I am unsurprised, but still disappointed, to notice a lot of features missing from the festival this year: animation programs; a major child-appropriate Saturday matinée (e.g., the program of Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton shorts from a couple of years ago); a new print of a brilliantly restored golden oldie (e.g., Piccadilly, starring Anna May Wong, in 2004 or '05); a full slate of panel discussions; Philly Pitch!; and the Festival of Independents cabaret. Man, did I have some good timez at the Fest Indies cabaret for a few years. But I digress.
Maybe it's better that there's no animation show, anyway. The programs tended to include quite a few unfinished pieces by CalArts grads who were clearly jockeying for jobs at Disney or Pixar: unimaginative pratfalls and gross-out jokes with characters that looked like they stepped out of Bambi or Monsters, Inc. I think the curators were just phoning the programs in after a while. The filmmakers, too.
Well, actually, all that said, there is an animation show this year: the Quay Brothers sampler. But they're here for an award, and it's selections of their previous work. Surely there's something along the lines of The District! that's come out since 2004/2006. Sigh.
There are a couple of shorts programs on offer this year. But one is part of Danger after Dark, the horror genre series. Another is part of the Festival of Independents, so the focus is local and the quality will be uneven -- though I'll be attending since 2 good friends of mine are showing films. And another is the Best of the Backseat Film Festival, the less said of which the better -- though I'll be attending for the train wreck appeal. Previously, the festival showed Oscar-nominated shorts (live-action and animated) and a program or two of international shorts as well. I'm a huge fan of short films, so I'm particularly disappointed here.
I'm of 2 minds about the addition of an African-American-centric list of films ("Fade to Black"). Reelblack is one of the sponsors and curators of the program. Michael Dennis, Reelblack's founder, has done a lot of work in Philly since 1999 with his Reelblack Presents series and the organization's other work. And you still don't see much integration in movie casts, even in freakin' 2009. So it's important to highlight African-American cinema. On the other hand, now, when I had a short experimental piece in the Fest Indies several years ago, it was lumped into a program of short films by women filmmakers. It wasn't a women-themed film; it wasn't a feminist film; it wasn't a film with any actual people in it at all. It was non-narrative and didn't belong in a program that included only narrative (and mostly documentary) films. It killed me that the curator put it in a program of women's films, even though it really belonged in a program of other experimental, non-narrative films -- and there was at least one program during that festival where it would have fit better, if it had been curated according to its content, not according to its creator. So with that in mind, I wonder how many of the "Fade to Black" films will lose audiences because they're classified by their directors and stars, not by the nature of the films themselves.
But what do I know? There are 700,000 black people in Philadelphia, yet I tend to see about 20 black people at film festival screenings -- over the course of the entire festival. Maybe we will see more black attendance this year if the festival is perceived to be reaching out to an ignored audience and underrepresented voice in cinema.
As for the catalogue itself: stapled instead of perfect-bound, and bulked up with glossy paper rather than slimmed down with newsprint. When I went through and made my initial wishlist of films to see, I had zero time conflicts. This is a lightweight festival. Oh, and for the love of christ would they get a copyeditor sometime?
Will post my