This spring, Philadelphia is hosting a nearly ludicrous amount of film festivals.
There was qFlix last month, both the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival and Media Film Festival this past weekend, all to be followed by the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival in May.
Nestled in between, the Philadelphia Film Society is presenting its second annual edition of SpringFest, a smaller, single-weekend version of the October’s main Philadelphia Film Festival. The inaugural edition of SpringFest included feature films like Blindspotting, Eighth Grade and Tully, as well as documentaries Won’t You Be My Neighbor, RBG, and Three Identical Strangers.
This year’s edition is taking place entirely at the Philadelphia Film Center, formerly the Prince Theater, from April 12-14 and features 12 films over the course of three days. While the lineup lacks in star power — it’s quite possible that the biggest name in any of the dozen movies is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – but there’s some promising stuff on the slate.
The festival kicks off Friday at 5 p.m. with Photograph, an Indian-American feature directed by Ritesh Batra. The film’s plot sounds like something out of a 1970’s sitcom episode: The hero (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a street photographer in Mumbai who convinces a stranger (Sanya Malhotra) to pose as his fiancé in order to trick his marriage-obsessed grandmother.
The official opening film, Wild Rose, is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. show. Directed by Tom Harper, Wild Rose is a British film about an inspiring country musician (Jessie Buckley), which features an entire soundtrack of original songs. The film debuted to positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall.
Wrapping up opening night, at 9:45 p.m., is The Art of Self-Defense, a dark comedy directed by Riley Stearns. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a man who turns to the martial arts after he’s mugged. Early reviews out of South by Southwest were positive, with critics calling the film a pointed satirical look at toxic masculinity,
The Saturday session kicks off at 11:30 a.m. with Shadow, the latest film from Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero and House of Flying Daggers.) A period-piece action film, the early word on this one is that it’s a vast improvement over the director’s last effort, The Great Wall, which flopped despite starring Matt Damon.
Up next, at 2 p.m., is The Farewell, Lulu Wang’s film that killed at Sundance in January. The film stars Crazy Rich Asians co-star Awkwafina as a Chinese-American woman who goes to China to see her dying grandmother. At 4:15, it’s Funke, director Gab Taraboulsy’s ode to bearded pasta chef Evan Funke, as he prepares to open a new restaurant. It’s been a strong couple of years for chef documentaries, and Funke sounds like the sort of movie that’s going to make a lot of festival-goers hungry.
Assuming you’ve resisted the urge to follow Funke up with a multi-course pasta dinner at 6:45 p.m., its Knock Down the House, Rachel Lears’ campaign documentary about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other Democrats who ran for Congress last year. The Kickstarter-funded film debuted at Sundance and is headed to Netflix next month.
Wrapping up Saturday, at 8:45, is Luce, Julius Onah’s adaptation of an off-Broadway play about a former child soldier from Eritrea who is adopted by an American family (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.) The film, which also debuted at Sundance, is said to ask challenging questions about race and identity.
The four-film slate on Sunday starts at 2 p.m. with City of Joel, director Jesse Sweet’s rare look at Kiryas Joel, the Hasidic Jewish enclave in upstate New York. The film, also funded via Kickstarter, touches on the sect’s battles with the surrounding towns.
Up next, at 4 p.m., is Mike Wallace is Here, director Avi Belkin’s look at the long career of the late 60 Minutes correspondent. The film, also a Sundance debut, will undoubtedly connect some dots with the media and political scene of today.
The Tomorrow Man, the feature film directorial debut of music video director Noble Jones, plays at 6:15 on Sunday. The film stars John Lithgow as a conspiracy theorist and Blythe Danner as a woman in the same small town who he begins to date.
Finally, the closing film of the festival is Official Secrets, from director Gavin Hood, which will air at 8:30 p.m. A long list of notable English actors in Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode star in this political thriller, set during the pre-Iraq War.
PFF Springfest | April 12-14. Times vary. filmadelphia.org/springfest/