Apparently I had been asleep at the wheel and missed the fact that the Philadelphia Film Festival had been going on since March 26th. Luckily at the last minute, I was still able to fit in some showings on the festival’s closing night on Monday, April 6th.
For a late matinee For My Father aka A Weekend in Tel Aviv showcased just the type of thoughtful independent filmmaking one comes to expect from a world class festival. The film delicately weaves the tale of a Palestinian suicide bomber who gets stuck in Tel Aviv after a botched job and befriends a young Jewish woman trying to escape her orthodox heritage. The screenplay boils down the complex issues of the Palestinian conflict to a simplistic, but ultimately humanistic and relatable level. The film shows how the telling of stories can form a bridge to healing wounds and features nice production values, a well placed sense of humor, and a likable cast portraying interesting characters easy to route for. As the characters’ back-stories are slowly revealed, some tighter control of the plot points and development would’ve done the film well, but it’s easy to overlook the narrative flaws when the rest of the film is so naturally compelling as it careens towards a harrowing conclusion.
For the final showing of the evening, it was a totally different type of film presented indicative of the vast diversity of films represented every year at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The horror flick I Sell the Dead (whose title sounds so much more intriguing if you say it with a There Will be Blood style Daniel Plainview accent) seemed a fitting choice to close the fest since Philly always likes to showcase horror films and it was at the 1st annual Philadelphia Film Festival many moons ago where Guillermo Del Toro first cast a blip on the American filmgoers’ radar with his Mexican vampire flick Cronos. Sadly, I Sell the Dead did not stand up to Del Toro’s high standards even though it featured a can’t miss plotline involving hapless grave robbers uncovering…dun dun dun…the UNDEAD.
The cool title aside, I Sell the Dead is one of those schlocky mish-mashes that tries way too hard as it clumsily marries old-school Hammer-era homage with Gilliam-esque silliness while being stylistically influenced by graphic novels. The film featured a distractingly bad sound design (which I assume could be fixed if it gets picked up by a larger studio) and so much fake fog blowing through its gothic Victorian set designs that it could make your eyes water. Though it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, I Sell the Dead contains just enough fun moments (like the goofy vampire bit and lovely Fanny’s back-story as a “wrecker”) that I imagine it could still develop a small cult following. I for one will be no part of said cult.
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Written by David H. Schleicher
Dave — I’m proud of you for sitting through those films. I have a hard time with independent films, although – as an indie author – I should be less ignorant. But your review of I Sell the Dead just tells me not to waste my time. Thanks for sharing!
Rebecca, as an indie author, I definitely feel a certain camaraderie with independent filmmakers. Film fests can still be fun even if it’s pot-luck with the quality of the films. –DHS
To my shame, I’ve never been to the film festival. Someday, I’d love to go—and I actually did come close once. I almost went to see the Metallica documentary, “Some Kind of Monster,” at the Prince. Through some mix-up with the passes, I ended up not attending.
I did, however, make it to the final round of the 2004 Set In Philadelphia screenplay contest. I think it mainly had to do with the “local boy giving foriegn girl a tour of the city” montage about 30 pages in, as opposed to the script’s quality. I still feel it’s one revision away from being great. Alas, I still need to make that revision.
Chris, sounds like you are long overdue to make that last revision. I’ve yet to work up the nerve to attempt a screenplay so I give you mad props for that and for entering it in that contest. –DHS