Friday, October 21, 2011

2011 Philadelphia Film Festival

Greetings Soldiers and Cinephiles,

It is October in Philadelphia and that means it is time once again for the latest installment of the Philadelphia Film Festival. Shooting Wall has a press pass for this year's festival, and we plan on some pretty extensive coverage this year. Our coverage will consist of reviews of films, but we are also going to be going a little be further by covering the festival itself. This means we are going to be writing pieces about how well these screenings are organized, projection (quality, digital or film, etc), Q&A, short films programmed with features, prices, and film selections. Our aim here is to offer, as Shooting Wall often does, an in-depth analysis of the industry of film festivals, which we already wrote about on the blog during last year's festival and in Issue #2 of our zine. I recommend all our readers look back over the article The Failures of American Film Festivals as an introduction to Shooting Wall's feelings on the subject.

I want to use this opportunity for a brief overview of the 2011 Philadelphia Film Festival and the films Shooting Wall is recommending people actually go see. To start, I offer the same criticism of the festival as last year, which is that is is too expensive. $12 a ticket and no student discount seems incredibly steep, and it shows who the audience for this festival is. Not many people can afford to fork over $12 a ticket to see a lot of films; many people don't have the finances for that. There are some ticket deals, such as 6 tickets for $60, which is an okay deal, but not a great deal especially considering if you buy this package you are required to go to the main festival box office to pick up this pass and then obtain your tickets in person, which isn't all that convenient really. Certainly you could spend $350 for an unlimited pass, but should cinema really cost this much money? Shooting Wall thinks that it shouldn't. The second and probably most significant gripe I have with the festival and with the majority of festivals the size and scope of the Philadelphia Film Festival is their lack of original programming. The majority of the films being shown this (and most) years are films that have been making the festival rounds for the last year or so; a good percentage, in fact, just premiered at the New York Film Festival. Not only that, there are so many films premiering that will be opening in Philadelphia almost immediately after the festival ends. Melancholia, Le Havre, and A Dangerous Method, to name three, already have release dates for Philadelphia. Why then should I waste $12 on seeing this films when if I wait a week or two I can see them more cheaply at the Ritz? It doesn't really make sense to me. The main films of this year's festival fall into this category; Shame, Kid with a Bike, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Le Havre, A Dangerous Method, Melancholia, My Week with Marilyn, will all play in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Film Festival obviously assumes people don't go to film festival to see the most original, interesting, and cutting edge films which they cannot see elsewhere, but merely go see films they have already heard of a week or two before their friends. This, I do not believe, is the purpose of a film festival, at least not a festival like this one. And I am not saying I don't recommend some, if not all, of the above films that I have mentioned as many of them are probably going to be quite good, however, I just don't understand why I need to spend more money to see them a week before everyone else. My contention is that what makes a festival interesting is the diversity and originality of their programming. I want to find the films that won't make it to the theater in my city. I want the most difficult, original, and cutting edge films which can only find an audience among dedicated cinephiles at film festivals. I do not think there are very many of these film festivals in the United States anymore.

With all that out of the way, this year's festival line-up is decent, despite the originality, there are some films that probably won't make it to Philadelphia and not because they are too difficult or too esoteric to find an audience here, but because there seems to be a quota of goods films that are allowed to come to Philadelphia each year, which is sometimes not very high. I also want to mention that I think the relatively strong schedule of this year's festival compared to last year's has little to do with the festival programmers, but more to do with the fact that this year happens to be one in which a lot of the best filmmakers have films coming out. I believe this to be the case because even in the worst possible year for film, really creative and committed programmers could create a great film festival, but the Philadelphia Film Festival is not such a festival and if there aren't a lot of great films by well-known filmmakers out, then the festival won't be good.

I also have to say that the American films and the local Philadelphia films playing this year look pretty atrocious. Are these supposed to be indicative of what is happening in cinema in America and in Philadelphia? If so, we are in a lot more trouble than I ever imagined.

Below are the films Shooting Wall recommends for people to see at the film festival. These are films which we think either will not be released in Philadelphia or have very little chance of being released here. As far as the ones mentioned above, save your $12 and go see them in November and December at the Ritz for less money (almost half the price on Wednesdays).

Recommended Films:

Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangari
Bonsai by Cristián Jimenez
Collaborator by Martin Donovan
Corpo Celeste by Alice Rohrwacher
The Day He Arrives by Sang-soo Hong
The Fairy by Bruno Romy and Fiona Gordon
Habemus Papam by Nanni Moretti
House of Tolerance by Bertrand Bonello
Michael by Markus Schleinzer
Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The Turin Horse by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky


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