The seventh annual Philadelphia Independent Film Festival technically begins here on June 25, but filmmaking is a globally celebrated artform, and an experimental satellite festival of sorts is already screening in Moscow, where four PIFF-slated presentations made the cut and are being shown to an audience of thousands. It’s a move designed to appeal to an open-minded audience and exhibit the artistic blend of the local and the international that festival director Benjamin Barnett hopes to always foster. “We have such a fantastic opportunity to connect,” he says of PIFF, which is part of the reason this year’s fest is offering some screenings online for streaming to international viewers, via CoPhilly and ImpactHubPhilly.
Connecting with audiences is, of course, the ultimate goal of any film festival (unless you’re in Cannes, and your goal is to wear tuxes and rub elbows, in which case, please proceed). And PIFF’s nearly-90-films-strong 2014 lineup has been chosen partially to ensure a wide range of genres and geographic origins, so that an evening of shorts by local filmmakers is juxaposed with Hong Kong thriller The Seventh Lie. For Barnett, the combination is crucial to the festival’s success. “It needs a moment like this, so we’re pulling it all together. That’s why bringing the international community is a key, I think, to really broaden your horizons,” he says.
Some films are deliberately paired by theme, but others suggest themselves as thematic fellows in more sidelong ways. Pennsylvania Holy Ghosts, by local director Ryan Ceri Pomeranz and shot in and around Scranton for some arresting visuals, follows the adrift young Clair as he returns to his grandfather’s cabin to make sense of his life and promises to be “four stories about death.” From Germany comes family-reconciliation drama Si-o-se-Pol, directed by Henrik Peschel, which examines the immigrant experience through a terminally-ill man’s search for his long-vanished daughter, just the sort of inventively-shot indie one hopes to stumble across at a festival. They might seem like odd bedfellows, but they share an air of dreamlike melancholy.
But flexibility is also a crucial component of a successful year—particularly at an event where so many of the films may not be widely screened elsewhere, much less receive mass distribution—so PIFF tries to stay nimble in its programming. For example, as a reaction to the most successful evening of short films from last year’s fest, this year’s screenings have been curated and grouped by genre rather than by theme, that way if you’re in the mood for an evening of clever jokes, you won’t be surprised by sudden corpses. Of course, there’s always going to be a dose of the unexpected; that’s part of the fun of a film festival. A pet pairing of Barnett’s this year is the relationship drama Going Up screened alongside the avant-garde Spanish short La Hija. “I love to shake up the crowd,” he admits with a laugh.
That element of surprise is what PIFF hopes will connect its wide-ranging collection—the themes are as variable as the budgets, and this year’s schedule of 87 short and full-length movies was narrowed down from a pool of several hundred, offering something for every sensibility and every attention span. “Our thing is to sort of break the genre,” Barnett says, “for people to watch films that maybe break the boundaries of filmmaking a little bit.” (Click here for our Top 6 PIFF picks.)
Wed., June 25 through Sun., June 29. Various times, prices and locations. philadelphiaindependentfilmfestival.com
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"