The homegrown director leads the Philadelphia Underground Film Festival.
“We’ve been watching this movie Winnebago Man. You heard about this?”
The interview hasn’t officially started, but now that introductions are out of the way, Josh Goldbloom is at full tilt. We’d never met before this week, but Josh has been watching a movie he thinks I ought to see. In fact, he thinks everybody ought to see it: That’s why he’ll be screening it at the Piazza at Schmidt’s for free later this summer, a week or two after local theaters get it. It’s all part of the master plan, another Friday-night adventure in his year-round Philadelphia Underground Film Festival.
That’s right. PUFF.
Goldbloom, 29, grew up in Philadelphia, part of a family of entertainers and entertainment. (An uncle, Andrew Louis Feinberg, better known as Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, died before he was born.) His father, for a time, was head of public relations for West Coast Video. Josh started making his own films in his early 20s, enrolling in production classes at Bucks County Community College. A 60 Minutes segment inspired his first feature film, Heroin Town, a documentary on Connecticut’s Hotel Hooker, the epicenter of an alleged drug epidemic.
Goldbloom stayed at the hotel during production, immersing himself in the troubled town of Willimantic as he interviewed its residents. For the director, Heroin Town is a “portrait of a town,” a document of a place as defined by the people who do their living and dying there. By extension, it’s a film about the plight of all American cities. Heroin Town won a number of awards on the festival circuit, most notably here and in L.A.
Returning home to Philadelphia after a year soaking in the Austin film scene (beloved of of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino), Goldbloom has a new project, also concerned with place. But instead of making a film about Philly, Goldbloom wants to plant seeds here that he hopes will grow into the kind of community of independent-film lovers he found in Texas.
PUFF is his attempt to make it happen, almost like a community service. “I always believed that the most effective model to do this was through a festival atmosphere,” Goldbloom says. “For me, it has to be something that’s constant, which is why I’ve dedicated PUFF to being a year-round celebration.”
All PUFF’s expenses come out of Goldbloom’s pocket; he’s invested everything in this effort. He says he wouldn’t care if only five people show up to a screening, but the turnout’s been consistently strong since he started last year. About 75 percent of the screenings have been presented free of charge, and the long-term goal is to eliminate ticket fees entirely.
Goldbloom’s constantly scouting out new venues around the city, willing to project a film in the back room of a record shop or on a skate-park wall. He was in talks to screen at the Prince, but the crumbling management kept getting in the way of itself. Through Halloween, at least, PUFF has a stable home at the Piazza.
Every Friday night, there’s a new feature presentation: Art-house films, blockbusters, YouTube sensations. If it’s good, Goldbloom will screen it. Last week, it was a shark documentary. This week? He hadn’t quite nailed it down yet as of press time, but he promises it’ll be “something dangerous.”
Goldbloom frequently refers to films that way, with adjectives another person might use to describe a automatic weapon or jungle cat, a testament to his reverence for the medium. Mentioning that he’s in negotiations to screen the director’s cut of Rambo, he drops his voice to a stage whisper. Movies are volatile.
Then there’s Winnebago Man, which Josh promises to screen in a few weeks, free of charge.
“You’ve gotta check this out.”
Dinner with Luke Palladino