It was a nasty, rainy night in Philly, Thursday night, but you wouldn’t have known it inside the Annenberg Auditorium, where the 19th Philadelphia Film Festival opened to a sold out crowd. Darren Aronofsky was there to introduce his new film, “Black Swan”
“My goal is to get a reaction from the audience by either scaring the hell out of them, making them cry, or making them laugh,” Aronofsky said. “Black Swan,” scored a high 2 out of 3. Absent were the tears. The dark feature film about a ballet company’s performance of the classic, Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky, was part art house film, part thriller, and part horror film. Aronofsky said that he was surprised at the frequent audience laughter, which occurred during breaks in the frightening sequence of events depicted. More frequent were the audible gasps. It was the first time Aronofsky watched the film with an audience.
The film received a rousing standing ovation, when Aronofsky appeared, immediately following the showing. The film stars Winona Ryder, Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman as the lead. Portman gives a brilliant performance as the uptight Nina, perhaps the best of her young career. Nina’s life long ambition, upon receiving the starring dance role in her ballet company’s Swan Lake production, is soon is overshadowed by her paranoia and descent into madness. The choice to open the festival with, “Black Swan,” might have something to do with its local connection to the Pennsylvania Ballet Co., whose dancers were featured.
Like the Philly Film Festival itself, Aronofsky has become a mainstream success since the launch of, “The Wrestler,” which he directed. When asked what the theme of, “Black Swan” was, Aronofsky declined to answer. That only adds to the air of mystery and hype surrounding the flick, as any great marketer of popular culture knows. Like the previous, “The Wrestler,” “Black Swan,” is about an artist’s passion and obsession with her art, taken to a self-destructive level.
“Black Swan,” opens in theaters on Dec. 10, in Philly. The film has received some rave reviews and scores a 98% out of 100-review composite, at the Rotten Tomatoes website.
The Philadelphia Film Festival has become a much more commercially successful enterprise since its launch 19 years ago. This year’s festival features tons of well heeled corporate sponsors, and a very organized, obliging staff. The festival featured mostly international films in its early years.
This year’s festival includes some mainstream selections, like the much publicized, “Conviction,” starring Hilary Swank, which is based on a true story about a man falsely convicted of murder and his working class sister’s heroic efforts to free him.
Political junkies won’t want to miss, “Fair Game.” It is Hollywood’s depiction of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, starring Sean Penn, and Naomi Watts, It’s getting great reviews from critics and audience. Other Hollywood productions featured, include films with Jim Carrey, Sarah Silverman and Helen Hunt.
Those who fear that the festival has gone totally mainstream, need not fear. With over 100 films showing, there are plenty of independent and international films, including the quirky and offbeat films that regional film festivals are known for. That would include, “Carlos,” a 5 hour saga, about the P.L.O. terrorist, Carlos the Jackal.
Why it would take 5 hours to portray the rise and inevitable downfall of a terrorist, and why viewers would have the patience to watch it, maybe more of a mystery than the film itself. However, the film has gotten good reviews, including one by the button down Wall St. Journal.
The festival has partnered with the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival to bring several Asian films, which will be shown at International House. The silent, Japanese film, “A Page of Madness,” includes a live musical accompaniment. There is also a New French section of the festival.
Some of the films the Philly Film Festival is highlighting this year, continues to originate from Sundance. This includes the much buzzed, “Blue Valentine,” about a young married couple’s attempt to rekindle their tumultuous relationship, starring Ryan Gosling, and Michelle Williams.
Another film with a local connection from Sundance is, “Night Catches Us,” it is being billed as a compelling portrait of African American life during the final days of the Black Power Movement. “Night Catches Us,” is by first time director, Philadelphian, Tanya Hamilton. It’s about the Philadelphia Black Panther Party, whose monumental struggles with police commissioner, and mayor, Frank Rizzo is part of Philadelphia lore. Tanya Hamilton is being praised for her painstaking research. However, the romance of the main protagonists, played by Kerry Washington, and Anthony Mackie, is somewhat anti-climatic.
Another highlight of the festival is a presentation of the Millenium Trilogy, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” The popular mystery, trilogy, is based on the books by Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. If you don’t like Swedish subtitles you might want to wait for the American production of, “Dragon Tattoo,” which comes out in 2011, starring Daniel Craig. On the other hand, the Swedish production of,” Dragon Tattoo” is getting great reviews by critics and viewers alike.
No self respecting film festival would be replete without a documentary section, and the Philly Festival does not disappoint, with some of the selections competing in a documentary feature competition.
One of the founders of the American cinema verite movement, legendary documentary producer, Fred Wiseman, is showing his new film, “Boxing Gym,” filmed at Lord’s Gym, in Austin Texas. There is also a documentary about infamous New Orleans madam, Jeanette Maier, and her adventures and travails in the sex industry, called,”The Canal Street Madam.”
In this year of the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, “LennonNYC,” will join the hosts of music and other projects garnering a lot of media attention, surrounding the murdered Beatle. I’m sure the Lennon anniversary will result in one of those self congratulatory, star studded, music CD’s. The documentary, “LennonNYC,” will be in competition.
The Philadelphia Film Festival lasts for 10 days, from Oct.14, to Oct. 24. You can check out the extensive guide in PDF format.
*Note: This was written by an Associated Content contributor. Sign up here to start publishing your own movie articles.