Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The 17th Annual PFF (April 3-15) completed another successful screening of over 260 films, chock full of Q& A’s with the filmmakers, including celebs, William H. Macy, Shane West, John Leguizamo, Jason Ritter and Patti Smith.
My festival experience was vast and varied, but why only one film offering at the festival by an African American filmmaker? (Barry Jenkins Medicine for Melancholy) It seemed only fair to let the festival have a chance to address this imbalance.
“As a film fest for international films we strive, beyond sanity, to seek out the very best in films representing the complete human condition. When we see films, while not blind to race,we certainly have no idea of the color of those behind the camera", responded Scott Johnston, PFF Regional Film Curator. "There is an irony in the fact that if we fail to represent African-American creators we will be viewed as 'exclusive' or myopic, at best, yet, if we place work based chiefly on the race of the individual - we'll be accused of tokenism, at best, or exploitation, at worst", continued Johnston.
Johnston went on to say, "If the films I see are reinforcing negative stereotypes, yet are very well produced - what do I do?You mention a disparity of African-American in the mainstream, but last year, Lee Daniels was our guest of guests and his film showcased to great effect.
Mike Dennis of ReelBlack does monthly, sometimes weekly, screenings here in town and premieres a LOT of local work that (by my mission statement) prohibits my screening the films as they have already premiered".
When ask if the Festival has trouble attracting African-American filmmakers? Johnston's response – "No. Filmon Mebrahtu, Shannon Newby, Rodney Whittenberg and dozens of filmmakers have submitted films, which we've showcased, and will doubtless have back(at least I hope so). If this year’s line-up seems to fall short of anyone’s expectations to truly represent cultural diversity - I apologize. I certainly shoot for inclusiveness of all peoples each year, and by and large I am proud of every year achieving that”.
Reelblack (www.reelblack.com) is a full-service film and video production company dedicated to creating and promoting "good movies 'bout Black Folks." founded in 1999 by award-winning filmmaker Michael Dennis (a.k.a. Mike D.)
Mike D’s response : “I don't really have anything negative to say, I think there is a definite need for an African-American Film Festival in this city and I wouldn't expect PFF, which has its own niche to take responsibility for filling the void.
Personally, I’m not that anxious for PFF to start programming an Urban or Hip Hop portion of the festival, as it would be competition for me. I don’t know what other Black filmmakers have encountered when submitting to PFF, or how many submit. I do know, that a number of the filmmakers I work with, prefer to have their work go straight to video and get it out there that way, rather than the expense of the festival circuit.”
Suck My Pretty Toes picks for Philadelphia Film Festival Favorites:
Lovely By Surprise (USA / Writer/Director, Kirt Gunn) A film in the vein of “Adaptation” or “Stranger Than Fiction” where the main character is a writer, dealing with their fictional characters becoming all too real. If you are patient and give this film a chance to make sense, you’ll come away with a good tale, full of pathos. If you need a film to fully explain itself, than I doubt you’ll find it lovely at all. - Rating: Pretty Index Toe
Medicine for Melancholy (USA / Writer/Director, Barry Jenkins) A 24-hour romance, a la “Before Sunset” (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy) but not as dialogue heavy. It would be refreshing if the film just dealt with a one-night stand and infidelity, which happened to feature a Black couple. However, in this case, the extenuating plot, involving race does inform the characters. Micca (Wyatt Cenac) is a black man born and raised in predominately white San Francisco, where Blacks make up only 7% of the population, a fact that Micca is all too aware. Joanne (Tracey Heggins) is a transplant to SF, and not particularly affected by diversity. Her concern is that she’s cheating on her boyfriend, not cheating on her “White Boyfriend”. Micca’s more concerned that her boyfriend is White, than the fact that she’s unavailable.
The Q&A with Jenkins revealed, a lot of the charming and funny moments came from the improvisation of lead actor, comedian, Wyatt Cenac. Surprising too, this was Cenac’s acting debut! Rating: Pretty Middle Toe
John Leguizamo (Carlito’s Way, Moulin Rouge, Summer of Sam) was given the Festival’s Artistic Achievement Award. The evening featured Leguizamo being interviewed Actor’s Studio style, revealing him to be the way we perceived him to be - both committed artist and cocky comedian. We were treated to anecdotes of the time he nearly came to blows with Patrick Swayze, both of them ready to rip off wigs and “F” me pumps to go at it.
Also the many mishaps during the shooting of his current films The Take (which premiered after the interview - see below for review) Things like the Kraft Services chef being shot on location, because the neighborhood kids wanted to eat for free, numerous crew members quitting, including hair and make up, which left Rosie Perez to do her own. And Leguizamo’s trailer being repossessed with him still in it!
The Take (USA / Philadelphia Director, Brad Furman) This is an all too real and terrifying story of a decent family man (Leguizamo) shot on the job while driving an armored truck. His struggles to recover from being shot in the head, deal with his anger over the incident, and clear his name when accused of being the “Inside Man” on the robbery is depicted as gritty, unfair and bad for my nerves. Rating: Pretty 4th Toe
Then She Found Me (USA / Director Helen Hunt) Not to down-grade the film, but Helen Hunt's directorial debut will be an excellent renter - will fly off the shelve as soon as it reaches Blockbuster & Netflix, but don't think it will do much box office. Hunt plays a 39 year-old woman, very Jewish, not by blood, but by adoption. She desperately wants to have a baby, but her new marriage to a very immature (Matthew Broderick) falls apart quickly. She soon begins an awkward romance with (Colin Firth), discovers she's pregnant with her husband's child, her adoptive mother dies and her birth mother (Bette Midler) bursts into her life.
In the Bible, God often makes major changes and transformations in a period of 40, since the movie deals with religious over tones, one wonders if Hunt had this theme in mind.
Rating: Pretty Middle Toe