All eyes on new Philly film fest

The 18 1/2 Philadelphia Film Festival, organized by the Philadelphia Film Society, starts Thursday.

The 18 1/2 Philadelphia Film Festival, organized by the Philadelphia Film Society, starts Thursday.

A film festival can distinguish itself “when the personality of the city shines through,” said Jared Miller, membership director for the Philadelphia Film Society.

In theme and name, this season’s 18 1/2 Philadelphia Film Festival, which opens October 15, anticipates a mini-renaissance for both city and the organization through cinema. Though largely overshadowed by its more notorious counterparts in Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and New York, the society tries to keep Philadelphia’s artistic life close in mind.

Many will notice the festival’s stylized 18 1/2 emblem, which makes for an endearing likeness to the famous crest of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. Any mention of the celebrated 1963 film starring Marcello Mastroianni resonates as a synonym for the sensibilities of the artist’s life. As a nod to the classic, 18 1/2 evokes a process of the need to creatively advance.

Until this fall, the Philadelphia Film Festival was held annually in the spring. When the Philadelphia Film Society ended its professional relationship with an associate earlier this year, the festival officially made its new home in the fall.

Of the 37 films scheduled to screen, two major premieres are films with Philadelphia in their veins. Law Abiding Citizen, starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, was filmed largely in the city, while the Oprah-stamped Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire was written and directed by Philadelphia native Lee Daniels.

The film by Daniels, who will accompany his film when it screens Oct. 18, has generated a great deal of Oscar murmurs and already received awards from Toronto and Sundance.

A pair of lesser-known independent features, Tenure and Dare, weaves in ties to Philadelphia with similarly recognizable shooting locations.

Movie-lovers looking forward to a number of the films certain to surface as Oscar contenders will find some of 2009’s definitive work at the festival.

Lars Von Trier’s stark entry into the horror genre, Antichrist, will screen, as will the impressively cast Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney.

The festival has an alluring international tone, seen in the repertoire of films from Ireland, Israel, France, China, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Czech Republic.

Miller said he believes the “quality and strength of films will hopefully attract an audience,” and that the festival has the “strongest line-up we’ve put on in 18 and a half years.”

When the five-day festival closes Oct. 19, the society will continue its year-round promotion of smaller films, largely submitted from filmmakers in the Philadelphia area. The society holds year-round screenings in Philadelphia, which are organized into three sub-genres: classics, independent and documentary. Pre-eminent scholars and critics lead discussions of classics presented in their original 35mm formats, while the independent and documentary selections represent some of the “most vibrant” kinds of film available, Miller said.

Smaller and more understated than its counterparts, the Philadelphia Film Festival represents one aspect of the Philadelphia Film Society’s efforts to bring superior and relevant cinema to the city. For information about the festival’s screening schedule, visit filmadelphia.org.

Kathleen Quigley can be reached at kathleen.quigley@temple.edu.

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