Left: John Sayles at the Prince Music Theater.
If there’s any question as to the veracity of the
claim that the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema is one of the
fastest-growing celebrations of film, the final tallies from 2002
speak for themselves. A record number of 44,739 people attended
this year’s event-up 41 percent from last year. It’s a leap in numbers
that will (and should) have other festivals wondering ‘what’s their
While almost anyone with vast energy reserves and
a bit of cash can put together a line-up of screenings and title
it a ‘festival,’ not many can do it while consistently achieving
the high standard the PFWC has set forth. Fewer still can do it
without making the event a completely biased venture-either putting
on a show that appeals mostly to visiting moviemakers, or one
that is fun mainly for the ticket buyers. With more than 274 screenings
over the 15-day time span, there was truly something for every
taste. Following their mission to present new works, much of the
line-up consisted of films that had not been seen elsewhere: four
films made their world premiere here; an additional 10 were North
American, 12 U.S. and 19 East Coast premieres. All the remaining
films were being shown in Philadelphia for the first time.
One of the ways in which the PFWC distinguishes
itself is in its dedication to the moviemaker-and not just those
who are attending with a project, but those who inhabit the city
itself. The event offers festivalgoers with dreams of Hollywood
a completely interactive experience. A handful of events gave
attendees the opportunity to mingle with those who matter in the
world of film. PitchFest! gave wannabe moviemakers two minutes
to pitch their ideas to a room full of industry professionals.
Cast-A-Way brought some of the area’s most successful casting
agents together with local thespians looking for their big break.
Head shots and resumes were optional, making this a fantastic
opportunity for those just thinking about acting as a career.
Even less formal was Blast-Off!, an open mike for moviemakers
with something to say about the business. Though marketed as more
of a place to vent than strike a deal, the event brought a host
of moviemakers together, creating an unexpected networking opportunity.
On the screening side: though it’s certainly international
in scope, the PFWC tipped its programming hat to its hometown
on a number of occasions, much to the delight of locals. Opening
Night paid tribute to a uniquely Philly tradition with Max L.
Raab’s Strut! This non-fiction entry offered audiences
a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the leading up to the Mummer’s
Day Parade, an annual street parade dating back to the 1700s.
Through archival footage and interviews with those who have donned
the colorful costumes, Raab constructs a thoughtful portrait of
a longheld tradition.
Two of the festival’s most popular films were locally
made, as well. Keith Snyder’s Emmett’s Mark, starring Scott
Wolf, Gabriel Byrne and Tim Roth, was one of the first sell-out
shows. This smart thriller tells the story of a homicide detective
who, after learning he has contracted a terminal illness, accepts
the proposal of a stranger to end his life anonymously. But as Emmett
throws himself into his work, the hit man’s interest in him escalates. The film
portrays an increasingly complex triangle of mind
games between the three leads, each of whom gives a
Snipes is a thriller set against the backdrop
of the hip-hop world. The film centers on Erik Triggs (Sam Jones
III), a teenager trying to work his way into the music business.
When he witnesses the kidnapping of rap giant Prolifik (real-life
musician Nelly), Triggs fears that he will become a suspect, and
sets about solving the mystery himself. With a pulsing soundtrack
and stylish cinematography, Snipes marks first-time writer-director
Richard Murray’s place as a true up-and-coming talent. The film
won awards for Best Feature from Philadelphia City Paper and a
Technical Achievement Award from NFL Films.
Other PFWC award winners included Eric Assous’ Very
Opposite Sexes, about the romantic lives of four couples,
for Best Feature. Darko Bajic was named Best Director for War
Live, a dark comedy about a film company trying to stay afloat
in the midst of NATO’s bombing raids. Shrapnel in Peace
won Ali Shah-Hatami the award for Best First Film; while Runaway,
Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Kim Longinotto’s look at a Tehran home for
runaway young women, won for Best Documentary.
Numerous retrospective screenings truly covered
the spectrum of genre moviemaking. Showings of Ken Russell’s The
Devils and Tommy culminated in a candid conversation
with the cult legend, as well as the presentation of the TLA Phantasmagoria
Award and the premiere of his latest, The Fall of the Louse
of Usher. Though John Schlesinger was unable to accept his
award for Artistic Achievement for Direction, actor Alan Bates
happily accepted on his behalf, while fans of Midnight Cowboy
packed the house to see Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman as Joe Buck
and Ratso Rizzo, two of cinema’s most endearingly mismatched buddies.
The first American Independents Award was handed
to indie icon John Sayles. In between showings of newly-restored
prints of Return of the Secaucus 7 and The Brother From
Another Planet, Sayles engaged in a lively and informative
conversation about his career. The retrospective continued into
the next day, with new prints of Lianna and Matewan.
Earlier in the year, MM named
Philadelphia as one of the 10 best cities for independent moviemakers,
and the PFWC is just one hallmark of the city’s commitment to
fostering a greater appreciation of film. Just as moviemakers
increasingly flock to this city for its quality of life, cost
of living and amazing arts scene, cineastes from all over are
discovering what Philadelphia has to offer.