Milestone Festival to Play Some Reel-y Good Films


J. Andrew Greenblatt wants to say he’s excited for every film being shown during this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.

Greenblatt, executive director of the festival, as well as executive director and CEO of the Philadelphia Film Society, said he is most definitely looking forward to this year’s centerpiece films.

“I’m not supposed to talk about our centerpieces too much only because they’re the highest-profile films,” he admitted. “They’re the ones everyone tends to gravitate to. They’re the ones that will be up for Oscars. So generally we avoid that. This year’s are just so strong.”

The films in question include the highly anticipated festival opener La La Land, Moonlight, Jackie, Toni Erdmann, Bleed for This, Manchester by the Sea, Lion, The Edge of Seventeen and the festival closer, Arrival, which Greenblatt said is “so not your standard alien fare.”

“It’s not Independence Day. It’s closer to Close Encounters,” said Greenblatt, who worked as a producer for Film 101 Productions before getting involved with the Film Society. “But it also has such a human element to it and deep story and it sticks with you.”

Greenblatt, a native Philadelphian who attends Congregation Beth Am Israel, is also looking forward to the lesser-known films in the festival. He hopes audiences will enjoy them just as much, because the festival — which runs Oct. 20 to 30 — might be their only opportunity to see them.

Bringing in these kinds of films is one way Greenblatt hopes to contribute to the city that he believes is underserved in terms of film.

“I love that we can bring the best of cinema from around the world here to Philadelphia every year, and we can pair some of the highly anticipated ones — the ones that will be the award candidates — with films you may never have heard of or [won’t] have the opportunity to see on a big screen again,” said Greenblatt, who is entering his eighth year with the festival.

With the help of the Roxy and Ritz theaters, there are opportunities to screen these lower-profile films even beyond the festival.

“I like the fact that the festival, and now year-round, we’re able to shine the light on some of these films that may go unnoticed otherwise,” Greenblatt said.

Some of these films include biopics like Neruda or independent films like Another Evil about a painter who finds ghosts in his mountain home and hires an exorcist to get rid of them. There also will be anticipated documentaries like O.J.: Made in America.

And there will be films with Jewish themes, too.

One such film is called Beyond the Mountains and Hills about an Israeli man who’s having trouble readjusting to civilian life after 27 years in the military. The film will screen Oct. 27 and 28 at Ritz Five.

Another film Greenblatt is looking forward to is Junction 48, about a Palestinian hip-hop artist navigating contemporary Israel with his singer girlfriend and best friends. This will screen Oct. 23 and 25 at the Ritz Five.

“I’m sure it takes a very interesting position,” Greenblatt said. “I haven’t seen it yet, but I want to.”

Seeing as this marks the 25th year of the film festival, there are certain new additions and programs Greenblatt is particularly excited about.

They’ll be showing some films from the festival archives to pay homage to its beginnings, such as Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, which was screened in 1991 during the festival’s first year, as well as Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys. 

For another throwback, you’ll need to carve out a large chunk of time — 583 minutes, to be exact — for a screening of Dekalog, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s episodic adaptations of the Ten Commandments that first ran on Polish TV.

But don’t worry: There will be intermissions between episodes, including breaks for lunch and dinner.

The opening night of the festival will honor Philly-area filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan with the fest’s inaugural Lumiere Award.

The fest also introduces “State of the Union,” a curated series specifically focused on issues facing the country, from films about cyber warfare to an increased militarization of the police force, starting in Ferguson, Miss., and traveling through 11 states.

However, Greenblatt emphasized, “we’re not taking a position; we’re showing films.”

Since the festival runs so close to the election, “we decided we wanted to do something about that,” he said of the idea behind the new film series.

After the “State of the Union” films, there will be panel discussions with directors and special guests, who are flying in from around the country to participate.

“It’s 100 percent free because we want people to be there,” Greenblatt said. “We want to help educate and contribute to the conversation.”

So, as a film enthusiast surrounded by foreign films and comedies and dramas, what’s Greenblatt’s all-time favorite movie?

“I know I’m supposed to have some lofty answer but I generally default to Jerry Maguire,” he admitted. “I’m a tremendous film lover, music lover, sports lover and that film does it all.

“I should be more proud to say it,” he laughed.

A full schedule of events for the Philadelphia Film Festival can be found at; 215-832-0740


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