Features Philly Film — 15 April 2011 » Written by
2011 Philadelphia Cinefest wrap-up…UPDATED

Cinedelphia greatly respects anyone who takes it upon themselves to organize, program, or volunteer at a film festival.  We understand that film festivals are meant to be a positive outlet for the promotion of cinema; a place where excitable elderly and lanky, like-minded introverts can sit side-by-side in the darkness and watch a mother have sex with a clone of her son played by Doctor Who.  Since the 2011 Philadelphia Cinefest provided everything expected of a film festival, it’s hard to argue that it was anything but a success (just check out the Twitter reactions, which are overwhelmingly positive).  Though some have certainly tried…

The Cinefest seems to have provided the city of Philadelphia with an equal amount of entertainment and gripes.  They provided Cinedelphia with our most-read news item since we launched this past January (a record that was actually beaten two days later with our report on the Prince Music Theater’s epic fail, a follow-up to which will be posted early next week).  Over the course of the past week, we’ve received a ton of e-mails, private Tweets, and Words With Friends messages from irate movie-goers, frustrated press outlets, and festival alumni who just couldn’t resist venting their anger over one thing or another.  Here’s a breakdown:

THE GOOD

No complaints in the operations or programming departments.  Well, no objective complaints, at least.  I did receive two messages regarding how the program guide “grossly misrepresented” certain films like My Joy for the sake of ticket sales, but again, these may be subjective.

The festival’s special guests appearing via Skype reportedly went over very well and will surely become a common festival practice.

The festival was very generous to the local filmmaking community:  they allowed locally made shorts to be screened prior to features and had a great deal of involvement with our friends over at Scrapple.tv.  Speaking of which…

THE BAD

Scrapple.tv’s pre-film bumpers received some flack and were called everything from “offensive” to “bewildering”.  Judge for yourself here.

A few Philly-area blog/press outlets were unhappy with the way that Cinefest treated them with complaints ranging from press badges being limited to daytime screenings-only to a general and direct disrespect towards web-based press outlets.  Cinedelphia certainly felt at home.

Only one of the films that I saw had a corporate sponsor do the introduction and I’ve never seen Travis throw t-shirts and haunted house passes to the crowd so maybe his absence wasn’t all bad (he was busy this past week anyway and is still scheduled to program/intro the Danger After Dark films for this summer’s QFest).

Reportedly a record low of only 10 – 20% of the 55 films that were screened at the Cinefest were done so on actual film, which inevitably led to…

THE UGLY

The festival was plagued by technical difficulties and while there are plenty of explanations for them, there are few excuses.  The Cinefest have been publicly blaming an incompetent technician who created spider web-like mazes of wires and cables in the projection booths at the Ritz East.  And yes, these things happen, but to this degree?  Is this ambition backfiring?  Could these difficulties have been avoided if they had chosen to concentrate on actual screening quality over outdoor festivals, after parties, karaoke jams, or Quizzo nights?  Too much “festival” and not enough “film”?

As mentioned above, an excessive amount of the festival’s films were screened digitally, which led to an excessive amount of glitches, skips, incorrect aspect ratios, and an unexpected DVD menu or two.  Out of the seven films that I saw at the festival, I experienced one mid-film DVD menu appearance and one full-on disaster.  I related the latter to a friend and will copy it here (Cold Fish spoiler warning):

I just arrived home from a Cinefest screening of the 2.5 hour long Cold Fish. It was screened in the wrong aspect ratio so after five minutes I went to the lobby and notified the Director of Operations and a group of volunteers, but to no avail. And then two hours into the film it froze and the DVD menu appeared (Pioneer FYI). After five minutes the film resumed at a later point in the story, which gave away the fact that the feeble family man we’d watched for the past two hours eventually turns into a violent thug…unbelievable.

I was told that the first screening of Cold Fish (I attended the second) opened with the final ten minutes of the film…I’m not sure which of the two I’d prefer.  And while the distributor of this film may have put Cinefest in an impossible position, the type of uncontrollable situation that every film festival faces at some point, that doesn’t explain the difficulties during Bellflower (a random reaction via Twitter:  “As some of you already know the Philly fests are a bit infamous for subpar digital screenings but this was one of the most distractingly bad”).  Or Square Grouper.  Or…

Here’s a user comment to a Philebrity post:

  1. hiki Says:
    April 11th, 2011 at 12:44 pm Two of the Friday shows at the Ritz East had technical problems. One film cut out 20 minutes before the end. When they restarted the film it was three minutes after it stopped. They stopped it again and restarted when it cut off. The other they played the first 3 minutes with no picture 4 times, the fifth no sound. They had to replace the player with one that a filmmaker provided, luckily, otherwise the film could not have been shown. It’s been a poor example of a film festival.

THE VERDICT

All in all, first-time Artistic Director Josh Goldbloom did a pretty impressive job putting the whole thing together in three months’ time for a reported salary of only $5,000, an amount that surely doesn’t justify the time he put in.  Last week I was talking to one of our city’s few great film programmers (no, not Travis) who remarked upon T.L.A.’s history of finding ambitious young people who are willing to be underpaid in order to get a foot in the door to a room that they’ll never be allowed to fully enter.  I’ll lay this year’s Cinefest coverage to rest with this message that Josh sent us in response to the Travis Crawford controversy, take from it what you will:

I put together a festival with little to no resources, and a lot of help from a lot of amazing people. I’m extremely proud of what WE put together.

The Cinefest/Philadelphia Film Festival past is the past, and I don’t get involved with any of that. I understand there is a lot of history here, and to be honest, it’s none of my fucking business. My ONLY goal is to help build a community centered around film and the arts, here in Philadelphia.

There’s a lot of amazing people in Philly doing a lot of amazing things. From the Philly Film Society, to Marc Brodzik & Scrapple TV. From Joe Gervasi/Exhumed Films, to The Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. I’m humbled that we are even considered a core part of that group.

With that said. I did not shut out Travis Crawford from Danger After Dark. i could not do that if I wanted to. It’s not mine. I spent weeks upon weeks programming the DAD section of this festival, hoping that I could live up to the great work of Travis Crawford. And I’m very proud of my selections.

I would have loved to have Travis do intro’s for the films, but we have sponsors that gave us a lot of money so that we could throw this festival, and therefore they get first dibs (and I think people are going to be very happy with who we have). But when it comes down to it, it’s not about the intro’s or a single person, is it? It’s about the festival. It’s about the movies. Danger After Dark, Action Asia, World Focus, etc. – they’re not about one person. Many individuals are involved with every single aspect of everything we put together.

I hope everyone can get some enjoyment out of this year’s CineFest. I believe we’ve put together some pretty rad stuff this year, and I’m honored that i can present it to you.

Haters are gonna hate, bro. I’m just gonna keep screening fucking movies.

Josh is a very likable dude who will surely continue to be a valuable fixture within the Philadelphia film community wherever the winds may blow.

You’re up next, Philadelphia Film Festival.  Speaking of which, what’s this I hear about problems between P.F.S. staff and Artistic Director Michael Lerman?

UPDATE 1
This morning I spoke to, in my opinion, one of our city’s best film critics who saw over 25 films at the festival and guessed that about one third of the films that were screened were shown on actual film.  This afternoon I received an e-mail from an individual close to the festival (anonymity requested*) who claims that over 50% of the 55 films screened were done so on 35mm.  After hearing this I headed over to the Ritz East to see if any screening format-type lists were left laying around, no go, but I did speak with some theater employees who guessed that 30 – 40% of the festival screenings were film projections (FYI, film projections for the festival were handled by the venue staff while all digital screenings and the many formats therein were handled by Cinefest’s hired hands…also, the Ritz staff agreed with the majority of the festival’s detractors in regards to the fact that Cinefest should have visited the venue days, if not weeks, prior to Opening Night in order to test the equipment that would handle the wide variety of digital screening formats…a real no-brainer if you ask me).  I know that the whole film vs. video argument is beside the point in our current digital age and really doesn’t reflect poorly on the festival itself, so let’s just admit that the death of film is a shame and the Cinefest screened anywhere from 10% to over 50% of its films on actual film.

And a quick anonymous post from somewhere on the internet:
“I saw some fine movies this year, and lucked-out by only seeing one or two projected from video. Funny what I did not see: a single festival booklet, anywhere in town. And almost no one seemed to know there was a festival going on. Sad.”  I have to agree with that, the only time I saw a festival booklet was at the Ritz Theaters themselves…I only mention this to serve as a comparison to previous festivals where the booklets have traditionally been unavoidable.

Also, the Cinefest Award Winners have been announced and can be found here.

There will surely be another update to this post later on…

* This individual also stated that the above update/addendum is insufficient and that the post itself should be rewritten.  He also refused to send me a list of screening formats as that would be inappropriate…my response:
“Y’know, it’s tough because without evidence the information that every random person sends me is just as legitimate as yours or anyone else’s…a level playing ground of ultimately unproven gossip.  Thus the best I can do is include it all.”

UPDATE 2
Anonymous festival source revealed:
“Over fifty percent of the films we screened were on 35mm.” -Griffin Affel, Print Traffic, 2011 Cinefest

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About Author

Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He's served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. I’m not a hater and the nice Mr. Goldbloom would be smart to understand that people who have a valid criticisms shouldn’t be dismissed as such. Did I have a right to complain that my chance at seeing a film by a film maker I admire was ruined by technical difficulties? I’m unable to understand how the equipment wasn’t tested. Surely after two bad screenings, on the first full day, consecutively, in the same theater, it might point out there was something wrong. And I’m the hater because I point out I was displeased? Instead of blaming a patron maybe Mr Goldbloom should take the criticism for what it is, a learning experience because if he doesn’t I have no faith in next year’s Cinefest.

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