Film Festival highlights

Posted by on October 17, 2011

Below is a listing of films playing in the Philadelphia Film Festival that might be of particular interest to PHENND members.  Thanks to J. Lansing Sylvia for pulling this together.


Screenings: Monday, October 24th @ 7:45pm

SPECIAL POST-SCREENING DISCUSSION with celebrated director Jonathan Demme!

Filmmaker Jonathan Demme’s fantastic new documentary chronicles five years in the life of Carolyn Parker, a remarkable resident of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, as she struggles to rebuild her life following Hurricane Katrina.
We meet Carolyn, a retired single mother, just months after the devastating hurricane destroyed her home and the city of her birth. But even in these harsh times, her indomitable spirit shines through. Carolyn was the last to leave when the floodwaters threatened her home and she was the first to return after they subsided. We watch her challenge Mayor Ray Nagin and the city’s restoration committee with a simple resolve: they’ll tear down her house over her dead body. The film never paints Carolyn as a victim, and we watch as she and her daughter work together to bring life back to their struggling community, working to rebuild their local church as well. In her efforts she becomes one of the leading voices in the fight to protect the rights of every citizen of New Orleans.

Screenings: Tuesday, October 25th @ 7:45pm and Wednesday, October 26th @ 5:25pm

Radically re-examining the traditional narratives about public housing in America, THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH paints a vivid picture of the urban decline in post-war America and how, in a myriad of simple ways, the residents of housing projects like Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis fought back against the larger forces aligned against them.
The Pruitt-Igoe housing project was built in 1954 as the solution to overcrowding in the inner city of St. Louis. Two decades later, the implosion of the buildings became an international symbol for the failures of public housing. THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH takes this unexamined narrative and blows it up through a collection of individual stories from residents of the development, which counteract the official story of life inside the project and why it failed. With a mix of stirring archival footage and profound personal recollections, this indictment of the system that created the housing project is a galvanizing look at how prejudices affect the lives of poor, urban Americans.

Screenings: Sat. Oct 2nd @ 2:30pm and Thurs Nov 3rd @ 5:30pm

SPECIAL POST-SCREENING DISCUSSION with director Heather Courtney!

From a snowy, small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the mountains of Afghanistan and back again, WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM follows three childhood friends and their community, forever changed by a faraway war.
Employment options in Hancock were limited in 2007 when best friends Dominic Fredianelli, Cole Smith and Matt “Bodi” Beaudoin graduated from high school. At first glance, the $20,000 signing bonus and college tuition support offered by the National Guard looked like a good deal. They signed up, and, all too soon, were active duty soldiers looking for roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Hancock native Courtney has extraordinary access, and creates an intimate, sensitive, coming of age film – filming the guys for nearly two years when they were regular 19 and 20-year-olds, going with them when they were deployed, and showing the effects on those left behind. The three 23-year old veterans return home, changed and disillusioned, and suffering, like so many other vets, from Traumatic Brain Injury while struggling to reconnect with their lives.

Screenings: Sunday, October 23 @ 2:45pm and Monday, October 24 @ 2:30pm

SPECIAL POST-SCREENING DISCUSSION with directors Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman!

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is a groundbreaking personal exploration of the community and family divisions that are redefining American Jewish identity and politics.

Filmed in the United States and Israel, this first-person documentary begins with a near riot at the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (founded 30 years previously by director Deborah Kaufman). The question of who speaks for “the American Jewish People” arises repeatedly, as the film reveals the agonizing battle over divestment from Israel on a university campus, and shows the crackdown on dissent in Israel itself. By putting themselves and their personal histories on the line and by including spokespeople from many perspectives, Snitow and Kaufman illuminate an urgent and passionate debate with high stakes.


Screenings: Saturday, October 29th @ 5:05pm and Wednesday, November 2nd @ 10:05pm
Trailer:    N/A

SPECIAL POST-SCREENING DISCUSSION with directors Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh!

Like a real life Law & Order episode, this fascinating and enthralling documentary examines the tactics used by modern law enforcement to coerce a confession out of a suspect.

Following a lead on a brutal child abuse allegation, two determined detectives picked up Adrian Thomas of Troy, NY late one night. They brought him into the station and asked him if he wanted to waive his Miranda rights, not knowing that this would lead to the videotaping of what became a long and painful interview in which Thomas would finally confess to neglectful parenting that lead to the physical harm of his child. But was this confession coaxed out of him? Are there circumstances in which someone can be convinced to lie and confess to heinous crime they did not commit? Relying primarily on the 10-hours of interrogation video that the detectives amassed for the jury over the course of two days, Babcock and Hadaegh pose tough questions and let you decide the answers. How much is too far and where do we draw the line between inquisition, suggestion and manipulation?

Screenings: Sunday, October 30th @ 3:25pm
Trailer:    N/A

The latest documentary film from prolific filmmaker Werner Herzog, INTO THE ABYSS is a powerful film marking Herzog’s first examination of a crime story.
INTO THE ABYSS focuses on a triple homicide case that occurred ten years ago in Conroe, Texas. The convicted killers were two teenagers, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, with history of substance abuse and violent bravado. Despite denials of guilt, unlike the PARADISE LOST trilogy (also in the Festival), Herzog does not discredit the verdict or argue for their innocence. Instead, he examines the results of the crime, including the psyches of the people involved; be it the perpetrators, their relatives, victim’s families, law enforcement individuals and those required to carry out the execution. INTO THE ABYSS delivers stripped, naked moments of shocking, brutal honesty that show a variety of powerful emotions, including regret, redemption and irrational behavior.

Screenings: Monday, October 24th @ 5:00pm and Monday, October 31st @ 5:10pm

SPECIAL POST-SCREENING DISCUSSION with director Michael Collins!

Caught in a Kafka-esque web of corruption and injustice, Paco Larrañaga has been in jail since his 1997 wrongful arrest and conviction for the rape-murder of two sisters on the island of Cebu in the Philippines.

Compelling and coherent, GIVE UP TOMORROW is a much stranger-than-fiction story of interlocking relationships, flamboyantly corrupt public officials, false evidence, drug dealers, cops on the take and a media circus of tabloid proportions. Remnants of colonialism, chasms of race, class and political power permeating Filipino culture affect the workings of its tumultuous democracy. At “the nation’s trial of the century” Paco, then a 19-year-old culinary student, received a sentence of life imprisonment, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. The night of the murder, he was far away in Manila, on a different island, at a party surrounded by dozens of witnesses. In 2004, his sentence was changed to death. Paco has endured years of heartbreak, one day at a time, as human rights groups and outraged supporters from around the world fight for his release. The Philippines abolished the death sentence in 2006. Paco, now 34, is in a prison in Spain.

Screenings: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS on Thursday, October 27th @ 1pm, REVELATIONS @ 4:15pm, PURGATORY @ 7:10pm

In 1993, three teenagers were accused of killing three younger boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., known collectively as the West Memphis 3, maintained their innocence, yet they were convicted and remain in prison, one of them on death row.

PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS began as an attempt to follow the arrests and subsequent murder convictions of three teenagers and to understand why they might commit such a horrendous crime. The film quickly transformed into something much more significant. Discovering the case was built on false evidence, coerced confessions, perjured testimony, police misconduct, and a judicial system that considers the teens guilty until they are proven innocent, PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS instead became an exploration of unjust indictment as the accused teenagers, unfairly depicted in the media as satanic cult followers, were made into scapegoats by a community anxious to deliver a guilty verdict.

In PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS, Berlinger and Sinofsky continued their investigation as Damien Echols, who was sentenced to death by lethal injection, appeals his sentence. Finding new evidence which disputes Echols and his compatriots’ involvement in the crime, Berlinger and Sinofsky likewise begin accumulating evidence against an alternate suspect, Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the murder victims. Despite a criminal record, a history of weapon use and a wife who died under suspicious circumstances, Byers was never prosecuted.

In PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY, Berlinger and Sinofsky reveal new DNA evidence which points away from Byers to another, previously neglected suspect. More astoundingly, however, is that the film now culminates with the exoneration and release of the West Memphis 3 due to this new DNA evidence, validating the 18-year unyielding investigation by Berlinger and Sinofsky which directly resulted in the freeing three innocent young men.


Screenings: Friday, October 28th @ 2:15pm and Sunday, October 30th @2:15pm


With the incidence and intensity of bullying rising at an alarming pace over the last few years, Lee Hirsch’s expansive, cinematic, and above all, sensitive exploration of the causes and consequences of the phenomenon could not have come soon enough.
While bullying has been receiving increasing coverage in the news, particularly in tragic situations where a harassed child or teen has been driven to suicide, we are rarely able to truly understand what goes on firsthand. In THE BULLY PROJECT, Hirsch gains incredible access to schools across the country to document a year in the life of several kids suffering physical or emotional torment at the hands of their peers. The film shows not only the shocking extent of the bullying, but also the fact that in many situations school administrators unknowingly exacerbate the problem by dismissing bullying as at best innocuous and at worst character-building. THE BULLY PROJECT is not just a poignant, fascinating movie, but also a powerful plea for change, starting with an acceptance of the seriousness of the situation.

Screenings: Sunday, October 23rd @ 12:30pm and Tuesday, October 25th @ 2:40pm

SPECIAL POST-SCREENING DISCUSSION with director Roland Legiardi-Laura!

Three teenage friends from the Bronx tell their stories of friendship, love and struggle, showing how a radical poetry class can ignite change.
Karina, Pearl and Anthony are in an alternative poetry workshop called Power Writing. Its motto is: “If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you.” By writing and reciting their poetry, the students articulate their realities and dreams, striving to create their future. Academy Award winning director Deborah Shaffer joined them at a Power Writing performance. The filmmakers “believe the impact of empowering the creative voices of youth and guiding their energy toward social engagement will lead to a more literate, ethical, critically minded citizenry, without which democracy is little more than a sham.”

Screenings: Saturday, October 22nd @ 12:00pm and Wednesday, November 2nd @ 5:00pm


Following a group of high school students in southern California, SHAKESPEARE HIGH chronicles their journeys as they grow as people and create moving works of drama for the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Shakespeare Festival.
With backgrounds that include poverty, drugs and gangs, the characters of SHAKESPEARE HIGH exist as fully realized portraits in director Alex Rotaru’s story of the triumph of education. Along the way we hear insights from many of the famed alumni of the Festival, including Richard Dreyfuss, Mare Winningham, and Kevin Spacey as they discuss the challenges and cuts to arts education since their childhoods. We watch these students battle with both the difficulties of their lives and the call of their dreams; their shared struggles become our own.

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