Schlecker and Sullivan discuss the independent film festival, set for April 23-26

The WilmFilm Festival will screen 50 independent films at Penn Cinema Riverfront during the weekend of April 23-26. Barry Schlecker, the founder of the festival, and Matt Sullivan, the festival’s general manager, share an enthusiasm for film—and especially independent film—that is palpable, even boisterous. They recently sat down with Mark Fields, Out & About’s movie critic and columnist (another devoted cinephile), to talk about the festival, the current state of the independent film movement, and how they pick the roster of movies to be shown each year.

Mark Fields: So how did this festival come about?
Barry Schlecker: I started it about 8-10 years ago at the Cinema Center in Newark. If you’re an independent or documentary film fan, you have essentially three options: go to one of the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia and spend a lot of time and money on gas and parking; go see it at our one indie film theater here, Theatre N, and hope that you can make it for the one weekend a movie plays; or wait until a movie becomes available on Netflix or Redbox. I thought there was an opportunity to bring together into one weekend a set of movies that everyone wanted to see but didn’t get around to.
Matt Sullivan: The ideal WilmFilm movie is one where you may not recognize the title right away but when I describe it to you, you realize that you’ve heard something about it or maybe even intended to see it when it was first released.
BS: We started calling them “movies you should have seen,” but now we think of them as movies that matter. We believe there’s a critical mass of people in the area who want to see these movies.
MF: And now you’re based at Penn Cinema on the Riverfront?
BS: Penn (Ketchum, owner of Penn Cinema) has been great. He has said that part of the theater is ours for the weekend. He booked the films for us, and because we’re based at his theater, tickets are available on Fandango. We like having all these films on one weekend in a luxurious theatre.
MF: How do you choose the schedule of movies?
MS: We start with a very long list. Barry puts out a call to all his film buddies to get suggestions. And then we start winnowing the list down. We try to focus on ones with name actors or a local connection or some sense of buzz. We want to avoid movies that have been overexposed. What’s the right mix of comedies, dramas, and documentaries? And there are movies on this list that I just personally believe in.
BS: We’re showing fare that plays at other prominent festivals.
MF: What are some hidden gems among this year’s schedule?
BS: Zero Motivation; it’s been called the Israeli MASH.
MS: Jodorowsky’s Dune. What an amazing and unknown story!
MF: How do you see the current state of independent films?
BS: I’m encouraged by the number of independent films that are available. Six or seven of this year’s Oscar nominees were indies. I thought for a while that Netflix and HBO would kill off the indie movement, but there are more choices than ever before. In fact, now Netflix and HBO are making independent movies! The movies we’ve picked all represent a singular vision, and there appears to be more trust from some studios to let people act on that vision.
MF: What do you hope people take away from their experience at WilmFilm?
BS: I want people to say that they’re coming back next year. I want to hear them say, “I’m glad I got to see it in a theater.”
MS: Movies should be a communal experience. These are movies worth talking about, and you can do that only if you see them together.
For more information and the full schedule of films and screening times, go to wilmfilm.com.

Mark personally recommends Whiplash, The Obvious Child, Birdman and Life Itself.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.