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'Liberal Arts' Kicks Off Dallas filmfest

Posted 12:03am on Friday, Apr. 13, 2012

The sixth annual Dallas International Film Festival got off to an easygoing start Thursday night at the Majestic Theatre with a screening of the sweet and smart romantic comedy “Liberal Arts.”

Directed and written by Josh Radnor of “How I Met Your Mother,” who also stars along with Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, and Zac Efron, “Liberal Arts” is an engaging and thoughtful exploration of what happens when a bookish yet boyish 35-year-old man finds himself falling for an intellectually mature 19-year-old woman. While that might sound like the set-up for something sleazy and exploitive, it’s actually handled gingerly and wisely.

Judging by the response it received here Thursday, as well as at previous festivals like Sundance, it’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser when it opens in September. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a film like “Sideways” which mined a similar milieu -- the trials and tribulations of a well-educated, upper-middle-class guy who will claim the moral high ground because he despises populist chaff like merlot or vampire novels -- but made it universal.

Unfortunately, Radnor couldn’t be there -- one of the producers, Claude Dal Farra, gave a short intro -- so there was no Q&A after the screening. Too bad. It would have been a nice coda to have some of his insight into the film. In fact, if anyone came looking for lots of high-powered, Hollywood star wattage, they were bound to be disappointed as the red carpet seemed to be mostly used by producers, backers, and assorted off-screen officialdom.

So, instead, everyone had to settle for hustling off to the Aloft Hotel a few blocks away for the official after party where they could knock back wine (not merlot!), tuna tartare, and cheese lollipops.

Before the screening, the audience was treated to the expected explosion of backslapping and self-promotion that goes with the opening nights of events like this. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings urged everyone to pressure Austin to keep Texas competitive in luring film projects here so that we don’t lose business to the “second-rate states” next door. One could almost here the collective gasp ricocheting from Albuquerque to Shreveport.

Lee Roy Mitchell, founder of the Dallas-based Cinemark theater chain, was honored with a special recognition by the festival. Which led Dallas International Film Festival artistic director James Faust to admit during his remarks that as a kid, when his brother worked at a Cinemark theater, he didn’t always pay to get in.

With the salute given to the pioneer Thursday, which included a short film about how Mitchell went from running one theater in Ennis to one of the biggest chains in the U.S., Mitchell probably is not too angry about it at this point.

The festival continues through April 22 at various venues in Dallas.

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