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Philadelphia Film Festival
By Stephen Silver

Film

2022 Philadelphia Film Festival Feature Roundup

Philadelphia Film Festival 2022

The Philadelphia Film Festival wrapped up its 31st edition at the end of October, surprisingly having to compete against a Philadelphia Phillies’ run to the World Series. Not since 2009 had the Phillies still been alive even at the start of PFF; Game 1 of the World Series was played Friday night, opposite the festival’s closing night. 

The film opened with The Banshees of Inisherin and closed with All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, with “centerpieces” including several of the year’s major awards contenders, including White Noise, Armageddon Time, Till, The Whale, and  Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Here are some of the festival’s most notable feature films: 

Brojer
Image: NEON

Broker 

Another Korean stunner from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), Broker has a premise that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen: It’s a heartwarming drama about a chosen family of child traffickers.

The film stars Sang Kang-ho (from Parasite) and Gang Dong-won as two men who run a business where they take abandoned babies from a drop-off site at a church and sell them to families. They meet up with a young mother (Lee Ji-eun) who has abandoned her baby and eventually with a soccer-obsessed kid (Im Seung-so). Meanwhile, two detectives are on their trail. 

Is the plot sort of creepy? Sure it is, especially at a time when trafficking conspiracies have all but taken over American politics. But Kore-eda pulls it off. 

Broker is set to arrive at the end of December. 

Philadelphia Film Festival - How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Image: NEON

How to Blow Up a Pipeline 

This film showed in the “Green Screen” program at PFF, which is traditionally marked by earnest documentaries about climate change and the stories of environmental activists.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is not that- for one thing, it’s not a documentary, and for another, it’s structured more like a heist or caper film. 

The film, directed by Daniel Goldhaber – who made 2018’s excellent CAM — follows a group of young activists who get together to, yes, blow up a pipeline in West Texas. Played by the likes of  Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Marcus Scribner, and Jake Weary, the activists each have roles to play, as well as flashbacks to their backstories that shed light on their motives. 

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is great at telling its story, sporting fantastic filmmaking and storytelling chops, and the film absolutely works as a thriller. Where it’s a bit less successful is in making the case that the type of work they’re doing is effective. 

When I saw the film, I expected it would be one of those movies each year that leads to intense arguments about depiction and endorsement, and that the film would be accused, falsely, of wanting to literally blow up pipelines. But then I read up on it, and the film is based on a book that, yes, appears to earnestly argue for just that. 

I feel like if the events of this film happened in real life, the result wouldn’t be environmental justice. More likely, it would make gas cost $6 or $7 a gallon, leading to a Republican electoral blowout and a long-term zeroing-out of renewable energy funding. 

The film is set to arrive in theaters sometime later this year. 

Philadelphia Film Festival - Holy Spider
Image: Utopia

Holy Spider 

Speaking of incendiary, Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider is just that. It’s based on the true story of a serial killer (Mehdi Bajestani), active in Iran in the early 2000s, who murdered 16 sex workers, all with the defense that he was acting with a religious motive. It’s kind of like if Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gary or the BTK Killer had performed their killing sprees, and gotten some segment of society to defend and excuse their crimes. 

Zar Amir Ebrahimi, herself an exile from that country, stars in the film as a journalist tracking the killer, and the film has some angry things to say about how women are treated in Iranian society- something that’s timely, considering that protests are ongoing in that country about just that issue.  

The Iranian regime is said to be upset about Holy Spider; their objection is the best endorsement I can imagine. 

Holy Spider opened in some theaters at the end of October. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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