One night in 2002, Eric Bresler found himself presenting his first offbeat clip show to about 40 people on the top floor of the now defunct Astrocade at 10th and Ridge in North Philly. Part music venue, part arcade, and part living quarters, Astrocade served as the perfect laid back, creative space for Bresler to germinate what would eventually evolve into the Cinedelphia Film Festival, which kicks off its second year running at PhilaMOCA today.
“That was the template I followed more than 10 years later,” Bresler says. “I came from the DIY world of Philly punk. That’s how I learned event planning, and I never lost those anti-establishment roots.”
If nothing else, “anti-establishment” is perhaps the best description of Bresler’s Cinedelphia to date. After all, as an event, it is the antithesis of big name film festivals, and, by extension, the theaters they inhabit and movies they promote. In that sense, Cinedelphia is every bit as punk rock as the roots from which it springs—wholly and completely alternative.
A 2001 Drexel grad, Bresler has long been doing what he describes as “random film programming” at various Philly film institutions, owing that path to his realization during school that curation was more his thing rather than film production. Combine that insight with Bresler’s role in establishing the shuttered Fun O Rama punk house in West Philly in the mid-2000s, and what we know as Cinedelphia today seems to have been more or less inevitable from the start.
“I would sit down, write some band names, contact them and try to get them to come out. I still do that, but with filmmakers now,” Bresler says. Those filmmakers, in fact, come from all around the country. Especially this year, with the festival expanding its reach to a general “archiving and preservation” focus rather than last year’s Philly-centric affair—owing that aspect, no doubt, to influence from this year’s presenter, found footage outfit Video Pirates—actually just Bresler himself.
That type of grassroots community connecting, though, seems to be the hallmark of Cinedelphia, regardless of theme or approach—an aspect its creator credits to the gimmicks and repetition we’re inundated with at the average movie theater experience. So, rather than follow the AMC route, Bresler opts for something much simpler, and exponentially more powerful.
“I think the formality of the movie theater is becoming a thing of the past,” he says. “It’s a repetitive task, formulaic. You go to see Transformers, and you pretty much know what you’re getting into. Here, you watch things that require an explanation for you to understand. We try to concentrate on getting people into a room to enjoy something together.”
More accurately, that “something” would be the rarely seen, the underappreciated, the madly genius films of our not-so-distant past. Cinedelphia, as Bresler says, is “fueled by nostalgia,” an emotion that plays well to a large room and “makes for a completely different experience” in a group. It is that type of different experience that Bresler says has long been missing from the Philadelphia Film Festival—and, in fact, one of the primary reasons behind his decision to create Cinedelphia in the first place.
“They were once out biggest outlet for film, and now they’re this seemingly corporate-run, money-driven enterprise,” he says. “If you look at the programming from 2009 on, every year it’s just films that have played every other major film festival in the country.”
Stuff like the 1965 weirdo parade film Fun in Balloonland, a 75-minute silent film composed entirely of GIFs, or a screening of The Shining both forward and backward as the Psychic Teens drone out a custom-tailored soundtrack? Not so much.
Still, though, Philadelphia is home to a number of small film festivals, one of which—the Philadelphia Film Society’s Spring Showcase—is running throughout much of Cinedelphia’s duration. But while Bresler has noted that the festivals have markedly different attendees, that “it’s all very divided” isn’t exactly a good thing. With that in mind, Cinedelphia’s programming lineup appears miles more eclectic and widely appealing than any local festival, large or small.
“I’ve always tried to bring in as diverse an audience as possible, which is why our programming is so varied,” he says. “When it comes to film, everyone has their own crew.”
So rather than focusing on the blockbusters like the Philly Film Festival, or horror films like Exhumed, or any other genre or theme or variation of cinema, Cinedelphia instead relies on showing people something they almost assuredly haven’t seen before, be that a Double Dare retrospective or a roundup of the world’s worst CGI. It is, in effect, a chance for the proverbial Ed Woods of the world to get their moment in the spotlight, however brief.
All it takes to enjoy is a little bit of a sense of humor, and with Bresler calling himself a “selfish curator,” it might help if yours is at least a little in tune with his. Given that the guy’s been at it for more than 10 years now, though, don’t worry too much—no punk rock experience necessary.
“I love low art that is elevated to a higher level, and my approach to programming has been my effort to give the people of Philadelphia an alternative to what’s available,” he says. “We live in a weird era with a lot of strange ideas. I’m more than willing to put them on screen in front of an audience.”