by Cyndy Drue

There are so many things I love about Film Festivals. In a concentrated time period, you’ll see films that are new, exciting, and original with some going on to win Oscars. The audience is a select group of film lovers and every year, I seem to make a new friend or two. Possibly best of all, you get to meet the directors and stars of many of the films because they make the journey here to present their film.

I love that a film can pull you into its world, and show you another way of life, another place, or another time. This year, I went to France, Japan, China, Portugal, New York, and California. I went back to the late 1800s, I heard songs and poems that made me want to hear more. I saw human behavior I never witnessed before. I laughed, I cried, I learned.

The 27th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival took place October 18-28, 2018 in three center city movie theaters – Ritz East, Ritz Five, and the newly christened Philadelphia Film Center, 
 formerly the Prince Theater at 1412 Chestnut Street.

That was the biggest news this year was that the Philadelphia Film Festival has taken over the Prince Theater, changed the name to Philadelphia Film Center, and will hold all their PFS events there along with house their Film Festival offices. And now, only movies will be featured; no more opera or dance shows.

The ground floor theater boasts the largest screen in Philadelphia and seats about 446. The upstairs room holds 87 seats, and there are plans to expand upward and possibly have an outside theater on the roof one day.

The hunt for films to screen at the festival begins at the AFI fest in November 2017, followed by Sundance in January, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, TIFF, and Venice among others. Executive Director Andrew Greenblatt and Artistic Director Michael Lerman are celebrating ten years with the Film Festival here.

Opening Film was Ben is Back and I suspect this will be around at Oscar time. Julia Roberts stars, need I say more? Written and directed by Peter Hedges, the New York resident was on stage to introduce the film and field questions afterward. He wrote the book What’s eating Gilbert Grape, and was the screenwriter for About a Boy, among other credits. 

The 56-year-old was thrilled that this was the first time he had a film open a Film Festival and he was also thrilled it happened in Philadelphia. He told me beforehand that he loves this town!

Closing night was the World Premiere of the documentary Teddy Pendergrass If you Don’t Know me. What a great film! It looks like it has been picked up by Showtime so stay tuned for air dates. So far, a theatrical release is set only for England.

All I’ve been listening to musically since I saw the film is Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes! Wake up Everybody, if you don’t know Me by Now, Don’t Leave me this way (and more).

The film was directed by Olivia Lichtenstein (The Silent Twin: Without my Shadow, Broadmoor and Who Killed Kirsty MacColl). Shep Gordon was an Executive Producer as he was Teddy’s longtime manager (and also manages Alice Cooper and starred in the 2013 documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon).

Co-Producer Nicolas Bedu helped answer questions after the screening, and said his favorite part about making the film was “discovering Philadelphia.” I loved the views of Philly!

Throughout his life, Teddy recorded an audio journal that may have been the film’s best resource since we hear his own voice tell his story.

The director also relied on people in his life to recall details including his widow Joan who opened her archive, his first wife, Karen, his kids and his mom, all of whom were “very open and welcoming to the project” the director stated during the Q+A.

Teddy’s mom, Ida Pendergrass is 100 years old and she was there at the screening. In the film, she recalled that she had 6 pregnancies that didn’t go to term, but the 7th one did and that was Teddy’s birth. She raised him on her own; his father was murdered at the age of 45.

Of course, Gamble and Huff were interviewed in the film along with Joe Tarsia from Sigma Sound Recording studios, and many other very interesting characters including Radio DJ Dyanna Williams and Quest Love from the Roots.

A nice surprise both to see him in person at the screening, and as an interviewee in the film, was Dr Dan Gottlieb, the radio host and psychologist who had a similar fate as Teddy – an accident that put him permanently in a wheelchair. Turns out, he worked with the singer and helped him move on and want to live again.

“I think there’s something that’s almost Shakespearean about that tragedy,” Ms. Lichtenstein said before the screening, speaking about Teddy’s car accident along Lincoln Drive that left him paralyzed at the age of 31. “The way that he dealt with it, that kind of triumph over adversity is a key part of the film,” she said.

One of many highlights for me was seeing Teddy on stage in his wheelchair for Live Aid in 1985, his first appearance since the accident in 1981. He joined Ashford and Simpson for one song of their set – Diana Ross’ Reach out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).

During the Q+A after the screening, I thanked the director and producer for making this beautiful film. The audience responded in kind with wild applause. Then I asked, since this is the world premiere and you’re seeing it here with us as an audience, how did you like our response? Ms. Lichtenstein replied: “It was an amazing experience to be in Philadelphia which is where we should be playing this film most of all, it felt really extraordinary. We were very excited and nervous about it. I think we feel so honored and so lucky that we’ve been able to show it to you first.”

Awards are given out by jurors and the winner of the Pinkenson Award for Local Feature went to The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Khan, born and raised in Philly. Although he wasn’t present at this screening, Khan will appear at the opening of his film this Friday, November 2 at the Philadelphia Film Center where it will run for a week.

Alex Ross Perry, a native of the Main Line, won Honorary Mention in that same category for his film “Her Smell” that stars Elisabeth Moss (Handmaiden’s Tale, Mad Men).

Here is the list of films I saw:

Ben is Back (Opening nationwide December 7, 2018)
Write When You Get Work
Happy as Lazarro
Chef Flynn
This One’s for the Ladies
The Biggest Little Farm (My favorite of all; a theatrical release in 2019)
Ash is Purest White
Simple Wedding
Cold War
Teddy Pendergrass If you Don’t Know Me by Now (Showtime will air; no theatrical plan in US)
Wild Nights with Emily
The Price of Everything (Opens Friday Nov 2 at Philadelphia Film Center)