2011: The Year in Philly Film

Cinedelphia.com began as a response to a number of things:  the disappearance of repertory listings in our city’s print publications (these still come and go), the random, amateurish, and self-serving news items that our city’s major film-related outlets provided and continue to provide, and, most of all, the endless conversations I’ve had over the years with strangers and friends who claimed that Philadelphia was not a “film city.”  I could argue that last point either way, but for the purpose of this introduction let’s just embrace the undeniable fact that Cinedelphia serves as an illustration of Philly’s many outlets for film, the central hub for film-related information that our fair city has lacked for so long.  So here we are at the center of the film community, urging you to go out and support worthwhile cinema while you still can.  Here’s what you missed in 2011…

In early October I posted PHILADELPHIA OFFICIALLY HAS A FILM FESTIVAL SEASON in response to the (overly?) crowded mid-October to mid-November time frame of film festivals (FirstGlance > PFF > Terror Film Fest > 24 Hour Horror-Thon > Philly Asian-American Film Fest > Philly Jewish Film Fest).  The mysterious FirstGlance Film Festival held their 15th annual weekend-long event at the Franklin Institute with a followup event at the Hiway Theatre; the 20th Philadelphia Film Festival sold “approximately 35,000 tickets…to over 250 screenings of 145 films”; the sixth annual Terror Film Festival showcased a weekend’s worth of indie horror screenings at the Ethical Society; Exhumed Films’ International House-held 24 Hour Horror-Thon celebrated their fifth year with another marathon endurance test of off-the-road horror cinema (Night Warning was some of the most fun I had in a theater this year); the fourth annual Philly Asian-American Film Fest celebrated their biggest year yet with some impressive sponsors, a world class-looking operation, and 12 screenings over the course of seven days; the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival continued its streak as the city’s longest running fest with its 31st installment that saw the screenings of 12 films at eight venues over the course of 15 days.

Earlier in the year, February saw the start of the 15th annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, which I felt had some of 2011’s strongest festival programming.  Same goes for April’s Cinefest, the TLA Video-spearheaded festival that began in 2009 as a response to the restructuring of the nonprofit Philadelphia Film Society.  The 2011 installment was programmed and overseen by Josh Goldbloom who made it all happen in no time at all to varying degrees of satisfaction.  Highlights included a live Skype chat with a pot smoking John Carpenter (he was given an award in the form of a bong) and screenings of The Catechism Cataclysm (one of my 2011 faves) with the director and stars in attendance.  Cinedelphia relentlessly and mercilessly covered all aspects of the festival in a series of posts that were vital towards the evolution of the website’s attitude during its early days (by the way, we were the first ones to break the news about the festival).  A 2012 Cinefest has been announced though I hear it’s already encountered a fair bit of strife, it will likely go down as something slightly different than we’ve seen in the past.

Summer arrived and Cinefest’s Josh Goldbloom moved on to the Piazza-based Awesome Fest, which kicked off in June with a free summer-long series of interesting indie films (more on that below).  Late June saw the fourth annual Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, an event that consistently embraces all levels of independent filmmaking with screenings at the Franklin Institute and a variety of more DIY-oriented spaces.  The July-held 17th annual Philadelphia QFest (formerly the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Film Festival) included Danger After Dark, a genre-oriented track programmed by Travis Crawford, the series’ traditional finder of film gems and the only local programmer who would dare show something as inaccessibly interesting as Spain’s Finisterrae (luckily the seemingly endlessly educated Robert Cargni of the I-House was there to explain the film to me).

I think that wraps it up for festivals aside from the very topic-specific mini-fests centered around things like animation and locally-produced youth/amateur/shorts.  Those events are also important, I just didn’t attend any of them.

In addition to the aforementioned 24 Hour Horror-Thon, Exhumed Films gave the city of Philadelphia the first annual eX-Fest (May 7), a memorable twelve-hour marathon of little-seen exploitation (the next installment will be held on April 29, 2012), and the five-film Planet of the Apes marathon (July 31), which was a real treat.

The International House continued to serve as Philadelphia’s most valuable resource for worthwhile repertory and independent cinema, here’s a highlight from each month:
January 10-11: Kazuhiro Soda’s Campaign and Mental
February 16 : The Films of Alina Marazzi
March 11: TV Carnage live (co-presented with Cinedelphia)
April 28-30: Pop Cinema
May 12: Solaris
June 17: Sans Soleil + La Jetee
July 22: Harry Shearer and his new documentary
August: The outdoor Destination: Animation series
September 8-12: The Philly premiere of Resurrect Dead
October 10: Nosferatu with live accompaniment
November 17-19: The Films of Dick Fontaine
December 8: World on a Wire

Secret Cinema hosted a number of memorably creative screenings including the ICA’s Sister Ray Slam (August 3) and the recent A Swingin’ Summer (December 15).

The Shooting Wall gang held a series of outdoor screenings at City Hall for the benefit of the Occupiers.

Johnny Brenda’s hosted Found vs. Found (November 6) featuring the endlessly hilarious Found Footage Festival who screened some of their best clips including Rent a Friend and that public access guy who fills a table with animals that were never meant to interact.  The Found Magazine guys were there too, but they were, in a word, ANNOYING.

The Cinedelphia-programmed Unknown Japan held a six-week series at the Bellevue in the winter followed by another in the summer held at a variety of locations.  Pictured below:  the 1937 Germany/Japan co-production of propaganda The New Earth (August 17) at the Gershman Y; Unknown Anime (August 26), a compilation of early Japanese animation shorts held at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden.

Cinedelphia was also involved in the Philadelphia Japan Arts Matsuri (July 8-10), a three-day Japan benefit of film and music held at the Prince.  The stars of Yakuza Weapon were in attendance and they performed an impromptu sword fight over the film’s end credits.  You don’t see that kind of thing happening around these parts, except maybe at the Riverview.

Shut Up, Little Man! (2011)
Presented by the Awesome Fest, The Piazza, September 1, 2011
Allow me to set the scene:  folding chairs are set up in the middle of the Piazza facing the south side screen.  The evening’s film concerns the history of a series of legendary audio tapes that are the most hateful, foul-mouthed things you’ll ever hear.  At a restaurant/bar fifty feet to our right, a nonprofit called New Leash on Life USA is holding an outdoor fundraiser event where children of all ages are encouraged to kiss the adorable on-site puppies.  Stock footage of Hitler dubbed with a rant about “queers” appears on screen while the nonprofit announces the day’s raffle winners via loudspeaker.  And then the wedding rehearsal begins.  Quite an evening.

These Amazing Shadows (2011)
Presented by the Awesome Fest, The Piazza, July 3, 2011
A mother changed her baby’s diaper on the astroturf lawn five feet in front of me.  Distracting.

Damn! (2011)
Presented by Philebrity.com, Trocadero, August 29, 2011
The balcony was pretty crowded (and the filmmakers were in attendance) for this forgettable documentary on Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan.  Audiences shouldn’t necessarily expect a peaceful screening experience from a venue that has an adjoining bar and a $3 admission fee that includes a free drink, thus I wasn’t surprised by the guy behind me who screamed out “DRINK!” every time the film’s subject uttered his catchphrase, which occurred at least once a minute, sometimes up to four times in just as many sentences.  The guy’s drunken command was eventually countered by “Shut the fuck up!” from a growing faction of dissenters, an exchange that continued for about 45 minutes until the screaming guy was asked to leave.  “I thought this was a comedy!” he said to the bouncer.  The remainder of the screening was a painful bore.

Philadelphia (1993)
Presented by the Philadelphia Film Society, City Hall, May 16, 2011
This was more of a disappointment than anything as the Mayor’s Screening Room just turned out to be a classy meeting room with a portable screen, DVD player, and low-end digital projector.

I was completely immersed in the strange and wonderful world of press/advance screenings throughout 2011.  A few memorable occurrences:
• At Insidious, a large woman sitting beside me would grab my arm every time she was frightened, which was quite often.  There’s a scene where the doll from the Saw films appears as a drawing on a classroom chalk board, a reference to the filmmakers’ previous experience on that series.  The woman turned to me, “Sawman on the board.”  I nodded and she turned back to the screen, continuing her musing with a quizzical hush.  “On the board.  Sawman on the board.”
• At Cowboys & Aliens, fellow local critic Brian Flieder and I took our reserved seats.  An angry older gentleman watched us from the aisle.  “You aren’t press!” he yelled.  I laughed at his outrage while Brian defended himself, but the man continued to yell at us for not being press.  I tried to illustrate my credentials by showing him my notebook.  He finally lost interest and walked away as he growled “You’re not taking notes during this movie.”  And he was right.

And one final story that makes me laugh every time I think of it:
I was sitting next to my friend Joseph A. Gervasi at the second night of International House’s Unseen Pierre Clémenti event (July 29-30).  At the close of the evening’s second feature, an impenetrable 92 minutes of drunken ramblings and lo-tech surrealism called Necropolis, program curator Jesse Pirez took to the front of the room.  “What did you guys think?” he asked.  “Fuck you!” yelled Joseph.

Lansdowne’s Cinema 16:9 won a Best of Philly award for “Best Movie Night”.  They also continued to prove their worth by hosting the only Philly-area runs of a variety of interesting films including Catherine Breillat’s The Sleeping Beauty and Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur.

The Academy of Natural Sciences made a name for themselves in the film world with the MST3K-like Mega Bad Movie Night in which two on-site scientists (one of who is my Japanese tutor) mock an animal attack movie (the first installment was held in 2010, they held the subsequent four installments in 2011).  The crowd at Eight Legged Freaks (October 27) went crazy when they announced that the next film will be The Lost World: Jurassic Park (coming up on February 9).

The Philadelphia Film Society ran the “filmadelphia CLASSICS” series of typical Philly-related films in a variety of interesting locations.

Movie Mondays at the Trocadero changed programming hands at least three times with the Philadelphia Film Society currently taking up the reigns of one of the best movie deals in Philly.

Beaux Arts Video at 10th and Spruce closed, the nearby Spruce Street Video downgraded to the basement of its location, and the Locust Street TLA Video sadly closed its doors with the company’s final remaining location in Bryn Mawr soon to follow.  And the former site of my beloved Spring Garden Street TLA remains, for a third year, vacant.


I’m sure I’m leaving out some notable happenings and screenings, but this is a pretty good overview of the year in Philly film.  Let us know what some of your favorite 2011 film-going experiences were in the comments below.

Author: Eric Bresler

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. Wow, what a wrap-up! You definitely got out there this year and I was at a lot of the same screenings too. Many of my meaningful Philadelphia film experiences this year happened at International House (obviously), where my favorite programs of the year were Film ist: a girl and a gun, Pop Cinema, Unseen Pierre Clementi, Alison Kobayashi, and the Fall Arts Preview. Overall, I had a great time at the Temple Cinematheque screening I went to, saw some awful projection especially during film fests this year, thought Secret Cinema presented an amazing array of gems, freaked out at eX-fest, saw The Trip twice in the theater, watched a regrettable amount of bad mainstream movies at the Rave, got really into blu-ray, and enjoyed most of what I saw at Q-Fest/Danger After Dark. Looking forward to 2012!

    1. I should have given a shout out to the Temple Cinematheque, both screenings that I attended were great (for those not in the know, the “Cinematheque” is a film-equipped classroom at Temple, not a theater you haven’t heard of or anything like that, a good environment for film screenings in any case).
      The Trip made my Top 10 of 2011, it’ll be posted tomorrow.

  2. Ex-Fest was def my highlight of the year, though the questions asked after the screening of MARTHA MARCY…of the director were their own kind of wonderful. Also, that screening at BSM of WICKED PRIEST was pretty spectacular.

  3. An amazing summary of films and events in 2011. Didn’t realize Philly had so much going on. I’m going to look out for a lot of these events in 2012.

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