The 30th Philadelphia Film Festival took place October 20-31, 2021. The festival was back in person with 50% capacity at all venues. Safety precautions were in high gear including seat spacing, masks and vaccination cards.
The Philadelphia Film Society presented 140 films from all over the world. The Philadelphia Film Center at 1412 Chestnut Street and The PFS Bourse on 4th Street (and Ranstead) in Olde City were the two theaters. A third venue was at the Drive-In at the Navy Yard. And if you weren’t ready to go to theaters yet, virtual screenings were available.
Here are some of the highlights for me.
Belfast – The opening film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. There’s already talk of Oscars for this one. The best part for me was all the music by Van Morrison! One brand new song was written to open the film. The rest of the songs you’ll recognize by Van the Man. The film opens in theaters November 12, 2021.
I enjoyed each of the 7 films in the Live Action Shorts category. My favorites were The Right Words, The Affected, The Criminals and the big winner for me was a unique take on the Phil Collins song In the Air Tonight. The 11-minute short explores the legend surrounding his hit song. This is actually available now on Youtube for free.
The Filmadelphia category is always a must see because each film in that category was either made in Philly or directed by someone from here.
Our American Family was part of that category and is reviewed in more depth here.
I had a chance to speak with its Philadelphia co-director, Hallee Adelman about her film debut.
Becoming Cousteau was really fascinating. A documentary about Jacques Cousteau that was part of the Green Screen category of films. The Philadelphia Film Society has taken over the Environmental Film Festival that happens in April. They added this category to the PFF to help introduce their involvement. The most amazing thing I learned here was that Cousteau debuted a film he made at the Cannes Film Festival and Picasso was there!
Drunken Birds won the cinematography award for good reason. The beautiful scenery of Quebec cornfields in the rain and Montreal streets at twilight transported me to another place.
All About Sisters also won an award as a favorite in the Filmadelphia category. The director is a grad assistant at Temple University. This work of art explored the pain of China’s devastating one-child policy.
I always like to see the “shorts” – films that are anywhere from three to thirty minutes long. The one I liked the most was Joe Buffalo about a skateboard legend who is a Native American descendent.
A real highlight of the festival was a live in-person conversation between M Night Shyamalan and Guillermo Del Toro (he was on screen via zoom). Guillermo directed Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, among others. Shyamalan is Philadelphia’s resident film director best known for The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable and most recently, Servant, the series that streams on Apple + TV. (Third season starts in January 2022).
The Automat was another film in the Filmadelphia category. I had a chance to speak with the director before the screening. That review is here.
Listening to Kenny G was a quirky look at the “world’s best-selling instrumentalist of all time.” In the beginning of the film, Director Penny Lane explains why she made the film. It was to find out why Kenny G made people angry.
I didn’t get a chance to see the Closing Film – The Same Storm. Director Peter Hedges (Ben is Back from PFF 27) wrote and directed this pandemic saga. It will most likely show up soon in theaters or smart TVs for all to see.
The last film I saw was Spencer, referring to Princess Diana’s maiden name. The best part of that film for me was watching Kristen Stewart on screen. She never disappoints.
The films I missed that I wish I had seen: King Richard starring Will Smith as the father of Venus and Serena Williams. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, an artist who “elevated the status of cats in Victorian England with his whimsical drawings” according to the write-up in the PFF program guide. Hit The Road, an Iranian film. Storm Lake about a small town newspaper struggling to survive. The First Wave, a documentary made in a New York hospital during the worst point of Covid-19. And Triumph: Rock & Roll Machine about the Canadian rock band Triumph. There were many more I didn’t get to see.
All in all, it was another fun, interesting, exciting film festival. It was well attended, presented and organized. Thanks to the Philadelphia Film Society and all the volunteers that made it happen.