The Philadelphia Film Festival returns for a 10-day stretch tomorrow. The festival is celebrating its silver anniversary, and they’ve increased the offerings by more than dozen over last year’s. There are 113 movies to see from 23 countries. We want a Red Bull just typing that.

Among the lineup, which runs of gamut of docs, thrillers, shorts and animated features, there’s a notable presence of films led by women, especially buzzy biopics with critically acclaimed performances. Plus, there’s a selection of domestic indies and documentaries that are totally free of charge.

So where to start? After poring over the lineup here’s what we’re most excited about. Don’t sleep: All showings are on pre-sale and many of them will sell out.


Have you seen the trailer? There is actually a scene where Natalie Portman, playing Jacqueline Kennedy, is in the shower washing JFK’s blood off of her. Early reviews detail this biopic pulls no punches and that Portman is a good bet for an Oscar. Fri., Oct. 21 at 7:15 p.m. Prince Theater. Advance tix sold out. Try at the door.

Night on Earth

You feel the gritty reality of modern life in this 1991 classic made up of five short stories, all set in taxicabs, set around the world at the end of the carefree ‘80s. Young Winona Ryder impresses an L.A. casting agent as a cabbie who chain-smokes and Roberto Benigni foreshadows Uber by chatting his (Italian priest) passenger’s ear off (about sex). Sat., Oct. 22 at noon. Prince Theater.

The Rehearsal

How far is too far in drama school? Well, the protagonist of this movies New Zealand deeply sources a piece based on a statutory rape case involving his girlfriend’s sister. Sat., Oct. 22 at 5:25 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 29 at 12:20 p.m. Ritz East.

Backpack Full of Cash

A Matt Damon-produced doc on school funding and public education crises. Of course Philly is all up in it. Sat., Oct. 22 at 5:10 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 29 at 4:10 p.m. Prince Theater.


This is another Oscar contender performance. Rebecca Hall is receiving raves all over the place for her portrayal of Christine Chubbock, a TV anchor who killed herself on camera in the ’70s. (If you’re unfamiliar, that really happened.) Sat., Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 26 at 9:25 p.m. Ritz East.

Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story

After growing up in poverty and experiencing homelessness, Homaro Cantu became one of Chicago’s first real celebrity chefs. Then he went onto dedicate his life to tackling the obesity epidemic — with West Africa’s “miracle berry.” Yeah, that guy. Sat., Oct. 22 at 7:40 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 24 at 5:05 p.m. Ritz East.

Staying Vertical

If it’s been called “the most shocking movie at Cannes,” then it’s prob worth checking out. The plot seems particularly navelgazing, following a filmmaker looking for inspiration and trying to raise a kid at the same time, but it’s apparently presented super well. Also, it’s not yet out in wide release, so this is a prime opportunity. Sat., Oct. 22 at 9:45 p.m. at Ritz East. Wed., Oct. 26 at 12: 15 p.m. Ritz Five.

Miss Impossible

Google this movie without quotes around it and you’ll end up with links about Tom Cruise. Screech. Back up. The protagonist here is as far from Ethan Hunt as you can get: A young French girl who discovers a hidden talent and learns to let loose by playing in a band. Sun., Oct. 23 at 2:30 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 26 at 5:10 p.m. Ritz East.


Heard of a Spaghetti Western? Here’s a “Ramen Western” set in Japan. It combines dry comedy with the namesake delicious noodles-in-broth, which — when the flick came out in 1985 — hadn’t yet achieved their cult fave status in the US. Sun., Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m. Ritz East.

Short Stay

Someone (Ted Fendt) actually made a movie about a pizza delivery dude from Jersey in his thirties who moves to Philly for the first time and lives among us. There’s house parties and walking tours and lots of other Philadelphia things, all shot on actual 35mm film. We’re here for it. Doesn’t hit theaters until Dec. 16. Sun., Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 29 at noon. Prince Theater.

I, Daniel Blake

The title character is a heart attack survivor. He was a career carpenter, but he has strict medical orders that he’s in no condition to continue his craft. Still, government assistance counselors explain that he can only stay on his health plan if he’s actively looking for a job. This film, focusing on working class folks caught in the crosshairs of red tape, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this spring. Sun., Oct. 23 at 4:45 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 29 at 5:05 p.m. Ritz East.


Everyone and their mom is talking like Moonlight is masterpiece. Of this portrait of a black gay man looking back at rough realities of his upbringing, critics are using words like “piercing,” “devastating” and “exquisite.” We gotta go see if that’s true. Mon., Oct. 24 at 7:10 p.m. Prince Theater. Advance tix sold out. Try at the door.


A prison in Singapore is not a great place to be — even when you’re a corrections officer. Especially if you’re a corrections officer working for someone who probably executed your father. It’s fiction, but it’s heavy and informative. Tue., Oct. 25 at 9:40 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 26 at 2:25 p.m. Ritz Five.


There’s a journalism course exercise where you buddy up, interview a partner for only 20 minutes and the try to write their obit as if they just died. It’s trippy and torturous, but it gets across how difficult obit writing is. This doc takes us to the New York Times obituary section and takes a good look at the craft. Thu., Oct. 27 at 7:05 p.m.; Sun., Oct 30 at 4:40 p.m. Ritz Five. Free.99!

Best and Most Beautiful Things

Documentarian Garrett Zevgits followed a legally blind teen with Asperger’s for six years, as she became a twenty-something and navigated growing up. Fri., Oct. 28 at 2:45 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 30 at 3:00 p.m. Ritz Five. Free.99!

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

After the subprime mortgage crisis set the US (and world) economy back decades and left dozens of citizens in financial trouble, who paid the price? Not the big banks. This bank. The Abacus Federal Savings Bank was the only institution to face criminal charges from the debacle. The doc is set to air in 2017 on PBS Frontline. Fri., Oct. 28 at 5:05 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 29 at 2:25 p.m. Ritz Five

‘Secret Screening’

Yes, there is a whole showing where the festival is staying totally tight-lipped on what it is. That had us like ? . This should be fun. Sat. Oct. 29 at 9:40 p.m. Ritz East.


Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...