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He's Got That Festival Feeling

October 15, 2009 By:
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A scene from "The Messenger," part of the festival

Reel drama -- that was the cinematic split up between the two factions running what had been the Philadelphia Film Festival.

Now the TLA and the Philadelphia Film Society have gone their separate but equal ways, but there's no less pop in the popcorn to tell the difference.

Pfft for the PFF? Hardly: The TLA has come up with its own agenda and, more immediately, the Philadelphia Film Society is projecting its own social cinema calendar, hitting us with the immediacy of a Michael Bay special effect.

But the best effect of all may be the newly reconfigured Philadelphia Film Festival's (www. filmadelphia.org) central casting; the event has reeled in its own version of a four-star artistic director in Harlan Jacobson, whose role as film journalist, scholar, critic and host of "Talk Cinema" talks directly to the cineaste's soul.

Lights, cameras -- acclaim! And Jacobson, whose cinema talks (co-founded with his partner, Susan Jacobson) at the Ritz theaters -- actually, screenings/discussions -- have created cultured conversations for 15 years here and 17 elsewhere, has put together a schedule the first time out that proves what a screen credit he truly is.

With 37 flicks set to flicker on the Center City Ritz at the Bourse screens and at the Prince Music Theatre, there will be more than a little night music to listen to and abide by as the five-day filmfest gets under way Thursday, Oct. 15, with the world premiere of "Law Abiding Citizen," starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler.

While its title -- the 181/2 Philadelphia Film Festival -- suggests a collar size rather than a sizable festival, there's no doubt that Jacobson, culling his many industry contacts and reaping the rewards of a sterling reputation that he's gathered over the years, has collared a number of special features.

And Israel is reel evident in that selection: "Ajami," which just captured Israel's equivalent of the Oscar for best picture and will be submitted for next year's Academy Award race in the foreign film category -- premieres on Friday, Oct. 16, in an afternoon screening.

Jaffa navel-gazing? Not quite: The German/Israel co-production of this saga of Arab-Israeli and Arab-on-Arab tensions in the Ajami section of the city of Jaffa has produced a sweep of sensational reviews where it has played, as well as courted controversy for its dual directing/writing team of an Israeli Palestinian (Scandar Copti) and Israeli Jew (Yaron Shani).

And a major talking point: The dialogue is mainly in Arabic.

"As soon as I saw it, I jumped on it," says Jacobson of nabbing the film for its first regional date.

Getting the jump on others is all part of his movie moxie, honed over a career of some 30 years, where his variety of accomplishments includes serving as a critic for Variety and as editor of Film Comment.

His choice seems a comment on the seriousness of purpose of the newly configured film festival and a wizardry choice by Andrew Greenblatt, PFS executive director.

Coming Soon ...

First year as trailer tease for what's to come?

"One step at a time," muses Jacobson. "Next year, we will be looking for more titles, more venues."

And more choices for serious film fans, which may separate the local event from others.

"There are two kinds of film festivals," says Jacobson of the "professional -- which is more of a marketing convention" -- and the other, geared to serious aficionados. "My father was a salesman in the garment industry and three, four times a year, he'd go to these conventions where they'd introduce the new line."

Give me the Cruise in a size 32.

"That's what the professional festival is like -- Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, the premier ones for the North American industry."

But the Philly kind? Get to know us: "This is the type for people who appreciate good cinema. It creates a visual literacy."

Seeing is believing, and Jacobson believes.

"Philadelphia is the best-kept secret on the East Coast; the city is alive, bustling, beautiful," says the Ohio native/Haverford College graduate. "It's a great city that deserves a great festival."

Does it grate on his nerves when the industry talks up the dominance of the Seattle Film Festival as possibly the perkiest of the nation's film-fan favorites?

The Starbucks stop here.

"It rains a lot in Seattle," explains Jacobson of its popularity, showing that he has a reel sense of humor as well. "It drives people indoors."

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