Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Kelly R. Lee

The New Power of the Creative Worker
by Kelly R. Lee, 1 Jun 2009

Innovation Philadelphia is a non-profit economic development organization that is working to establish the Greater Philadelphia Region as a national leader and world-class destination for Creative Economy industries, businesses and talent.

Innovation Philadelphia leads regional efforts to attract and retain young professionals, ages 25-34, who are vital to fueling our workforce and economic growth.

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In case you haven't noticed, Philadelphia has become quite the film festival destination. In fact, our city manages to accommodate at least twelve festivals every year.

The Philadelphia Film Society's 16th Philadelphia Film Festival was hosted here on April 5-18. I was lucky enough to attend the closing night festivities held at the Prince Music Theatre and the Top of the Tower. What a fest it was! The Prince was the venue for the Jury and Audience Awards and the closing night film Waitress.

The awards presentation began with the Archie Perlmutter award, presented to the best first-time director of a film. Fondly known as the Archie Award, this year's Archie went to Andrea Arnold, for Red Road, who took home both the jury and audience award for best documentary as well. Said Ruth Perlmutter, a respected film scholar and teacher, and Archie's wife of 56 years, "We found Red Road to be beyond promising. It's one of the best in the Festival." This film was also a Grand Jury Prize-winner from last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Philadelphia Film Society - 16th Philadelphia Film Festival

The Film Society's Jury Awards for the Festival are as follows:

  • Best Feature Film: Tazza: The High-Rollers (director Chi Dong-hoon)
  • Best Documentary: The Cats of Mirikitani (director Linda Hattendorf)
  • Best First Film: Broken English (director Zoe Cassavetes)
  • Best Director: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine for War/Dance
  • Best American Independent: Rocket Science (director Jeffrey Blitz)

Audience Awards:

  • Best Documentary: Judy Toll: The Funniest Woman You've Never Heard Of (director Gary Toll)
  • Danger After Dark: Severance (director Christopher Smith)
  • Best Feature Film: La Vie En Rose (director Olivier Dahan)

These were the official winners, but the titles this reporter heard over and over throughout the night from film-goers populating the floor included The Cats of Mirikitani, La Vie en Rose (an Edith Piaf biographic,) The Bothersome Man, The Waiter and A Dirty Carnival. This is, however, what a film festival should be, with breakout favorites among the designated "best of show."

All of the awards were brought on-stage by a lovely young woman clad not in an evening gown, alá Academy Awards hostesses, but in a waitress's pink diner uniform, complete with a ruffled, starched apron. This was clearly an homage to the night's feature presentation.

The screening of Waitress, starring Keri Russell (TV's "Felicity," The Upside of Anger) and directed by Adrienne Shelly, was the East Coast Premiere of the fallen Shelly's last film. This amusing character study was well received by the audience, and ingenuously evocative of southern mores and charm.

Philadelphia Film Society - 16th Philadelphia Film Festival

After this, we adjourned to the Top of the Tower (the 50th floor of the Bell Atlantic Building) for the closing night party, produced by Cashman & Associates. Two ballrooms were available – east and west - with an interconnecting concourse of buffet foods. The west ballroom featured the DJ's high-amped dance tunes and a sprinkling of tables, while the east ballroom was a lower-keyed cocktail party set. From every vantage point, the views were spectacular. The night sky and glimmering lights made Philadelphia appear almost magical. From this cinema glitterati emerged Thom Cardwell, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Film Society, flush from the evening's excitement and relief (I'm sure) of another year's Festival successfully launched.

"We're always trying to expand the programs and come up with new and diverse ways to exhibit," Cardwell explained. The array of films and their backgrounds are impressive. "With films from over forty nations coming into the Festival, the challenge is tying the films together into a series with some sort of common component." Their success at this task was evidenced by the category directory. The categories broke down into International Masters, World Focus, the Language of Comedy, Spanish & Latin American Cinema, Cinema of the Muslim World, American Discoveries, Animation Celebration, Festival of Independents, The Documentary Tradition, Danger After Dark and Asian Gangsters. Eleven categories, equating, for all intents and purposes, to eleven festivals within a Festival. That's an expansive assortment/collection. The categories are self explanatory and are representative of the range of subject matter the Festival encompasses.

The Festival has grown precipitously over the years, and that growth has contributed in no small way to Philadelphia's current ranking of #2 in the 10 Best American Cities to Make Movies. Promotional assistance and relevant program offerings are important considerations to be sure, but as editor of MovieMaker Magazine, (whose countdown list has become an industry standard) Jennifer Wood points out, community support is crucial to being considered an exceptional film city. "Again, this is another area where Philadelphia succeeds. How excited is the local moviemaking community? How receptive is the arts community at large to the work of local moviemakers? What about the community at large? The Philadelphia Film Festival alone certainly proves that there is a market for local talent."

Market is part of what is at the core of what Thom Cardwell hoped would be provided with the very creation of the Festival. Young artists everywhere, and filmmakers in particular, need feedback on their artistry. The Film Festival is one way, "to provide them with an audience," he says. With many bloggers and lots of website chatter confirming this, there were many sold out and near capacity screenings throughout the Festival.

Philadelphia Film Society - 16th Philadelphia Film Festival

Another core component of the Festival is the cultural one. "Films are an excellent way to see other cultures first hand and not just be fed 'the line' about what the culture is all about," Cardwell remarked. Offerings from other lands were liberally scattered/strewn/sprinkled across the categories: Asian, Italian and French entries in the Language of Comedy; a regular United Nations of entries in the Animation Celebration; countless entries from Latin American countries with Spanish & Latin American Cinema Now, ditto Cinema of the Muslim World and Asian Gangsters; a strong Asian presence in Documentaries and Danger After Dark; and on and on. Strong international influence provided Festival attendees with a veritable window into other cultures. "We've got a real vital community here," Cardwell summed up. The Festival has become an influential regional draw, "pulling a lot of New York City Festival goers," in ever–increasing ranks with every passing year.

Philadelphia is just more affordable – not just with tickets, but with transportation, lodging and food. In one screening I was seated next to a Princeton man who planned his vacation around the Philadelphia Film Festival schedule, buys a Festival badge, and cinema ODs every year. He confirmed crossing paths with lots of other out-of-towners in his forays through the Festival.

If international cinema is your thing, then this festival is for the film lover in you. With an increased number of screenings (including suburban screenings,) additional venues, guest speakers and special events the Festival is growing into a world-class event. The Philadelphia Film Festival has become a regional gem.

Just as an aside, the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival winners of the NFL Films Technical Achievement Award, Tom Mattera and Dave Mazzoni were featured in the August 2006 issue of the Philly Creative Guide in the article Ethics In Filmmaking. They were panelists at the PVLA seminar on legal issues facing artists. They won for their film The 4th Dimension.

And in a list of "Festival Favorites" direct from the Society's website were these titles:

  • The Palestra
  • Eagle vs. Shark
  • The Good Life
  • Cashback
  • The Kovak Box
  • Out of this World Animation
  • In the Shadow of the Moon
  • Dog Bite Dog
  • City in Heat
  • Severance
  • The Killer Within
  • The King of Kong

Print Article Brought to you by: Kelly R. Lee | xecutive Vice President, Innovation Philadelphia

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