvester Stallone, will shoot in Philadelphia.
Several years ago, the Philadelphia Film Society honored Pinkenson by renaming the annual Greater Filmadelphia Award, which is given to the best local feature. It is now called the Sharon Pinkenson Award for Best Local Feature film, and she is honored to have the award bear her name.
She is also appreciative of the tribute taking place during the festival for her close friend, the noted director Jonathan Demme, who passed away in April, leaving a stunning legacy of films, including, “Philadelphia,” which will be shown at this year’s festival.
“Jonathan has been a friend of mine since 1992, and this is a tremendous loss to me personally, to Philadelphia and to the film world,” Pinkenson said. “I am thrilled that he will be celebrated at this year’s festival.” Among his many notable movies are: “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Something Wild,” “Swimming to Cambodia,” “Beloved,” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Pinkenson encourages everyone to check out the 2017 festival. “This is a really big festival,” she said. “It’s not just the movies you see at Oscar season, it is also the one’s you will enjoy and cherish because you were able to see something special that may not play at your local theater.”
The following is a recent Q and A with Philadelphia Film Festival Director, J. Andrew Greenblatt:
The festival is 26 years old. Last year you had an amazing festival with movies including, “La La Land,” “Jackie,” “Moonlight,” and many others we heard about at Oscar time. What’s different and exciting this year? Why should people come, and what are the hidden treasures?
ANDREW GREENBLATT: Every year is a little different. Last year, I think, was probably the best year we’ve seen in film in decades, between “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” and “Manchester by the Sea,” any of those could have won the Academy Award in any other year. The fact that they were up against each other made it tough. This year is a very different year.
What should film lovers be excited about? Tell me some of the highlights, please.
AG: “Three Billboards,” is a stellar, stellar film. It is so complex and it deals with so many issues: police brutality, race relations, and more. It’s a movie for right now. I mean RIGHT NOW. It has a tone that is so fragile, I guess it is a dark comedy with an emphasis on the dark. It’s amazing. The performances are stellar. It is the type of film that you watch and you don’t know if people are going to fully appreciate it right away, or if it going to take multiple viewings. It’s amazing, and we are thrilled to have it as our closing night film.
I cried and laughed at the same time. Frances [McDormand] is incredible in this movie.
AG: As is Woody Harrelson. This is his movie. The arc that Sam Rockwell goes through is stunning. I can’t say enough about the film, we are thrilled to have it.
What else are you excited about?
AG: We opened with “I, Tonya,” then came “Last Flag Flying,” We have two films, “The Florida Project,” and “Lady Bird,” two movies that will be in that awards season conversation as we go through the season. We have a packed house for “The Florida Project,” and Sean [Baker] coming in for it. It is going to be a special evening and I think the movie is going to stun people.
Tell me more.
AG: We added Dan Gilroy’s, movie “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” on Wednesday, Oct. 25. He did “Night Crawler,” a few years ago, and now he has this movie with Denzel Washington, who plays a lawyer. As my artistic director [Michael Lerman] has been saying, ‘you always expect a good performance from Denzel, and you always get it.’ This is different.This is a truly amazing performance and so different from what you expect. It is playing right after “Philadelphia,” so you get two versions of Denzel playing attorneys, but you get very, very different versions and Dan will be with us for the intro and Q and A. We are really excited to have added this late addition, and we only add films that we feel that we must have.
Talk about a few more movies, please to wet our appetite.
AG: We have director John Curran’s film “Chappaquiddick,” which is really interesting to watch, especially for those who lived through that era. Again, the performances are fantastic. Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy, and watching the crisis management, you see how it was then, and how different it is today – it’s all about spin and how you put things. It remains incredible politically and socially relevant.
It sounds like you have something for every film lover?
AG: The focus is really broad. Music films, genre films, in the graveyard films and much more. We have these incredible foreign films from all around the world. We have 10 or 11 films that have been submitted by their countries for best foreign film Oscar. There were 90 some films submitted, the Academy cuts that down until the final five are selected for the award. I think a good number of the movies showing here will be on the short list.
Please, tell me about a few of them.
AG: “The Square,” which won the Palme d’Or (the top honor) at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a truly original piece of work. I love it, and I am anxious to see what the audiences’ reaction to a film like that will be. [It is about a Swedish museum curator, who unveils a confounding new work.] And there are so many more.
There are home-grown films and talent, as well.
AG: Yes. It is the section of the festival called Filmadelphia. They are films made by Philadelphians or film made in or around Philadelphia. We have Mark Webber’s movie, “Flesh and Blood,” he grew up in North Philly, and it is a fictionalized version of his life. He changes one or two key facts to create narrative, but he cast his mother, Cheri, as his mother and his half-brother, Guillermo, as his half-brother. I’ve known Mark for years and I am extremely proud of the work that he has done in his previous films leading up to this one and of course, this one. I am thrilled to bring him back to Philly for this.
Any others we may not have heard of before.
AG: Yes. We’ve got this film that I love out of Sundance called. “Throughbreds,” You would describe this film as if Hitchcock shot the movie “Heathers.” It is from first-time director Cory Finley, and great young actresses, Olivia Cooke and Ana-Taylor Joy.
Talk about the year-round programs that take place before and after the festival?
AG: The festival is our centerpiece, but we are a year-round organization. We make it possible for people to see some of these films that they might otherwise never have a chance to see in a theater, or they might miss entirely. There is so much content out there, and so much demanding everyone’s time, whether it is film, television or anything else, how are you going to find these films? So, we get to serve as curator and we love that position.
Tell me about your other programs.
AG: Community outreach and education. In the summer we work with various communities, and we do pop up screenings in various neighborhoods. We meet the leaders, and ask what’s important to your community and we do the programming accordingly. We bring the screen, sound, generators, snacks, water – everything they need. It’s called Partners on the Block, and I love that program. We’ve been doing it for three years, in four different neighborhoods a year, and it’s a really important program for us.
What other outreach programs do you have going on?
AG: For the last four years we’ve done the Festival Field Trip Program; where every week day during the film festival we do a free screening for area students. We work with the schools. They bring the kids in, we show them a film and often there is a filmmaker to talk to them afterward, and we give them a packet of information for their teacher to dig deeper. We love that. So, this year we also launched the Student Screening Program at the Roxy, and now we do that two or three times a week, in which school groups come in, see a film, and dig deeper in the classroom with the packets.
Why is this important to you?
AG: It all goes toward the power of film. How film can inspire, educate, enlighten, and of course, entertain. That’s why we do what we do, and that’s why we love what we do.
I was sitting next to a diverse group of movie lovers last year – a teen who works at the Ambler Theater, critics from several countries, a few newcomers, and a Boston couple who come every year. That certainly makes this festival feel extremely unique.
AG: Absolutely. I love going to the festival lounge, or just standing in the lobby in between films to hear the interaction. People who come to the festival are happy and friendly, and asking one another for recommendations. Asking ‘what did you see?’ and ‘what did you like?’ So, I encourage everyone to grab the festival book and see what captures your attention. Then go and see a few movies and they will probably be great!”
The full 26th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival schedule and digital Festival Program Guide is available at: www.filmadelphia.org/festival.
Tickets may be purchased online, by phone, or in person at the Festival Lounge, or at any Festival Venue Box Office. For tickets and other information please call: 215-422-4970, Monday through Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m.