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Philadelphia Film Festival 2019: What you should be seeing this year, from ‘The Irishman’ to ‘Harriet’

Here are the movies you should check out at this year's festival

A scene from Bong Joon-Ho's 'Parasite,' Kasi Lemmons' 'Harriet,' and Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman,' all playing at the Philadelphia Film Festival
A scene from Bong Joon-Ho's 'Parasite,' Kasi Lemmons' 'Harriet,' and Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman,' all playing at the Philadelphia Film FestivalRead moreCourtesy of the Philadelphia Film Festival

The idea of an opening night takes on new meaning at the 2019 Philadelphia Film Festival, which has organized this year’s program around several “opening nights.”

The first night of the film festival, which runs from Thursday, Oct. 17, to Sunday, Oct. 27, actually includes two titles — Cannes Film Festival winner Parasite screens at the Film Center at 6 p.m. on opening night, followed at 8:45 p.m. by Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan as crusading attorney Bryan Stevenson.

Beyond that, the festival has divvied up the program into several sections, each with its own opening night within the festival’s run, which will see the screenings of some 120 movies from 41 countries. The closing night selection is Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, starring Daniel Craig in a Hitchcock-meets-Christie thriller.

The idea of having an opening night for each major category, rebranding many of them with new names, is a way of calling attention to the Philadelphia Film Society’s goal of making its home base, the Philadelphia Film Center (formerly the Prince Music Theater), a nonstop hub of movie-going activity beyond the scope of the festival, said J. Andrew Greenblatt, the Film Society’s executive director. The festival changes, he said, call attention to the work his team has done “revitalizing a lot of year-round programming.”

The popular festival feature Graveyard Shift, for instance, has been renamed After Hours, and while it still contains a lot of horror/thriller content, there are also films that are harder to categorize, include Latvia’s Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23; 9:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25). "It’s not just horror. It’s a little broader,” said artistic director Michael Lerman. “This year it just kind of opened up to more bizarre stuff just because we had more bizarre stuff.”

Parasite, from Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), is officially tagged as the opening night film for the Masters in Cinema category. The movie, positioned to be that country’s first Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, won the Palme D’or at Cannes.

Other “opening nighters” include the Made in U.S.A. section’s Come As You Are (7:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18; 2:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20), the SXSW sensation about three disabled men on a road trip to a brothel that caters to people with special needs.

Just Mercy heads up the Galas category, which also includes Martin Scorsese’s much-lauded The Irishman (8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22), a gangland saga starring Robert De Niro as Philadelphia mob associate Frank Sheeran, Al Pacino in his first collaboration with Scorsese, and Joe Pesci in a return to the screen after a decade-long hiatus.

Also in the Galas category: director Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) biography Harriet (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23); Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20), featuring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple on the decline; Motherless Brooklyn (8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24), directed by and starring Edward Norton, who, like Pesci, has been relatively absent from the screen as of late; Waves, directed by Trey Edward Shults of It Comes at Night and starring Sterling K. Brown and Lucas Hedges; and Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit (6:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19), a hit at the Toronto Film Festival starring Johansson and Sam Rockwell).

The Filmadelphia section is made up of films with a Philly link, whether they were shot here or made by a Philadelphia denizen. It will be led by Clemency (5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27), the story of a death row warden (Alfre Woodard), directed by Temple University grad Chinonye Chukwu, who became the first black woman to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

There several movies with local ties this year, including the world premiere of Maybe Next Year (6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21; 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26), a documentary that started as a bird’s eye view of long-suffering Eagles fans but evolved into something entirely different when the footage ended up capturing the emotional story of the team’s unlikely Super Bowl run. Nomads (8:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27), a drama based on a true story, tells the story of a teacher who inspires her North Philly students with rugby.

Drexel University’s Tom Quinn directed Colewell (1:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26), starring Karen Allen, who’ll be on hand to talk about the film. Other guests this year include Lemmons (Harriet) and Johnson (Knives Out). Sixers star Ben Simmons, executive producer of the documentary The Australian Dream (8:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19), will be part of the Q&A for that film, which deals with the racism faced by an Australian rules football star.

Classic films are in the mix too. The Film Center has a new 4K projector, which will be used to show a new print of Takashi Miike’s out-there cult classic Audition (10:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18), and there are 35 mm prints of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25), Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life (6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (8:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21), and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (2:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20).

These repertory screenings are an opportunity to see classic films, and also a way for the festival and the Film Society to remind moviegoers what the Film Center, and its affiliated facility PFS at the Roxy, has to offer. The tiny Roxy, for instance, was the only Pennsylvania theater to show a 35 mm print of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Greenblatt said he wouldn’t be surprised if the film on 35 mm makes a return — the Film Center plans to show all the Oscar-nominated movies, and Tarantino’s film is likely to be one of them.

If you want to go to the film fest…

The full festival schedule is available at Tickets may be purchased at the Film Center Box office, through the website or over the phone at 215-422-4588.


  1. Philadelphia Film Center, 1412 Chestnut St.

  2. Ritz East, 125 S. 2nd St.

  3. Ritz Five, 214 Walnut St.