Philadelphia, PA may not be the first, or even second or third location a person may associate with Independent Film Festivals, but with the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival (PIFF), now in its sixth year, that could soon change.
On a hot and humid day in early June, Ben Barnett, the festival's founder, and graphic designer Mike Lasater are working out some of the final details at their headquarters, The Raven Lounge, a dark Edgar Allan Poe inspired bar on Sansom Street.
"We just confirmed the North American premier of In The House of the Flies with Henry Rollins." Barnett tells Lasater, who then becomes busy framing an announcement as Press Secretary James DiFonzo enters with glass bottles of Rosewater Lemonade. The Gabriel Carrer directed horror film starring Rollins was a last-minute addition to an already exciting and diverse list of screenings. Starting June 26, the more than 75 films will be shown in six different locations in and around Philadelphia.
In The House Of The Flies, directed by Gabriel Carrer.
"We support people." Barnett says of the fundamental drive behind the festival, its programming and the films chosen. He sees supporting the people creating artistic works as facilitating an extremely free and expressive environment, which then pushes the boundaries of cinematic art.
"What appeals to a person like me is these films aren't made to appeal to the masses. The advantage is that the filmmaker has more freedom to address certain social issues, such as human rights, the economy and other topics often overlooked by mainstream entertainment." Screening committee member Mike Salvi explains as his motivation for being involved in the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival for the past few years.
For Screening Chair Melissa O'Donnell "Freedom, voice, camaraderie and expansion. The Philadelphia Independent Film Festival truly embodies the independent spirit." One of O'Donnell's favorites in the festival is Black Tulip, directed by Sonia Nassery Cole. "It's a fantastic Story about freedom of expression and equality of women in Afghanistan under the threat of the Taliban. What makes it so unique is that it was completely shot in Afghanistan by a woman, where such things are forbidden."
The film met with some criticism upon its release in 2010, when Cole explained that she took on the lead role in the film when the originally selected actress was severely maimed prior to filming. The account has been confirmed and denied many times in the years since, but despite the reasoning for Cole taking the part, the film is one of a handful ever filmed in Afghanistan. This could be some Philadelphians only chance to see such a film.
Black Tulip, directed by Sonia Nassery Cole.
Another festival highlight is Girl from the South directed by Jose Luis Garcia, which documents moments during the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in North Korea, focusing on Lim Soo-kyung, a young South Korean woman also known as The Flower of Reunification. Lim traveled to the conference without permission from the South Korean government, a move that lead to her arrest upon her return home. In 2005, Lim's 9 year old son tragically died when he drown in the Philippines while on a class trip. She currently serves as a Representative in the South Korean National Assembly and a large-scale protest developed as a response to a recording of her making comments about North Koreans during an argument in 2012.
The festival runs from June 26 through the 30 at various locations in and around Philadelphia. Go to the website for full listings of screenings and ticket purchasing information or call (215) 592-1242.