PIFF provides a good look at local talent with 'Close-Up'

The Phil­adelphia In­de­pend­ent Film Fest­iv­al will screen 'Close-Up,' a film fea­tur­ing a loc­al dir­ect­or and act­or.


At its start, the Phil­adelphia In­de­pend­ent Film Fest­iv­al aimed to keep all of the fests screen­ings with­in the cozy con­fines of North­ern Liber­ties.

For the first three years, the fest­iv­al’s or­gan­izers largely stuck to that for­mula, with non-tra­di­tion­al ven­ues like Wood­shop Films, North Bowl Lounge ’N’ Lanes and the re­cently closed Ar­bol Caf&ea­cute; hold­ing screen­ings for audi­ences of vari­ous sizes.

This year, however, for their fourth in­stall­ment they de­cided it was time to break that pat­tern after they got wind of a po­ten­tially huge part­ner, one they knew they could not pass up: The Frank­lin In­sti­tute.

“They are world-premier­ing Cars 2 at the same time, so it’s us and Dis­ney,” said the fest­iv­al’s dir­ect­or, Ben Barnett with a laugh. “It’s really ex­cit­ing.”

“It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause there is a per­cep­tion out there of what the [Frank­lin In­sti­tute] is, as there is with all these in­sti­tu­tions, but they are all try­ing to at­tract young­er, di­verse crowds,” Barnett ex­plained. “Run­ning a fest­iv­al like this through one of the best screens in the city is fant­ast­ic.”

One of the things Barnett and his fel­low or­gan­izers aimed to do was book each PIFF ven­ue with dis­tinct con­tent so people at­tend­ing would know wheth­er they wanted to see a film or not.

“Last year, we star­ted an an­im­a­tion fest­iv­al with­in the fest­iv­al and it was huge,” Barnett ex­plained. “We got to look at the ven­ues and see how they work to­ward pro­mot­ing the films. If they liked it, people got to know if they went to a cer­tain ven­ue, they would see a cer­tain kind of film.”

This year, they de­cided to ex­pand on that no­tion.

For in­stance, an­oth­er new ven­ue is the Raven Lounge in Cen­ter City, a ven­ue with a com­edy bent.

“We wanted to fo­cus more on com­ed­ies this year so we are screen­ing all of our com­ed­ies at the Raven,” said Barnett. “We are also hav­ing an am­a­teur open mike for comedi­ans after the screen­ings, so if you like com­edy, go to the Raven.”

While the or­gan­izers have their own ideas about how they would fill the sched­ule, most times they have to go with whatever is the best con­tent sub­mit­ted. 

“One thing we get is a lot of people try­ing to make nar­rat­ive drama,” ex­plained Barnett. “Get­ting am­a­teur act­ors and first-time act­ors to do drama is really dif­fi­cult. The irony is that all the first-time dra­mas that don’t work, they all look alike. That’s the dir­ect­or’s fault and it shows.”

So when the fest­iv­al’s de­cision-makers saw Close-Up, a film writ­ten and dir­ec­ted by Philly’s Jose Cruz Jr. and largely cast with loc­al tal­ent, they knew they had to screen the film.

“This story is a real re­demp­tion story. It pro­voked a real dia­logue about mak­ing movies — about the story it­self — which, to me, was per­fect for a film fest­iv­al,” Barnett said.

The film fol­lows a once-as­pir­ing act­or who is fight­ing a drug ad­dic­tion and oth­er out­side in­flu­ences while try­ing to find his place in the world.

“The reas­on I came up with Close-Up was, I shot this short film for my seni­or thes­is which won Best Dra­mat­ic Short Film at the New York In­ter­na­tion­al Film and Video Fest­iv­al,” said Cruz. “That got me a man­ager and meet­ings in Hol­ly­wood.”

As Cruz ex­plained, though, the lime­light quickly shif­ted off of him and he could not get the at­ten­tion needed to get a start out west.

“I was at a point where I was really de­pressed,” he ex­plained. “I de­cided to write something small that I could fund my­self. I took bits and pieces from people I know. Any­one that’s a starving artist deals with a lot of down­falls.”

It was about the time that he was writ­ing this that he got an e-mail from an old act­or friend.

“A film we worked on to­geth­er was be­ing il­leg­ally down­loaded, so I sent him an e-mail to check it out,” Brides­burg nat­ive Shaun Cos­tello said of his re­in­tro­duc­tion to Cruz. “He asked me what I was up to.”

The rest was a pretty quick pro­cess.

“Jose gave me the script and we ba­sic­ally had three weeks to pre­pare be­cause we had to film on New Year’s Eve.”

To be more ac­cur­ate, they had to film in New York City — in Times Square — on New Year’s Eve.

“We knew if we didn’t have that scene, we didn’t have a film,” noted Cruz. “Once that was in the can, we knew we had the film. We just had to shoot it.”

They were able to cut down on some of the pre-pro­duc­tion work by de­cid­ing to film on new di­git­al cam­er­as, roughly the size of a foot­ball or smal­ler, as well as us­ing much of the cast from an­oth­er film Cos­tello had just fin­ished work­ing on.

This cut down on a lot of the lo­gist­ic­al and time-con­sum­ing is­sues that usu­ally plague the start of a movie’s pro­duc­tion sched­ule.

The film takes place in New York, Philly and Los Angeles and was filmed in just 12 non-con­sec­ut­ive days over the first few months of 2010.

“It wasn’t a lot of time, es­pe­cially for a movie that was so emo­tion­al,” ex­plained Cos­tello, who went to St. John Can­ti­us and Fath­er Judge High School.

The film has already screened in both New York and Los Angeles, tak­ing home the Audi­ence Choice Award for Best Dra­mat­ic Fea­ture at the Staten Is­land Film Fest­iv­al. 

The PIFF screen­ing marks its ho­met­own de­but.

“This is kind of a test­a­ment to the Phil­adelphia spir­it,” Cos­tello said. “You don’t need celebrit­ies and a big budget to make a good in­de­pend­ent movie. You just need a bunch of tal­en­ted, mo­tiv­ated people.” ••

See­ing Close-Up

Close-Up will screen at Me­dia Bur­eau, 725 North Fourth St. in North­ern Liber­ties, on Thursday, June 23, at 6 p.m.

The Phil­adelphia In­de­pend­ent Film Fest­iv­al is tak­ing place through Sunday.

For full fest­iv­al lineup vis­it ht­tp://phil­adelphi­ainde­pend­ent­filmfest­iv­al.com/


You can reach at mgodfrey@bsmphilly.com.

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