BY CHRISTOPHER MALENEY FILM CRITIC The Philadelphia Film Society’s 26th annual Philadelphia Film Festival, which runs from October 19th to the 29th, is an intriguing blend of movies old and new, independent and mainstream, domestic and imported. This year the festival will honor the memory of renowned director Jonathan Demme — always a friend of Philadelphia — with screenings of the three movies he made here: Philadelphia, Beloved and Neil Young Trunk Show. On Thursday night, Bruce Willis will be on hand to accept the second annual Lumiere Award, named in honor of the first filmmakers Auguste and Louise Lumière, at AKA Washington Square.
While it is almost impossible to preview the hundred-plus movies and shorts that will feature over the ten days, I can at least give you a taste. Festivities commence on Thursday October 19th when the Prince Theater hosts two showings of I, Tonya at the Prince Theater, a biographical dramedy that depicts the life of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), whose husband hired an assailant to break the leg of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Olympics. Jane, Brett Morgen’s documentary on Jane Goodall’s revolutionary contributions to primatology and biology, will play at Ritz East on Saturday at noon, while The Last Detail, Hal Ashby’s brilliant 1973 comedy about two sailors escorting a prisoner on what becomes a philosophical pub crawl of the East Coast, will be screened at the Prince later that night.
Also on Saturday, don’t miss The Florida Project, a bildungsroman set in a Florida Motel about the loss of innocence of children on the poverty line featuring Willem Dafoe as the motel manager with a heart of gold, and Beloved, Jonathan Demme’s classic take on Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the horrors of slavery, starring Oprah Winfrey — both at the Prince Theater.
On Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Demme’s concert film Neil Young Trunk Show plays at The Prince. Filmed at the Tower Theater in 2009, Trunk Show is the second of three concert documentaries by Team Demme/Young, and emphasizes Young’s electric warrior side. Later that night The Prince will show Lady Bird, a centerpiece film starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by Greta Gerwig, about the transition from adolescence to adulthood before college. Also worth seeing on Sunday is Gilbert, a documentary on the home life and personal journey of renowned adenoidal insult comedian Gilbert Gottfried, which playing at Ritz East.
Monday features Todd Hayne’s Wonderstruck, two interwoven tales of a deaf boy in the 1970s and a mute girl in the 1920s that show New York City’s evolution, at the Prince Theater. Meanwhile, The New Radical, Adam Lough’s terrifying and fascinating look at the new wave of technological innovation in the search for radical liberation, is playing at Ritz 5.
Tuesday offers At The Drive In, a comedy by Alexander Monelli about the stoner hijinks of a band of teenagers at Texas drive-in movie theater on a Saturday night, at the Ritz 5. Living On Soul, a documentary that documents the triumphs and tribulations of the retro-soul Daptone record label’s roster of artists, which includes the late great Sharon Jones, plays at Ritz East.
On Wednesday October 25th, Django, a biopic about Django Reinhardt, the gypsy-jazz savant of Paris during the second World War, plays at the Ritz East at 3:45 PM. Wednesday night, Philadelphia, Jonathan Demme’s courageous courtroom drama about the cruel realities of the AIDS crisis that won Tom Hanks an Oscar, plays at the Prince Theater.
On the 26th, don’t miss Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Just Gotta Be Me to Ritz East, which follows the ring-a-ding doings of the Rat Pack lifer. On Friday October 27th, don’t miss Before Hollywood: Philadelphia, a documentary on the City of Brotherly Love’s long history of filmmaking from the 18th century to the modern day, at Ritz East. Following that is the brutal and incredible Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at the Prince Theater, which stars Francis McDormand as a tough-as-nails mother in a small midwest town in search of justice for her raped and murdered daughter.
On Sunday October 29th the Philadelphia Film Festival closes out with a collection of animated shorts ranging from the bizarre to the sweet, and Have A Nice Day, an intricately woven animated crime caper from Chinese director Liu Jian — both at Ritz East. Many of the films show on multiple days, meaning you may be able to catch what you’ve missed, if your timing is right.
Between showings, the Festival Lounge at 33 South 3rd Street will open its doors to ticket and badge holders above the age of 21 for a bite and a drink, and possible sightings of visiting directors or speakers. Opening and closing night parties at CODA on Walnut Street and the Kimmel Center, respectively, can be attended as well, for the right price. For those of you hard up, certain documentaries and screenings in the American Independent categories are free to attend, though you should reserve your tickets beforehand. The complete festival schedule is available HERE, as are details on how to register. From comedy for the drama fans and science fiction for the horror enthusiasts, to documentaries for the animal lovers and classic hits for the film buffs, this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival has something that you never knew you always wanted to see.