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Film Festival Puts 1980s in the Spotlight

July 10, 2013
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Josh Goldbloom

There’s a class reunion taking place all summer long, and some of your favorite couples will be there, including Goose and Maverick, Ferris and Sloane, Doc and Marty and more totally tubular twosomes than you can shake a leg warmer at.

If you’re not familiar with the lead characters from, respectively, Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Back to the Future — meaning you’re too young, too old or have simply lost access to the 1980s pop culture section of your temporal lobe — then Awesome Fest is for you.

The festival, which began last month and will run through August at various locations around the city, will show over 50 of the most iconic movies of the era of big hair, acid-washed everything and New Wave music, including the classics mentioned above.

The festival is the brainchild of Josh Goldbloom, a 32-year-old native of Somerton who attended Solomon Schechter Day School and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Oxford Circle Jewish Community. You may not recognize his name, but if you have been to a film festival in Philadelphia over the past five years, you have most likely been under his influence. In addition to creating and running the Awesome Fest since 2010 (it was known that year as the Philadelphia Underground Film Festival), he has been involved with the Philadelphia Film Festival, the Philadelphia Film Society and the Philadelphia Film Alliance.

While he was too young to have seen the vast majority of the decade’s best movies in theaters, over the years he has developed an appreciation for films like E.T., The Princess Bride and Die Hard. He sees this year’s Awesome Fest as the perfect way to let everyone else in his generation in on the fun. “You might not have normally seen these movies, but we think they’re good enough that you should see them,” Goldbloom says, “and we are going to make it so you can see them — free of charge.”

According to Goldbloom, 90 percent of the festival’s events are free and open to the public, which is virtually unheard of in the world of film festivals — a fact that Goldbloom readily acknowledges and relishes. “I just don’t like it when you’re paying $12 for a movie and $8 for a popcorn and you don’t know if you’re even going to see a good film,” he says.

Working with his partner, Joanna Pang, who owns the Trocadero Theatre in Chinatown, Goldbloom was able to line up sponsors like Parx Casino, Phila­delphia Film Society and University City District. With this financial support, Goldbloom was able not only to secure the rights to show a summer’s worth of movies at no charge to viewers, he was also able to bring in some of the people who made those movies so memorable. Among the people making appearances: Alex Winter, who plays Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; Deborah Foreman, the titular star of Valley Girl; and Charles Fleischer, who gave voice to the title character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

A film festival that doesn’t focus on new, independent, unreleased and/or foreign films is a rarity, something that Goldbloom knows firsthand. He is a veteran of the film festival circuit, both as the award-winning director of Heroin Town, his 2004 documentary about the addict community of Willimantic, Conn., and through his extensive involvement with film organizations in Philadelphia.

Goldbloom says that it was the perception of film festivals as cinematically insular events that drove him to make this year’s festival so crowd-friendly. The festival scene “began to feel a little clique-ish to me. Indie films are the heart and soul of what the Awesome Fest” has been and will be, he adds, emphasizing that this year’s focus on crowd-pleasing classics is most likely a one-time event before the festival returns to its indie film roots.

He said he and Pang “wanted to open this year up to everyone — especially after we made the acquisition of this new outdoor equipment.” He was referring to a 36-foot by 25-foot Airscreen outdoor movie screen, which he proudly states is the same model as the one used by LucasFilms for their outdoor screenings. The screen allows for the vast majority of the festival’s films to be shown outdoors at locales that include Liberty Lands Park in Northern Liberties, Eakins Oval by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Drexel Park in University City.

With a father, Don Goldbloom, serving as the longtime public relations director for West Coast Video, and Larry Fine, of The Three Stooges fame, as his great uncle, it would have been a surprise if Goldbloom didn’t end up in the entertainment industry. Still, he says, for many years, his involvement with film festivals “was a hobby.”

“It was just something I had a lot of fun with,” he recalls. “I don’t think any kid says, ‘I want to be a film festival programmer when I grow up.’ ”

The road to Awesome Fest began with the void created by the 2009 dissolution of the partnership between the Philadelphia Film Society and TLA, which co-produced the Philadelphia Film Festival. Goldbloom said that when he realized that there was no backup plan to continue the festival, he decided to get involved because he couldn’t bear to see his city lose such a high-profile event that helped shine a light on Philadelphia’s native talent and cinema scene.

His time with the Philadelphia Film Festival and a subsequent stint as the program director of the Philadelphia Film Society solidified two things for Goldbloom: that his decision to focus on festivals instead of filmmaking was the right one; and that he wanted to change the status quo.

“For a long time, there were a lot of big heads running the game, and a lot of people doing it for the wrong reasons. The Film Society does great work, but it’s not something I feel was properly representing Philadelphia. I think we need more than just black-tie events and M. Night Shyamalan movies — not that I hate M. Night Shyamalan — please don’t take that the wrong way,” he says of the writer/director of movies including The Sixth Sense, Signs and After Earth.

Goldbloom and Pang have also included a live music component to this year’s festival. Working with Jen Corsilli, a talent buyer for AEG live, the festival has been able to bring in seminal bands from the era like New Order, A Flock of Seagulls and Pet Shop Boys.

Another lesson Goldbloom learned from the mistakes of others: Don’t allow for any down­time. Even though the Awesome Fest has more than a month to go, he is already hard at work on what’s next. He programs dozens of advance screenings a year, including the final installment of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s sendup trilogy, The World’s End, on July 30. And preparations for next year’s Awesome Fest have begun in earnest.

So, does that mean audiences will be watching the best of the 1990s al fresco next summer?

“I don’t know what next year is going to look like, to be honest,” Goldbloom says. “We have thought about the ’90s, but I don’t know if next year is the right time for it.” Which begs the question: Is there ever a wrong time to get reacquainted with Clarice Starling, Keyser Soze and Vincent Vega?

The Awesome Fest
Various venues throughout the city
Through Aug. 17
www.theawesomefest.com

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