The Philadelphia Film Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary with an Oct. 20 return to in-person theatrical screenings and a 12-day lineup stocked with Oscar favorites and interesting titles from around the world.
Director Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar contender Belfast will open the program, which includes Will Smith’s King Richard, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, and Kristen Stewart as Princess Di in Spencer. The lineup of celebrity guests has yet to be finalized, but there will be special appearances by filmmaker and Jersey guy Kevin Smith, subject of the documentary Clerk, which is screening at the festival.
“We’re really excited to have King Richard. That’s not a film you’re going to see in a lot of festivals,” said J. Andrew Greenblatt, CEO and executive director of the Philadelphia Film Society, which operates the festival.
COVID-19 forced the event to go virtual last year, but the Philadelphia Film Society, which has assertively opened up in-person moviegoing at its facilities in the city, is determined to give film lovers a chance to attend screenings for about 130 movies from dozens of countries around the world, spread out among the Philadelphia Film Center (1412 Chestnut St.) and PFS Bourse Theater, and PFS Drive-in at the Navy Yard.
All of the PFS safety protocols will be in place — the organization limits attendance to half capacity, requires vaccine cards (or proof of vaccination, you can use a picture on your phone) for its indoor spaces, and mandates the use of masks indoors except when patrons are eating and drinking.
There will still be a virtual component (at least two dozen titles), said Greenblatt, “but just to be clear, in-person screenings are our focus. We are excited to be back, and we hope that everyone will come and join us.”
The festival begins with Belfast (it won the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival, an honor that has gone to 12 of the last 13 Oscar winners) and runs until Oct. 31, when it closes with the Peter Hedges’ shot-during-COVID drama The Same Storm, composed of vignettes filmed individually by locked-down actors (including Mary-Louise Parker, Elaine May, and Sandra Oh) and assembled into a feature. This film will screen Oct. 29.
In between, patrons will get first glimpse of the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard winner Unclenching the Fists, from Russia, Joaquin Phoenix’s new indie C’mon C’mon, and offerings from world-class directors Zhang Yimou (One Second), and Asghar Fahardi (A Hero, Gran Prix winner at Cannes).
PFS and Greenblatt are confident a safe festival can be staged, using the data PFS has gleaned though customer surveys, and protocols developed as a nimble and innovative exhibitor during COVID-19 restrictions — opening the PFS Drive-In at the Navy Yard; managing, renovating, and reopening the PFS Bourse; and bringing the Film Center back online as the city eased restrictions on indoor gatherings.
“We’ve done surveys trying to determine people’s comfort levels, and people seem to be really enthusiastic. That’s easy to say, and we’ll have to see based on sales, but I’m pretty optimistic,” Greenblatt said, noting that recent commercial business has been encouraging. “We’ve seen great numbers at the Bourse for certain films, and I think the festival will drive that even further.”
You can purchase passes (for details visit filmadelphia.org) for multiple screenings in advance — pass holders can preregister and establish vaccine card status beforehand, authorization that will be good for the duration of the pass. Those who wish to see multiple movies in a day will receive a wristband after being authorized, and the band will give them easy access to screenings for the remainder of the day. Vaccine cards must match valid ID. Patrons can also use the digital vaccine card app CLEAR, through www.clearme.com.
Greenblatt said rules regarding masks and eating and drinking are not yet set in stone — that depends on whether the city can continue to show good numbers as it combats the coronavirus. The festival plans are for masks to be worn inside the theaters unless patrons are consuming food and drinks in the lobby or during a screening.
Those pass holders and ticket buyers who run the vaccine authorization gauntlet will be treated to one of the best lineups in years, said PFS artistic director Michael Lerman.
Lerman said there was an unusually rich bounty of films from which to choose, abetted in part by the distribution logjam brought on by COVID-19, which forced some titles to delay entry into prestige film festivals around the world — Cannes and Venice especially.
The Philadelphia Film Festival’s lineup includes Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, which won a best actress award for Renate Reinsve at Cannes. Drive My Car, which won the best screenplay award at Cannes, is also on the program here.
The festival offers the usual sneak peak at prestige fall titles, including Red Rocket from Sean Baker (The Florida Project), his profile of a former porn star returning to his Texas home town, and Joanna Hogg’s Souvenir II (Lerman promises it’s somehow even better than the first).
Lining up celebrities and filmmakers for the festival has been trickier than usual, Greenblatt said — COVID-19 remains an obstacle for air travel, especially for international guests. Lerman and Greenblatt hope that as opening night grows closer, more talent can be confirmed.
One sure thing is director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Dogma) the subject of the festival documentary Clerk, who will attend screenings and host Q&A sessions. Peter Hedges is also slated to host a screening of his closing-night film.
New program categories this year include a “green screen” program of environmental films, to commemorate the fact that PFS will assume curation and management of the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival beginning next year. Becoming Cousteau, a look at the complicated private life of the noted naturalist, filmmaker, and explorer, will open the green screen section Oct. 20.
The lively documentary section also includes Penny Lane’s Listening to Kenny G, which Lerman described as a fascinating look a the nature of popular art that exists outside the realm of critical acclaim. Local filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena Joyce will debut their documentary Bill Mauldin: If It’s Big, Hit It, a profile of legendary cartoonist Mauldin, famous for his WWII doughboy comic strips.
The upgraded projection facilities at the Bourse and Film Center also make possible high-resolution 4K digital repertory versions of classic films. This year’s program includes Michael Mann’s Heat, and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.
Full details of this year’s program, including prices for tickets and passes can be found online at filmadelphia.org.
Printed copies of the 2021 program can be obtained at PFS Film Center and PFS Bourse.