The 2017 Cinedelphia Film Festival: Four Festival Must-Sees

It’s that time of year again. April. What does that mean for film fans? It’s the beginning of blockbuster season, right? Unfortunately. But it’s also the beginning of festival season! Between April and October every year there are dozens of film festivals happening internationally, each shining a light on films in its respective niche.

Philadelphia has a number of its own festivals that happen in various parts of the city during this time. Some are great, others not so much. The best festival for the last five years, however, has been the Cinedelphia Film Festival. An amalgam of genre fare, music documentaries, experimental features, live events, and all-around bugfuck craziness, the CFF doesn’t generally have a coherent theme. What is does have is an obsessive appetite for the weird. On any given night you could see something like a new wave-tinged horror musical about mermaids or a public access retrospective.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the Cinedelphia Film Festival is a one-of-a-kind experience. You aren’t going to see any of the films or events it books anywhere else in the city or probably even the region. It takes chances on things bigger festivals would overlook. That weird spirit deserves recognition. So in acknowledgment of that, here are four must-see events at this year’s festival.

Full Disclosure: I’ve programmed for the Cinedelphia Film Festival in the past, so of course I’m biased and going to believe it’s the best film festival in Philadelphia. Get over it.

BLUE VELVET REVISITED

Have you heard of David Lynch?  He’s apparently really popular. He did a few things back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I guess people are finally starting to come around. He’s a weird guy, huh?

Thanks to the ubiquity of Twin Peaks, Lynch has become more popular than ever with audiences and critics. Interest in his warped spin on the soap opera has grown such that it motivated Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost to revive the series for Showtime. Even more than that, though, it forced an entire generation of automatons plugged into streaming services to engage with Lynch’s other creative works. In the process, interest in his other films has grown. Mulholland Drive is now frequently cited as the best film of the 21st century. Some have even begun speculating that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a misunderstood masterpiece. But what about his commercial breakthrough Blue Velvet?

Until recently, the idea of a feature-length film about Blue Velvet seemed like a hard-sell. This might have been because making-of docs weren’t particularly popular outside of film circles. But, more likely, it was because one had already been made and there had been little interest in it outside of Lynch’s small cult following. In 1988, German filmmaker Peter Braatz released No Frank In Lumberton, an hour-long documentary about Blue Velvet which utilized footage and interviews he had shot while on-set during the film’s production. No Frank In Lumberton received a limited release in theaters and was never distributed commercially on home video or DVD.

Fast forward almost 30 years. In the wake of Lynch’s resurgent popularity, Braatz decided to revisit his project and make use of footage he had collected during Blue Velvet’s production but didn’t use for No Frank In Lumberton. The new film, Blue Velvet Revisited, is less straight narrative documentary than impressionistic video essay. It cobbles together the footage in a way that still wants to reveal deeper truths about Lynch and his film but its method isn’t focused on a staid narration or a rote delineation of factoids and on-set minutiae. In short, it’s not a puff piece. Blue Velvet Revisited works because it feels like it’s a part of the original document instead of something existing outside of it, trying to comment on it in a detached, nostalgic way that rings of cheap exploitation.

AN EVENING WITH NEIL BREEN

The most boring thing you could ever say about a work of art, be it film, music, a painting, whatever, is that it was “good.” That kind of judgment says nothing about the work itself, the intentions of the various parties involved in its creation, or anything about the creative process undertaken to will it into existence. Calling something “good” is the weak concession of a person unwilling or incapable of engaging with a work critically.

No critic or film obsessive would ever accuse Neil Breen of making “good” films, but that’s because they have no clue who Neil Breen is or the kind of art he is creating. Neil Breen doesn’t make “good” films. Neil Breen makes interesting films in the same way Hasil Adkins or Wesley Willis made interesting music. It’s the kind of stuff that offends people with good taste. The editing in his films is erratic, the dialogue repetitious, and shot composition downright bizarre. Neil Breen’s films are not interesting because they cohere to established norms or traditions in cinema, they’re interesting because they mangle those norms and traditions in such a way as to make them unrecognizable, creating a new alien vocabulary in which everything is exaggerated and nothing seems real. As a filmmaker, he clearly intends to evoke a complexity of emotions from his audience in the same way Kubrick or Lynch would through the use of abstract symbolism, but he’s so on-the-nose and literal in his approach that as a viewer you’re left more confused than anything else. By the end of one of his films, you’re questioning whether the world around you is your own or you’re trapped in his trapped in one of his hyperrealities.

Of course, the question now is… do you get Neil Breen? Find out by seeing his two most recent films, Fateful Findings and Pass-Thru, back-to-back and meeting the man himself as he introduces both and field questions about his creative process. Be sure to ask about the upcoming psychological thriller that he’s raising money for over on GoFundMe.

PUNK ROCK

This site is called Cinepunx, right? There should probably be at least one reference to a film about punk rock. Of course, I’m lazy so I decided to go with the most obvious example: a film called Punk Rock

Somewhere between The Decline of Western Civilization and the George C. Scott Calvinist revenge epic Hardcore resides Punk Rock. Originally conceived as a XXX feature to cash in on the porn chic craze of the mid ‘70s, the film was re-edited by adult film legend Carter Stevens to instead exploit the recent popularity of Saturday Night Fever. Most of the pornographic material was removed and in its place a murder mystery plot involving New York’s seedy nightlife and the underground sex trade was added. To strengthen the connection between the film’s content and its music-focused title, performance footage of local New York punk acts was filmed at Max’s Kansas City. Thus, Punk Rock was born.

In a time like today where punk bands and anyone associated with the culture (and even a few who aren’t) are more obsessed with authenticity than ever before, a film like Punk Rock seems almost novel. The transparent histrionics of its lurid plot and production history make it seem lazy and cynical. Once you move past the surface, however, you notice the film itself is revelatory. It’s ugly, loud, and stupid in all the right ways. It captures the abrasive affectations of early punk bands perfectly and acts as a time capsule which demythologizes the genre by violently ripping it out from behind from the sacred wall that has been erected around it through forty years of nauseating navel-gazing biopics and dramas.

Added bonus: Carter Stevens will even be in attendance to discuss the film and his career making adult features.

BORN OF WOMAN

The Fantasia Film Festival is one of the most consistently brilliant film festivals every year. It finds weird, obscure, and challenging works by unknown filmmakers and presents their material in innovative ways. It might do this by drawing lines between works which don’t necessarily have immediate connections so each film reveals something more about the others it has been paired with, or it might choose to acknowledge a need or gap that exists in its programming and work from there. Occasionally those two points intersect and you end up with something like Born of Woman.

A shorts showcase which finds female filmmakers exploring the body — human, alien, and otherwise — Born of Woman stitches together nine distinct visions into one stunning 90-minute program. The films move between a variety of formats including live action and stop-motion animation, but horror is front and center in each. This could mean something as fantastic as the occult, as in the visually-arresting Disco Inferno or the unsettling Venefica, or something situated in reality and deeply personal, such as with the tragic Static.

Born of Woman is making a trek across the border into Philadelphia for its U.S. premiere at Cinedelphia. Many of these shorts have played at other festivals, but not together, and definitely not like this. You could track them down individually when they maybe one day end up on Vimeo but why wouldn’t you go out and experience them together in a format which offers you the ability to see all nine at once?

Rob Skvarla

Rob Skvarla

Robert Skvarla is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. His focuses include conspiracy culture, fringe communities, and new religious movements. He has written for Diabolique Magazine, Atlas Obscura, and Philadelphia City Paper, and served as a programmer for the Cinedelphia Film Festival.
Rob Skvarla
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