Fort Worth is a prime town for a film festival. It's got that historic look (even if it is brand-new), it's easy to negotiate by car, and its city center is accessible by foot. It's big enough to offer some non-festival options for those suffering celluloid burnout, and small enough to contain its culture in manageable form. Hell, it even has a town square named Sundance, only without all that snow and Tinseltown b.o. (box office, that is, unless you were thinking otherwise).
Last year, two Fort Worth cinephiles named Dwight Greene and Michael Price, both Fort Worth Star-Telegram writers, launched the town's first annual film festival, bearing Westerns (what else?), a truckload of good intentions, and a promise of bigger (more focused) things to come. Thus, the 2nd Annual Fort Worth Film Festival, starting this Thursday, will offer up more than 40 films over a span of four days, centralize the action in Sundance Square, and expand its focus beyond regional and old-school Wild West films to embrace some international entries, more short films, and an odd array of celebrities. If anything, the slightly frazzled and eccentric character of this festival might be called "charming," because it sure won't qualify as a bigwig schmoozefest. And, thankfully, it ain't anything like the bloated, misguided USA Film Festival either. That Cowtown's fest will screen most of its entries several times could be either a mark of its commuter-friendly context (pick a day, any day) or melancholy recognition that, as a still-new event, most viewers won't be on hand for the fest's entire run.
Films will run on seven screens at a handful of venues, including Caravan of Dreams, the Ridglea Theater, the Palace Theater, and AMC Sundance. Things kick off Thursday at the Caravan with a reception honoring Anne Francis and Dorothy Malone, who will in turn unveil the James Cagney postage stamp, while across the street, actor Barry Corbin will be hosting a screening of War Games. See what we mean about eccentric?
Tickets to general screenings are $6.50 each; tickets to Mr. Peck's appearance range from $24 to $60.
The centerpiece of the extended weekend is Gregory Peck, in town Saturday night to present "A Conversation With Gregory Peck" -- a hosted retrospective of his career. Staged in the shiny, noble Bass Performance Hall, the event has the Oscar-winning main man showing clips from his classic films, discussing his half-century of work, and taking questions from the audience. In tandem, the fest will screen several of Peck's classic turns, including Roman Holiday, The Guns of Navarone, and To Kill a Mockingbird. In an age of disposable heroes and moviemaking, Peck's attendance and these classics are a solid -- if not a bit safe -- gesture on the part of the festival.
Festival founders deem this a "working festival," meaning the schedule is peppered with panel discussions and workshops aimed at boosting industry savvy. Whether this will eventually make it a valid career-launch contender alongside more recognized festivals (such as Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival) remains to be seen. In the meantime, FWFF has its hands full of further oddities: Anne Francis will introduce Forbidden Planet, Bo Hopkins will introduce American Graffiti, and Mary Badham ("Scout"), Phillip Alford ("Jem") and Brock Peters ("Tom Robinson") will handle host duties for two screenings of To Kill a Mockingbird. Regional films and their makers are represented as well, including the Friday-night debut of Café Purgatory, an existentialist-noir indie by Oklahoma duo Leo Evans and John Wooley. A few other notables include screenings of Wadd: The Life and Times of John Holmes (if you haven't already seen it at USAFF) and an overlong docucomedy called Band, in which filmmaker Duane Condor attempts to unload his own emotional baggage on the audience by examining the otherwise touching events in the year of a Texas high school marching band. As uneven as this festival promises to be, it's nonetheless off to a promising start, and it's another great excuse to drive to Fort Worth.