After nearly two decades of false starts and sore disappointments, Fort Worth finally has what most other cities our size have long taken for granted: an urbane and sophisticated film festival.
For one thing, in its fifth annual installment, the Lone Star International Film Festival has ramped up the quality of its selections, with an enticing smorgasbord of titles that have been earning Oscar buzz and excellent reviews. Among the most high-profile screenings during the five-day-long festival, which officially kicks off Wednesday night (Nov. 9), are new works starring Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Woody Harrelson (Rampart) and Jennifer Garner (Butter). At least one of them, the French film The Artist, is widely expected to be a Best Picture nominee.
After an excellent 2010 effort, which featured such high-profile guests as Jeff Bridges and Blind Side director John Lee Hancock, the festival will once again be bringing a stellar lineup of visitors to town. Willie Nelson will receive the festival's Stephen Bruton Award at a gala dinner Thursday night. Piper Laurie and Betty Buckley will present a revival screening of the horror movie Carrie on Friday night. And first-time director Dee Rees and actress Adepero Oduye will introduce the closing-night film, Pariah, which screens Sunday.
Of course, the festival faces inevitable challenges as it continues to grow -- every festival does. With as many as four screenings, as well as panels and social gatherings, happening simultaneously, it's not clear if there's a large enough audience locally for all that will be going on. And for a festival that has always struggled to find the right balance between embracing homegrown products and bringing in more esoteric titles, the festival may have gone too far in the opposite direction. This year's installment is perhaps more remarkable for its challenging foreign fare, such as Hungarian director Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse or the Russian curio Target, than it is for the Texas titles on the schedule.
(That said, a few of the movies showing -- including Andrew Disney's Searching for Sonny, the lovely documentary The Mayor, and the improvised comedy The High Road -- were all filmed here and are all worth checking out.)
But for now this remains a very promising lineup and a festival built to last. (At the very least, it should once and for all erase memories of the glitch-plagued Fort Worth Film Festival, which lasted five bumpy years in the late 1990s and early 2000s.) For a full list of titles and showtimes, go to www.lsiff.com. Meanwhile, sit back as we guide you through what we expect to be this festival's highlights.