Philly film festival has everything from Hollywood suspense to indie docs

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"McCanick" set in Philadelphia, stars Cory Monteith in his last role as a harmless criminal who knows a secret about a narcotics detective played by David Morse. (Bleiberg Entertainment)

First, the numbers. In this, its 22nd year, the Philadelphia Film Festival (October 17–27), boasts 28 shorts and 96 features.

There will be suspense. PFF opens with J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost,” starring Robert Redford as a sailor overwhelmed by the elements in the Indian Ocean and closes with Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” featuring Kate Winslet as a divorced single mom overwhelmed by stranger Josh Brolin.

There will be stars. Bruce Dern will receive the Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award prior to the October 19 screening of Alexander Payne’s family drama “Nebraska,” starring Dern as an elderly father beset by dementia.

There will be family dramas. John Wells’ “August: Osage County” (also October 19), looks at a clan in the wake of its patriarch’s disappearance. Old grudges surfaces and new alliances entangle as each relative in the all-star cast unpacks his and her emotional baggage. Meryl Streep is the matriarch, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis her daughters, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard and Chris Cooper their extended family. Stephen Frears’ “Philomena” (October 23) chronicles the journey of a woman (Judi Dench) who hires an investigator (Steve Coogan) to help find the son she gave up for adoption 50 years ago. Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s “Like Father, Like Son” (October 24 & 27) Six years after a hospital mixup, two sets of parents realize their beloved six-year-olds are not their biological sons.

There will be Philadelphia stories. Jason Osder’s “Let the Fire Burn” (October 26) lets the archival footage speak for itself in his reconstruction of the standoff between Philadelphia law enforcement and the back-to-nature commune MOVE that led to the May 1985 bombing of Osage Avenue resulting in 11 deaths and the destruction of 61 houses. Tommy Oliver’s family drama “1982” (October 26 & 27) stars Sharon Leal and Hill Harper, and dramatizes how the new street drug, crack, threatens to break up a family in West Oak Lane. Josh C. Walker’s “McCanick” (October 26 & 27) stars David Morse and Cory Monteith (in his last role) respectively as a Philadelphia narcotics detective and a parolee with a secret about the detective’s past.

There will be international affairs. Justin Chadwick’s epic  “Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom” (October 23) stars the gifted Idris Elba as the South African freedom fighter in a biopic that spans his teenage years in a rural village to him becoming the first democratically-elected president of South Africa. Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” (October 20 & 22) stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulous as a teacher and student whose spark ignites into a passionate love affair. (PFF has spotlights on Francophone, Spanish-language and Eastern European cinema).

There will be retrospectives.  Terrence Malick’s ravishing 1978 masterpiece “Days of Heaven” (October 20), starring Sam Shepherd, Richard Gere and Brooke Adams respectively as a Depression-era farmer and his laborers will screen on the occasion of its 35th anniversary. Jonathan Demme’s heartfelt 1993 tale, “Philadelphia” (October 22) starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in a story of brotherly love in its many manifestations, will screen on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. (Demme will introduce the film.)

There will be documentaries. Errol Morris’ “The Unknown Known” (October 18) charts the career of Donald Rumsfeld and his role in framing the War on Terror. AJ Schnack’s Caucus (October 19) examines the GOP hopefuls in the 2012 Iowa primary, enabling us to see how Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum initially positioned themselves in the race to get elected leader of the free world. Jose Antonio Vargas’ and Ann Lupo’s “Documented” (October 23 & 24) is a portrait of Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who outed himself as an illegal alien in 2011, and how he seeks pathways to citizenship for other undocumented aliens.

There will be directorial debuts. American actor Keanu Reeves makes his first feature, the martial-arts “Man of Tai Chi”   (October 20 & 23) starring Tiger Hu; Italian actress Valeria Golino’s rookie directorial effort is “Miele” (October 24 & 25), a meditation about a suicide-assistant to the terminally-ill.

There will also be free tickets. The Wyncote Foundation is underwriting “PFF on Us,” a program that will make available a complimentary ticket to all films in the American Independents and Documentary categories of the Festival.

For more information, contact Philadelphia Film Festival or 267-908-4733.

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