The movie menu is tantalizing for the eighth annual Syracuse International Film Festival
By Bill DeLapp
Even with a national economy that is anything but robust, the Syracuse International Film Festival forges onward, spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of cinema. And that’s an understatement.
Owen Shapiro, the fest’s artistic director and a film professor at Syracuse University, and his steadfast spouse—and the fest’s managing director—Christine Fawcett-Shapiro, spent the summer in Bologna, Italy, to coordinate the new SU Abroad program for student filmmakers. Although the couple was in sunny Italy, alas, they had to spend much of their time in the dark in order to attend various film bashes (including a Howard Hawks retrospective), but the Shapiros also invited a number of those Italian festival entries to compete in the Salt City showcase. Talk about hands across the water.
The Syracuse blowout’s eighth annual edition, which runs Thursday, Oct. 13, through Sunday, Oct. 16, features 50 separate movie programs (five more than in 2010 and back up to the 2009 level) at various venues. Each program runs about two hours, many with a main feature and a short subject or two.
Screening locations are pretty much status quo from last year, too, with Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St. (463-9240), functioning as the movie mothership plus more support from The Redhouse, 201 S. West St. (425-0405), and campus shows at Watson Auditorium, 316 Waverly Ave., on the SU Hill, and Le Moyne College’s Grewen Auditorium, 1419 Salt Springs Road (445-4350). This year’s newbies are Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St. (479-5299), which fields a Thursday-to-Sunday slate, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 246 W. Willow St. (476-4937), presenting some midnight specials on Friday and Saturday nights.
This week’s fest might lack the considerable star power of the 2010 incarnation, when the hunky likes of Ed Harris and Steven Bauer (plus the chunky yikes! of Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore and and his alleged comedy routine) were bopping around the burg. And that’s OK for Owen Shapiro, who at a recent SIFF fundraising soiree had dubbed the 2011 version “the year of the director.”
So expect an ample amount of auteurs on hand, such as director Hue Rhodes discussing his flick Saint John of Las Vegas (Thursday, 7 p.m., Palace), starring Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi in a tale of gambling, insurance fraud and bizarro characters. Rhodes will be accompanied by co-star Romany Malco, a music producer-turned-thespian who spat out the rapidfire raps for the 1989 Paula Abdul clubland hit “Opposites Attract” —maybe he’ll sing a few bars during the question-answer session if you ask him real nice.
Plenty of old friends will return to the festival. Also on Thursday’s Saint John bill will be My Home, a 20-minute animated short from the computer whizzes at the Oneida Indian Nation’s Four Directions Productions, and they will be discussing the cartoon’s creation. Coming back for another SIFF chat will be Cynthia Slavens, director of image mastering at Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, as she presides over “Female Characters in Pixar Films” (Sunday, 1 p.m., Palace), which should feature details on next summer’s femme-centric Pixar release Brave.
Robert M. Young apparently can’t get enough of Syracuse, either. The longtime director will hang out with the audiences who attend his Human Error (Saturday, Oct. 15, 3 p.m., Redhouse) and the aheadof-its-time 1964 race drama Nothing But a Man (Saturday, 7:15 p.m., Palace). Worka holic actor Tom Bower likes it here, too, and he’ll be back for more: As a festival fixture for several years, whether he’s part of an acting ensemble in a fest entry or as a SIFF judge or loyal board member, Bower deserves an award just for being such a super mensch.
The festival will also be something of a homecoming for several SU alums. Screenwriter Rob Edwards will accompany the showing of the Disney cartoon The Princess and the Frog (Sunday, 3 p.m., Palace) and also partakes in the daily writing workshops held at the Redhouse. At the exact same time as the Edwards event, fellow graduate Jason Richter—whose promotional firm handles theatrical advertising—will offer a lecture on “The Short Story: Art of the Trailer” (Sunday, 3 p.m., Jazz Central). And if Richter can explain why every coming attraction must feature plot giveaways galore and the crème-dela-comic one-liners, I’m all ears.
festival’s biggest drawing screening of a silent wedded to a new score and crack ensemble of year offers a work comveteran Philip Rothunderscore the thrills of director D.W. Griffith’s 1920 melodrama Way Down East, the one with actress Lillian Gish stranded atop an ice floe that’s headed for a waterfall. The Palace will screen the epic on Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m. And throughout the weekend will be a selection of silent short subjects sprinkled amid various programs, featuring long-ago works by Mack Sennett, Bron cho Billy Anderson and pioneering animator Windsor McCay.
More key events to remember include the annual Carol North Schmuckler New Filmmakers Showcase on Saturday at 9:45 p.m., at SU’s Watson Auditorium, featuring seven short subjects created by students of SU’s Visual Performing Arts program. (The late Schmuckler always used to create homemade chocolates as gifts to present to the showcase’s panel of judges, which once included the opinions of the late Joan E. Vadeboncouer from the Syracuse Newspapers.) Over at Le Moyne, seven films will be presented as part of the fifth annual series on “Global Cinema and Social Justice” on Saturday at noon, 2:30 and 5 p.m., at Grewen Auditorium.
A daylong series devoted to “Imaging Disability in Film” features three separate Watson screenings on Saturday at 1, 3 and 5:30 p.m., plus the chance to see martial-arts superstar Jet Li putting aside his celebrated kicks to tackle a dramatic role in the autism-themed feature Ocean Heaven (Saturday, 5:15 p.m., Palace). And the Palace will host separate midnight screenings of the new-school cult classic The Last Circus (Friday, Oct. 14) and the grisly 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes (Saturday), one of the umpteen movies on Bower’s resume.
Single-admission tickets are $7, with seniors and students discounted to $6, and AARP members sliding in for $5. A full festival pass, good for all film programs as well as the special events, costs $150, while students and seniors can snag them for $125.
Ducats for the Friday silent movie at the Palace are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students and AARP members.
Tickets are being sold at the festival headquarters at downtown’s Hotel Syracuse, 500 S. Warren St.; and at the screening rooms. For more information, call 443- 8826 or visit www.syrfilmfest.com.