For a guy with a shaved head and a well-deserved reputation as one of Philadelphia’s vanguard indie film gurus, Josh Goldbloom has an awfully strange fondness for big hair and Howard the Duck.
As the award-winning documentarian and Somerton native explains it, those 1980s vestiges and many others remind him of his own formative years, when his father — a public relations director for the now-defunct West Coast Video chain — brought home an endless supply of new releases, which Goldbloom spent countless hours watching.
“It was just like my whole childhood was movies, movies,” said Goldbloom, 32, during a recent interview with the Times. “Every single movie off the shelves, it didn’t matter what it was, I was putting into our VCR.”
In short, it was awesome being Josh in those days. For the next two months, all of Philadelphia will finally get to relive that awesomeness as the annual summer film festival that Goldbloom founded a couple of years ago showcases about 50 popular and perhaps lesser-known titles from the 1980s at venues across the city.
The Awesome Fest kicks off this Friday with a concert by The Psychedelic Furs — a band best known for the hit song “Pretty in Pink,” which inspired director John Hughes’ 1986 film of the same name — at the Trocadero Theatre. On the following night, presenting sponsor Parx Casino in Bensalem will host an outdoor screening of the film. Afterward, Parx will put on an ’80s Prom Night dance inside its 360 Lounge. Guests can choose to wear their period attire and big hair — or not.
Other films scheduled for the following weeks include box office blockbusters like Die Hard, Footloose, Top Gun, Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as an eclectic mix of films with more cultish followings like The Goonies, Purple Rain, Polyester and one of Goldbloom’s personal favorites, Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
In addition to the Troc in Chinatown and Parx, venues will include Drexel Park in University City, Liberty Lands in Northern Liberties, various Ritz theaters and Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Most of the showings will be outdoors, with “95 percent” free of charge, Goldbloom said. Some will be double features, while others will tie into live concerts or appearances by people involved in the films.
Goldbloom anticipates record attendance for the festival, which he began in 2011 as the Philadelphia Underground Film Festival with a handful of indie screenings at the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Northern Liberties.
“I think anyone can relate to films from the 1980s,” he said. “[They] just speak to unadulterated fun from that time. … I think this is more of a nostalgic thing for everyone. It’s like your comfort food for films.”
Ironically, Goldbloom has made perhaps his greatest splash in the film industry by removing audiences from their comfort zones. In 2005, he released the self-produced Heroin Town, a feature-length documentary chronicling his seven-month stay in a notorious Connecticut rooming house. The film won best documentary honors at the Los Angeles and Philadelphia film festivals.
In the aftermath of that success, Goldbloom moved to Austin, Texas, to join the healthy filmmaking community there. He then returned to Philly and involved himself in producing mostly independent film showings and festivals, using the large outdoor screen in the Piazza courtyard as his platform.
“I just had the concept, ‘Hey, let’s start taking independent films — these movies from Sundance and South by Southwest — and putting them on this grand scale, this huge platform,’” Goldbloom said. “One film turned into 10, [which] turned into a whole summer worth of films.”
Last summer, he decided to switch gears a bit and offer some mainstream oldies to contrast with the many underground Philadelphia premieres. He found that those wildly popular films of his youth were still wildly popular, perhaps even more so outdoors on a big screen, which sure beats a vintage VCR and 19-inch Trinitron set-up.
“We saw some of the best crowds we’ve ever seen,” said Goldbloom, who believes the films resonate well beyond the likable and compelling characters depicted on screen, or their skinny ties and polka dot mini-skirts.
“I don’t think people so much remember the film as [they remember] a time in their life that the film related to,” he said. ••
For information about The Awesome Fest, including a full schedule of events, visit www.theawesomefest.com. Follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter.
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To view an interview with Josh Goldbloom, visit the Northeast Times channel on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/NortheastTimes.