SYRFILM 09 Gets Ready to Launch

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 04/19/09More articles
Friday morning was crisp and sunny. Half a dozen core staff of the Syracuse International Film Festival left their ground floor office on Warren Street for the grander Persian Terrace upstairs in the old Hotel Syracuse to speak with press, just a week before the official April 24th opening night of this year’s festival, the sixth. The first festival was visited by about 4,000 people, according to organizers, and last year by about 10,000.

One of this year’s major “facelifts” is the website, www.syrfilm.com, which offers on-line ticketing and a cross-indexed calendar of festival film programs and events. This is a major improvement over last year’s website. The MYSYRFILM function allows site visitors create and print their own customized festival schedule and then purchase and print their own tickets at home as well. Films are indexed alphabetically, by type and by interest area. Tickets are available from the website, in the festival office at Hotel Syracuse, 500 S. Warren Street (315.443.8826) and at the door of each screening.

This year’s festival offers 108 films from 30 countries, noted SYRFILM artistic director Owen Shapiro. Forty-one of those are feature length fiction or documentaries. This year’s festival has been tightened to 50 programs (last year’s had 90) in fewer venues.

Shapiro called the pre-screening process more selective and rigorous. And the leaner over-all program seems more thoughtfully and better designed too, both in the clusters of films offered together and with considerably fewer of the sometimes maddening conflicts in programming that plagued the festival in years past. This also means that highly regarded filmmakers - some who have traveled great distances to be here - may enjoy audiences that their work and reputations deserve at reasonable hours.

“Filmmakers tell us they enjoy being here,” said Christine Fawcett Shapiro, the festival’s executive producer. “They say it’s not all about being seen here. They like the chance to meet and talk with other filmmakers, and they like the chance to interact with our community. There is time to go for coffee at this festival.”

Although printed schedules are widely available, plus inserts in the Syracuse “New Times” and the “Post-Standard” Sunday “Stars” magazine, Shapiro cautioned that the website will continue to be most accurate. For example, the Serbian film “Tears for Sale” has since been added (it screens Sunday, 4/26 at 8:45 PM at the Eastwood Palace).

Shapiro noted that many parts of the program are family and youth oriented – the downtown Drive-in movies, animation programs at the MOST in Armory Square and others so labeled in the program - as well as a section of the program devoted to CNY filmmakers.

But he called three films in particular “controversial” in their content: “Exhausted,” which just won South Korea’s grand festival prize, “United Red Army” and “Tableau.” The program also labels some other screenings as “adult.”

Shapiro said that pioneering indie filmmaker Rob Nilsson receives a special tribute mini-retrospective for his 40 years of filmmaking, including his acclaimed "Northern Lights." Nilsson will be on hand at e four thscreenings of his films plus speak at a panel about politics and Hollywood.

SYRFILM also honors Italian producer-director Gian Vittorio Baldi with special screenings (check the festival website as this morning's "Post-Standard" lists the Baldi screenings incorrectly). Baldi arrives this week and will also meet with film students and others before the festival officially gets underway next Friday.

Milcho Manchevski’s “Shadows” – Macedonia’s Oscar entry this year – also screens in the fest.

Asked what would be the two or three “must-see” films, Shapiro at first said that was difficult.

“Subtitled movies are hard for people and that’s probably the first impediment. But we have some really good films here and I guarantee if people will give them a try, they’ll forget they’re reading subtitles. But I’d have to ask people what they’re curious about – for example, do they want to know how people from Russia view the world?”

He went on to say, “We do have some real hits. 'God’s Smile' from Russia. 'Benchwarmers' from Japan. 'Empties’ from the Czech Republic is being shown twice because people will really love this movie. 'Gimpel' is another one. Bobcat Goldthwaite’s 'World’s Greatest Dad' closes the festival. 'That Evening Sun' by Syracuse native Larsen Jay. The special screening of ‘Appaloosa’ will make quite an evening.”

Shapiro added, “The opening night screening of the original 1925 ‘Ben-Hur’ – a vintage silent film with a new, live jazz score – is also a signature event of this festival. This year composer J.C. Sanford, a visiting artist at LeMoyne, has written the new score and he’ll be there with the CNY Jazz orchestra. And we’ll have men in togas! Bill DeLapp from the ‘New Times’ for one. Jim Loperfido has lent us some costumes from his collection and he’ll talk about that a little.”

This year’s SYRFILM also offers a number of free forums and programs, and combines its closing awards ceremony with a party at Ohm Lounge Sunday evening, May 3rd.

(Nancy covers the arts and writes the film column, “Make it Snappy.” She was on this year’s Pre-screening Committee for SYRFILM. Watch for her continued coverage and comments on this year’s SYRFILM on-line and in the Syracuse City Eagle weekly each Thursday.)

TAGS: SYRFILM, movie festival, Syracuse
EDITION: The Eagle

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