[ film fest ]
Mayans Schmayans. Smart money says there will indeed be a world to wake up to on Dec. 22. Still, if the “Greater Filmadelphia” selections at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival are any indication, local filmmakers aren’t taking chances.
Should the apocalypse arrive this holiday season, Temple grad Shane Bissett doesn’t want it to go out with only a bloated Roland Emmerich blockbuster to mark the occasion. “Shamefully, the only movie I can think of that celebrates Dec. 21, 2012, is that John Cusack movie.” Bissett says. “I thought this might be a nice other 2012 movie.”
Bissett’s feature debut, This Time Tomorrow, follows a couple who spend the day together wandering Philly, just in case that ancient calendar got it right. The Richard Linklater-inspired film (it could have been called Before Armageddon) uses the planet’s impending doom as a backdrop for an intimate character study.
“The main character is someone who just bleeds regret,” Bissett says. “I can only predict what Dec. 21 might be like, and in my opinion it’s going to be like a heightened New Year’s Eve. I don’t think the world will end in less than two months, but I do think there will be some kind of energy in the air. So for the characters it’s more of an excuse.”
Documentarians Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, the duo behind the Barnes doc The Art of the Steal, had to completely rethink their latest film The Atomic States of America, when a near-apocalypse hit during filming. “We started making the film in 2010,” Argott says. “And we started remaking it on March 12, 2011.”
That was the day after Japan was struck by the earthquake and tsunami that incited the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Suddenly, the duo’s doc about the dangers of nuclear power facilities was tragically more relevant. “Nuclear energy is big and intimidating and sounds scary, and we had to make it accessible and interesting and give it an urgency,” Joyce says. “We wanted to spark a dialogue about whether or not man can responsibly harness the atom. Fukushima reframed the dialogue.”
For Jenny Deller, it was the harsh reality of a longer-term global disaster that inspired her debut, Future Weather. After reading an article about global warming in the New Yorker, she combined her ecological concerns with a story she was writing about a mother-daughter relationship.
“This was before An Inconvenient Truth came out,” Deller recalls, “so nobody was really talking about it in the media. That terrified me, and I instantly connected to it as more than just an environmental issue. It’s a human issue and a moral issue, and I think that desire to start a conversation influenced me to connect it to this screenplay.”
Deller advanced her message behind the scenes, employing as many sustainable methods in the production as possible. She shot at the Schuylkill Center and the Pennypack Environmental Center to recreate her native southern Illinois just outside Philadelphia. She also partnered with sustainable businesses like Philly Compost, which disposed of the crew’s food waste for composting. “I always struggle with whether we should be trying to do more,” Deller says. “But in the end the things that we did meshed well with the high-stress, next-to-impossible task of making a low-budget film.”
This Time Tomorrow: Oct. 21, 2:50 p.m., Prince Music Theater; Oct. 22, 5:20 p.m., Rave. | The Atomic States of America: Oct. 25, 12:15 p.m., Ritz East; Sat., Oct. 27, 5:10 p.m., Prince. | Future Weather: Oct. 22, 7:35 p.m., Oct. 25, 5 p.m., Prince; Oct. 26, 4:45 p.m., Ritz East.