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The Philadelphia Film Festival is a labor of love. This year’s 26th annual edition, which kicks off on Thursday, Oct. 19, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 29, comprises more than 110 feature-length and short films spanning a multitude of genres.
That’s a lot of movies, but not compared to the thousands and thousands of options out there. Sorting through them to come up with a schedule that gives a sense of the current zeitgeist is a huge undertaking. It’s a ton of work for Artistic Director Michael Lerman, Executive Director Andrew Greenblatt and their team of programmers — and they do it all for an audience of around 25,000 over 11 days.
For perspective, that’s only enough people to fill roughly half a ballpark. Toronto’s famous festival, which Lerman also helps program, brings out hundreds of thousands of viewers. The third fest he’s involved with, in Palm Springs, draws upwards of 135,000.
So why does Lerman even bother with this one? Because he loves Philly.
“You can’t be a great city without a great arts and culture scene,” he said. “A lot of it is for the audience, locally based. Not for creating a marketplace or generating publicity.”
“The idea,” explained Greenblatt, “is to bolster the love of film in Philadelphia.”
Although the pair works on bringing shows here year-round as part of the Philadelphia Film Society, they see the festival as having an even bigger role now that movies are basically ubiquitous and available to watch anytime, anywhere.
“There’s so much content out there right now, and so many different ways to see a film, and it’s hard to cut through all that,” Lerman said. “So we act as curators.”
Then there’s the community aspect, whether it’s chatting about what you just saw after a screening in the festival lounge at 33 S. Third St. (between Chestnut and Market), or in the theater itself.
“The whole difference between watching something at home and in a theater full of people is the nonverbal interaction,” Greenblatt said, describing the way it feels when the audience all laughs together, or gets teary together, or how there might be a palpable tense energy pervading the room. “It’s not a solo experience.”
So grab a friend or get ready to make new ones, and check out our top 10 picks for don’t-miss showings at Philly’s 2017 festival of film.
A date that will go down in history, though exactly how it will be written about is still anyone’s guess. Here’s a first look back: Led by Jeff Deutchman, a team of 16 filmmakers (including two Philadelphians) captured a diverse array of real people and their actions, discussions, thoughts and worries throughout the day Donald Trump was elected U.S. President.
Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 28, 2:10 p.m. — Ritz East
Forget what you know about Andy Serkis as various non-human creatures (Caesar from “Planet of the Apes,” Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings”) and catch his directorial take on humanity instead. His movie tells the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, who use love to overcome one of them becoming a paraplegic and go on to become advocates for the rights of the disabled.
Oct. 22, 5:15 p.m. — Prince Theater
Winner of the Best Director prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival, this French feature pits a divorced husband and wife against one another in a battle for their children’s hearts and minds. (Said Lerman: “It’s a tough one, but very well made.”)
Oct. 20, 7:15 p.m.; Oct 29, 2:30 p.m. — Ritz East
Have a Nice Day
If you think about it, even though they’re not necessarily based in reality, Quentin Tarantino movies encapsulate what life is like in modern America. In this “darkly comedic” animated caper about a crime boss and a missing bag of cash, director Liu Jian does the same thing for modern China.
Oct. 20, 9:15 p.m.; Oct. 29, 8:40 p.m. — Ritz East
In The Fade
German director Fatih Akin follows a woman who loses her husband and son to a bombing, then gets frustrated with the official legal system and begins her own investigation, which leads her into the world of the white supremacy movement. It’s a thriller, but also a potentially instructive thought exercise.
Oct. 24, 3:50 p.m.; Oct. 25, 6:20 p.m. — Ritz East
One of Us
Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady scored an Oscar nomination for this documentary about Hasidic Jews in the U.S. Via interviews that examine the trials of two young adults who attempt to leave the Orthodox fold, the women offer a peek into a community that remains mostly unknown to outsiders.
Oct. 25, 3:40 p.m.; Oct. 29, 4:20 p.m. — Ritz Five
Part of a “Demme in Philly” retrospective, this Jonathan Demme classic starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington was one of the first mainstream movies to deal openly with the AIDS epidemic. This is your chance to rewatch it on the big screen.
Oct. 25, 6 p.m. — Prince Theater
Sister of Mine
In this new movie from Spanish director Pedro Aguilera, a long-lost filmmaker returns home to discover his half-sister has a secret life as an erotic film star. What else to do but install a hidden camera in her room and then seduce her in person? With an appropriate soundtrack featuring ‘80s British rockers The Psychedelic Furs, whose music you might know from “Pretty in Pink.”
Oct. 25, 1:30 p.m.; Oct. 27, 7 p.m. — Ritz Five
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A tight-knit small town in the American Midwest is torn apart by a mother seeking justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder in this touching but unexpectedly humorous film by director Martin McDonagh. Starring the familiar but expressive faces of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.
Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. — Prince Theater
If you’re by now immune to Michael Bay’s over-the-top action sequences, check out the thrills South Korean director Jung Byung-Gil can produce with his zipping camerawork and fast-paced scene cuts. Move over Jason Bourne: This plot revolves around a new mother who’s been trained as an assassin, and her adventures in discovering her own past.
Oct. 20, 9:40 p.m.; Oct. 26, 9:50 p.m. — Ritz East
Full schedule available here (PDF). Tickets to all shows are available online or in person at the Prince Theater box office.