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Welcome to the Philadelphia Film Festival (Volume 3)

by Scott Weinberg

Given that I'm fortunate enough to attend and cover three of North America's coolest film festivals (Sun/Slamdance, SXSW and Toronto), you might expect me to treat my local fest as kind of an afterthought. Well, if I lived just about anywhere else, I might do precisely that. But I'm lucky enough to be a Philadelphian, born and raised, which means that every April I get a fantastic film festival delivered into my very own back yard.

I've covered all this stuff in previous years, but one specific thing bears repeating: this is a film festival firmly on the rise. An event like Sundance is one very flashy rarity in the world of film festivals; most film fests don't really shoot for worldwide notoriety (choosing instead to focus on the regional citizens), so if you happen to live in an area that takes a few weeks out of each year to celebrate movies of all varieties .. you should jump at the chance to take part. I'd be a supporter of the Philadelphia Film Festival even if it ran for only three days and showed just nine movies, but luckily for me -- that's not even remotely the case.

This year's Philly Flick Fest runs from April 7th - 20th. That's more than a dozen days of wall-to-wall movies. Over 200 of 'em. And while you won't get those big, splashy "Hollywood Premiere" type of screenings ... well, who really needs 'em? Why should an indie filmmaker be left out in the cold because the programmers wanted to book a week-early screening of Fever Pitch? Nah, that stuff is for the fancy fests, the ones that are sometimes more interested in celebrity-obsessed hoo-hah instead of, y'know, the movies!

So let's cut to the meat of the thing. What movies can you see if you head on into Center City Philly with a few bucks in your pocket? I'll take the lead of the handy-dandy festival guide and set up the offerings in order of category.

The Centerpiece Screenings include the controversial Ma Mére, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, the resoundingly well-received Murderball, and the latest from angst-ridden director Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin.

Special Programming offers a taste of the retrospective and the offbeat. If you've never been able to appreciate Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange on the big screen, here's your chance. How about that newly reconstructed version of Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One or Robert Downey's Putney Swope, the 1920 version of The Last of the Mohicans or Michael Powell's 1945 drama I Know Where I'm Going!? For a taste of something new, try Malcolm McDowell in Evilenko, Steve Buscemi's latest (Lonesome Jim), or the Philly documentary Rittenhouse Square.

The International Masters section includes a cross-section of worldwide festival faves such as Francois Ozon's 5 x 2, Wim Wenders' Land of Plenty, Todd Solondz's Palindromes, and a half-dozen others. I'm particularly looking forward to Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's Niceland.

One of the largest categories is the World Focus section, and it boasts a bunch of titles that we've already checked out right here! There are way too many to go through individually, but I'm keeping my eye on titles like Childstar, The Edukators, Lakeside Murder Case, Quiet as a Mouse, and Saint Ralph (to name only a handful). There are a few titles in this category that I've already seen and would easily recommend: Layer Cake, Clean, Antares and Frozen, for example.

Spanish and Latin American Cinema Today is a fairly self-explanatory heading for this category, and it's here that you'll find movies like Bear Cub, The Holy Girl, Cronicas, Only Human, and a bunch of other titles I really hope I can squeeze in.

New Korean Cinema and Cinema of the Muslim Worlds offer ten titles, including This Charming Girl, About Baghdad, Woman is the Future of Man, and Story Undone.

American Discoveries is always a popular category, and this year the Philly programmers were able to snag David Duchovny's drama House of D, Damon Dash's rap comedy Death of a Dynasty, Rebecca Cook's Shooting Livien (featuring Jason Behr, Dominic Monaghan & Ally Sheedy), and Peter Riegert's directorial debut, King of the Corner (among several other promising titles). Worth of a special note is indie mindbender Deadroom, which we were happy to see at SXSW last month.

Festival of Independents is all about the grass-roots movie movement. Although I'm unfamiliar with these titles (and trust me, that's a good thing), it looks like a solid collection of features and shorts. I have red circles around Ben Hickernell's Cellar and Josh Goldbloom's Heroin Town.

Animation and Shorts Program promises a variety of offbeat material, from the story of a Hong Kong piggy to the "Family Funamation" collection to the Oscar-winning short film Ryan. A great pick if you're in the mood for something a little bit weirder (and shorter!) than your average festival flick.

The Documentary Tradition is a showcase of that most adored of film festival genres: the doco. Our critics can personally vouch for Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, Shake Hands With the Devil, The Nomi Song, Mardi Gras: Made in China, and After Innocence, plus I've heard some really great things about Mad Hot Ballroom, Lipstick & Dynamite and Racing Against the Clock.

Last but not least (I actually saved my favorite category for last) comes the ever-popular Danger After Dark category. This is where you'll find the offbeat stuff, the scary flicks, the tough-to-categorize soon-to-be-cult flicks. Just about everyone already knows how damn cool Oldboy is, and the subterranean Hungarian comedy Kontroll is absolutely a dark delight. Asia Argento's The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is bound to cause a little controversy, but our critics dug it quite a bit. My "DaD" must-see list is covered with movies like the blaxploitation documentary Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered & Shafted and a whole bunch of Asian genre goodies: One Missed Call, Karaoke Terror, Spider Forest, Survive Style 5+ and Marebito. Heck, you could just give me an all-access pass to the Danger After Dark titles; the rest of the festival is just the icing on the cake.

So I told you all that so I could tell you this: the Philadelphia Film Festival is a great festival hosted by a great town. Going into my third festival here, I get the sense that the programmers and administrators take a whole lot of pride in this event. I'm happy to fly around the country visiting a bunch of great film festivals ... but I'm just thrilled that I also have one right around the corner each April.

For the complete and total scoop (tickets, pricing, venues, parking, etc.) be sure to poke around the Philadelphia Film Festival official site. For our ongoing coverage of the festival you can visit our festival coverage page as often as you like. (It's free!) For even more coverage of the fest, feel free to visit Monsters at Play. Those guys have thrown great coverage to the Philly Fest for several years now - and anyone who loves horror movies that much I cool in my book. Two other great resources are Philadelphia Weekly and City Paper. And, of course, if you happen to be anywhere within reasonable driving distance (and yes, that includes Atlantic City), please do trek on down to Philly. Good food, good folks, and (for the next two weeks) nothing but wall-to-wall movies.

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originally posted: 04/07/05 14:55:29
last updated: 09/24/05 06:57:36
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