CINEPHILE: The Lowdown On The Film Fest Opening Night Party & Interview With TLA’s Thom Cardwell

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BY EGINA MANACHOVA If you want the lowdown on the opening Film Fest night party on the 19th floor of the Bellevue, well,  I will be your fly on the wall. In short, you didn’t miss much. It was like hobnobbing with the not so rich and not at all famous. I exaggerate. There were some D-list celebrities there. I think. William Forsythe. I didn’t even know who he was until my friend made him feel very awkward. The catered food reminded me of being at a Bar Mitzvah. So did the middle aged white women dancing to top 40 hip hop songs. I don’t know out of what high school prom they found that DJ. That was probably the biggest break of his life. Unbearable. In my history of partying, there have only been a very select number of dance floors I could not be bothered to stomped across. Last night made it on the list — which is really saying something, believe me.

I pretty much stayed by the bar. They ran out of complimentary liquor early in the night. Leaving the cheap and opportunistic (like me) with only Stella to drink. It could have been a Zima with a bendy straw and I would have drank it at that point. It was bizarre for them to have run out of liquor so early in the night being that it wasn’t packed at all. Not the way it should be for an opening night of a festival.  Apparently a very small amount of  people know how to dress for an event at The Bellevue. Your Cinephile being one of the few, may have her photo published in the Philly Weekly. I brought out my furs and pearls. Both Fake. Life in the V.I.P. Only one day into to it and I am already complaining. Well, I am a Jew.

The Film was nothing more than an insipid, counterculture romance, for the bourgeoisie hip twenty something who knows it’s all bullshit but secretly believes in love. Starring indie favorite Zooey Deschanel as a cynic on love, who wait get this; meets someone just like her. Some hi jinks and “witty” one liners ensue. Then, you won’t believe this part, they fall in love. Formulaic may be an understatement. It’s like someone took arguably decent independent films on love a la Before Sunrise or Reality Bites, something of the sort. Then cut and pasted all the parts that they like into a pile of mind numbing shit.  I am sure it will be a huge success.

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Thom Cardwell is the fellow cutting a Ben Kingsley-esque figure to the right of Susan Sarandon.

BY EGINA MANACHOVA Thom Cardwell the Development Director for The Philadelphia Film Festival had a quick sit down with Phawker’s resident Cinephile to discuss this years festival. With rumors of last minute cancellation due to a public riff between Ray Murray the Artistic Director of the Festival and The Philadelphia Film Society, Phawker wanted to know how the situation managed to resolve its self and what was this resolution going to look like for the future of the festival in our beloved city?

PHAWKER: First off, thank you so much for doing this interview with us! There have been a lot of rumors about the cancellation and the challenges faced in this years festival. How did the situation manage to resolve itself?

THOM CARDWELL: At times in the development and growth of a non profit you have some conflicting and opposing view points such as, difference of opinion, attitude towards events like film, and divergent views on the artistic vision. At the end of the day both the Philadelphia Film Society and the newly formed Philadelphia Cinema Alliance realized that the most important factor in the scenario was the audience. There should be a spring film festival in Philadelphia. They decided that 2009 should be a transitional year, hence the mouthful of a title Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinefest 09. After this year, Cinefest 2010 will take place in the spring under the direction of the Philadelphia Cinema Alliance. Philadelphia Film Festival (and I don’t know if they plan to keep that name or not) will occur in October 2010 as a fall festival. I am not going to speak on their behalf. The Philadelphia Cinema Alliance is already on the way to prepare for Q Fest , The new name for The Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Which will take place July 9-19.

PHAWKER: How have the use of satellite theatres such as the Bryn Mawr Film Institute effected the direction of the festival? Why doesn’t the festival use collectives on rise in this city to use for showcasing shorts and experimentals?

THOM CARDWELL: We have actually been in negotiations with many organizations like that through partnerships. We initially wanted to go to first run theatres. We have worked with the Ambler Theatre and the theatre in Doylestown, but we didn’t have enough of a staff and an infrastructure to build that out so we had to pull back in that regard and we started a new. This will be the second year that we work with the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. The whole Idea with leaving the city is not to take the festival out of Philadelphia and put it somewhere else, but to use a food metaphor: It is like the appetizer to the entrée, the entrée being the city of Philadelphia ( Mr. Cardwell may be the first man in history to refer to Philadelphia as an entrée). That is one kind of audience development.

In terms of what you are asking we have brought in other organizations such as PIFAS (Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Studies) for the panels. The Greater Philadelphia Student Film Festival (Best Off) is in its third year. We are showcasing their work to the public as opposed to an audience comprised of students, parents and teachers. The Audience has access to these film makers that they normally would not. Part of the reason we don’t do more of that is the fact we are a very small staff for a very big festival. We are a lot of smoke and mirrors. We lack the resources to do many of the things we would like to, but at the same time we are partnering with Non-Profits, Universities, and grassroots organizations to build our resources and provide more.

PHAWKER: As recognition builds for the festival, Have you noticed more distributors coming into the actual festival itself?

THOM CARDWELL: This will be the eighteenth year we have had the spring time film festival. We certainly have expanded in terms of size, number and status of our films. Under the artistic direction of Raymond Murray and his team of programmers, many veterans like Scott Johnston of the Philadelphia Festival of Independence, Jenifer Steinberg currating documentaries, new staffers like Carol Coombes (Assistant Artistic Director) who I met years ago at The British Film Institute where she was on staff helping to produce the London Film Festival and the London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. We are happy to have her. There is a lot of experience here [with staff] and understanding with how producers and distributors work. Everything from Independent films with a capitol I, where in the film maker has a budget of $10,000 and have maxed out their parents credit card to Independent films with a lower case ii where there is a budget of $7,000,000 and some star power. In terms of distributors coming to use we have built over the years our industry partners. We have more this year then we have ever had before. IFC Film Direct, Sony Picture Classics, Samuel Goldwin Meyer, Magnolia Pictures. The studios have our festival in Philadelphia on their radar. Over the past five years we have seen an increase of that allowing us to offer the audience everything from local film makers to studio films. The public gets educated and the studios get a test audience. A lot of time the distributors use this festival as a premier. If there is a demand for a second screening then our producer and artistic director will go back to the distributor or individual and see if they are able to put on another screening. A lot of it depends on the plan for the film prior to the festival.

PHAWKER: I just have to more questions for you. Some of your strongest revenue is from your pornography sales, specifically gay pornography. How has that affected your business model in the age of the Internet?

THOM CARDWELL: I actually don’t work in that division of TLA Entertainment and am not the person to ask that Question.

PHAWKER: Well, I am sure you won’t be able to answer my last question, but I’ll ask anyway. I have heard that once the lease is up on the TLA stores the company will go the way of Netflix. Is there any validity in this?

THOM CARDWELL: My division is all about the Film Festival. There are people in TLA entertainment who would be able to answer that for you. My division is the development of year round series for the Philadelphia Cinema Alliance, with our partnerships, The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, The Philadelphia Asian American Festival and so on. I think there is a very strong, active and healthy film community emerging in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas over the past few years. So maybe we will see larger audience wanting to see films on the big screen in a communal experience. In terms of prices for entertainment ten dollars for an hour and a half to two hours is not a bad deal. Compared to prices of other events in this economic downturn.

PHAWKER: Thank you very much for your time.

After going over the interview. There are questions I wish I had asked. I think it will be interesting to note after the split which festival will get which distributors. Will all organizations they partner with like International House work with both or are they going to pick allegiances? How will the two festivals be thematically different? It will be interesting to watch how audiences and film makers spend their efforts on these festivals. Looks like they are going to have to make choices as well. Who keeps the big distributors? Where are the top staff going? If it is such a small staff with limited resources for one festival, how is splitting efforts going to work for either? Or is the whole plan to make sure that the festival in October is a bust? I think it will be an interesting piece to do down the line when all this info starts leaking.

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