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Interview: Andrew Greenblatt and Michael Lerman Discuss The Philadelphia Film Festival

The Philadelphia Film Festival is now celebrating its 25th Anniversary, over 110 feature length and short films, each selected from multiple international festivals throughout the year. Philadelphia Film Society Executive Director Andrew Greenblatt and Artistic Director Michael Lerman sat down with Cut Print Film to talk about PFF 25.

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CUT PRINT FILM: So this is the 25th year. That’s a that’s a big deal. What, if anything, is different about this year?

ANDREW GREENBLATT: I don’t know if I’d say drastically different. I mean, we we’ve had our eyes on it for a few years and we wanted to make it the big, the best program we’ve done yet and I think we’ve succeeded in that. You know, there’s a couple of new additions this year and they’re not necessarily related to it just being the 25th so much as related to the world around us. We have this section called “State of the Union”, which looks at — it has four films in it and they’re each addressing key issues that are facing the country and they’re all followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and other people. It’s our way to try to help educate people about these issues before the election, which is 10 days after the festival. We… other things that might be more extensive than that program, along with the American Independent section and the documentary showcase section, are all free and they’re they’re part of the PFS On Us program, which is our free ticketing program that is in the festival and year round supported by PNC Arts Alive and has been supported by the Wyncote Foundation as well. And so having those programs be bigger is something that I’m really happy about at 25.

MICHAEL LERMAN: We just try to make it bigger and better than ever. And we’re doing the 25 for 25 program this year, which is 25 movies from our past festivals that we’re showing, and two of them are actually in the festival, Night on Earth??? by Jim demerge, which was a great little ie-in because we have two new films by him, and then also Deckologue, which has a brand new 4k transfer, for its 10 hours… One screening, lunch break, dinner break.

CUT PRINT FILM: Can you walk me through how the festival comes together? Give me like the “inside baseball” info if you can.

ANDREW GREENBLATT: You know, it’s like it’s like anything else — you’re looking for content. Look at what’s out there. You go to other festivals and you take submissions and you speak to everyone you know and find out like what’s out there, what’s possible, what do we want to do, and then we try and do all the things we want to do.

MICHAEL LERMAN: We watch what’s acquired, what distributor is doing what, and when they’re slating things and if things move — I mean,  we’re watching for next year already, and we know some of the [2017] films that we’ll target.

ANDREW GREENBLATT: You try to figure out what’s the most well-rounded program, where it’s going to have something for everyone. We’re covering 23 countries this year, so trying to get as many territories as possible. And then also just negotiation — a lot of negotiation.

CUT PRINT FILM: Does that eat up most of the time?

ANDREW GREENBLATT: Yeah, I mean watching and eating up and negotiating eats up all of the work day. And then we manage to do everything else!

CUT PRINT FILM: Going forward, what are some of the goals you have in mind for the festival in general? Where do you go from here? Do you keep going on the same path or –?

ANDREW GREENBLATT: You know, I think that everything has an end point — like there is a point at which we won’t continue to grow — we’ll continue to innovate but we won’t continue to grow, we won’t get bigger or we won’t try to go for premieres. We won’t try to be a festival of a different established nature. But we will always try to present the same program. The good thing is it’s not like– I mean, we talk about 25 years and we’re celebrating that and that’s really awesome. But at the same time it’s 25 years of — it’s actually sort of like making 25 movies, in a way. It’s not like, “how are you going to make the next movie and what’s this movie in relation to the next movie?” It’s like, “What is the next movie going to be?” And so, what is the next program going to be? What is the next great festival that we’re going to put on? So it’s not like growing 100 percent as kind of an institution and saying, you know, how’s it going to change versus what’s going to be great this year versus what was great last year, [or] what was great the year before. And even if they’re equally great, I won’t feel like we’re repeating ourselves so much as we’re just doing new things and doing new great things.

CUT PRINT FILM:  So this year, what are you both like most excited about film-wise? 

MICHAEL LERMAN: That’s such a big question. It’s such a like…trying to choose your child….

ANDREW GREENBLATT: It’s really tough. I mean, there’s so many great films. I say every year that this is our best program ever, and the fact that I can then say that the next year means that we’ve produced an even better program. Well, I can definitively say it again this year: this is our best program ever. And you can look at the categories, and I don’t think we’ve never had a masters of cinema category this full this impressive, and we’ve never had centerpieces in the festival that were this substantial. It’s just building and that theme runs through everything. I think every category is at the top of its game, so [it’s] really hard to choose a single film. I’m really excited for our opening night. I’m really excited for our closing night. And I’m pretty excited for anything in between. It’s just a really exciting year.


The Philadelphia Film Festival runs through October 30th. This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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Chris Evangelista is Executive Editor of Cut Print Film & co-host of the Cut Print Film Podcast. He's also contributed to The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413

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