The Philadelphia Film Festival Reels in the Years

| October 10, 2011 | Homepage Latest The Latest

However you count it—20 years or 20 festivals— the Philadelphia Film Festival has showcased some incredible films since Linda Blackaby first proposed the annual smorgasbord. But it’s the past two years that have really put this cinematic event on the map: In 2009 it opened with the locally shot Law Abiding Citizen, with Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, and closed with Philly native Lee Daniels premiering Precious, a film that went on to win two Oscars. And last year, Black Swan attracted a staggering 865 people to the Zellerbach Theatre—including surprise guest and director Darren Aronofsky. “It was spectacular,” executive director J. Andrew Greenblatt recalls.

This year will celebrate international cinema, Philadelphia style—with films old and new, many with local connections. It all begins October 20 with the Philly premiere of Like Crazy, a romantic drama about a British student and the American she falls for. After that, some 120 features and 20 shorts will unspool in Old City, University City, and even Bryn Mawr before the October 29 closing night event, showcasing Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, starring George Clooney. “We intended to go smaller this year, but there were so many great films, we went larger,” says Greenblatt.

The Descendants

There are also new programming themes, the most noteworthy a series of sports films presented by Comcast SportsNet. Legendary boxer Joe Frazier will attend the screening of the documentary Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears; Chuck Wepner will appear on behalf of The Real Rocky; and a presentation of Friday Night Lights, based on Philadelphian Buzz Bissinger’s best seller, will include director Peter Berg.

As for other names, Jonathan Demme, of Philadelphia fame, returns to The City of Brotherly Love to present his latest film, I’m Carolyn Parker. Not to be missed is St. Joseph University professor Deron Albright and the Philadelphia premiere of his The Destiny of Lesser Animals, an absorbing drama about a police officer in Ghana who hopes to return to America.

For more art-filled features, there is Pina, Wim Wenders’ 3-D documentary about the celebrated dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch; and The Artist, a silent film about the silent era starring Jean Dujardin, who won a Best Actor prize at Cannes Film Festival. My Week with Marilyn chronicles the story of Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) as they make the film The Prince and the Showgirl.

My Week with Marilyn

A first this year is the inclusion of the Knight Arts Challenge, a competition that encourages people to shoot their own short film—using anything from an iPhone to a 35mm camera—featuring one of 20 Philadelphia landmarks. (Think the Liberty Bell or a soft pretzel.) The top 10 entries will be screened on October 28, when a winner will be selected.

Greenblatt says that he gets tremendous satisfaction out of programming works with a local angle, whether through such a contest or by bringing regional talent to the fore of the festival. “There are great films coming out of Philadelphia. We want them on the same par as the rest of the fest.” At locations citywide, 267-239-2941

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