Following its severed ties with AFI, the newly rebranded Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) looked to reinvent itself last night, with an opening night unlike any the festival has ever attempted before.
"We're doing something different," announced DIFF Artistic Director James Faust to the press assembled outside the Angelika Film Center prior to the screenings. "We're breaking the mold."
As announced earlier, the Angelika played host to multiple opening night screenings, reflecting the diverse nature of the program. "Bill Cunningham New York," showcased the documentary component of the festival, while "Nosotros Los Pobres" brought attention to this year's Mexican spotlight. Judging from the chatter at Deux, which hosted the opening night's cocktail reception, the hottest ticket of the night was "Skateland," from Texan director Anthony Burns. The '80s set film, which has already made the rounds at Sundance and SXSW, was riding on a wave of homegrown anticipation prior to its Dallas premiere.
While "Skateland" played on one screen at the Angelika, Brooks Branch's film "Multiple Sarcasms" required two theaters for its official world premiere. Though the film marks Branch's feature film debut, he managed to round out the most starry cast of the night, with actors including Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Dana Delany, Stockard Channing, and Mario Van Peebles (playing against type as the gay best friend). Branch's film plays like an homage to Woody Allen's oeuvre of wryly observed comedies. For starters, Branch sets his dramedy in New York and saturates it in earthy tones reminiscent of "Melinda and Melinda." The Allenesque plot centers on the neuroses of aspiring playwright Gabriel (Hutton) and the many women in his life. Having Sorvino (so good in Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite") as Gabriel's best friend/love interest only adds to the reverence.
Following the night's screenings, the audiences spilled out into the theater's lobby and outside terrace for the Gala. Actress Amanda Seyfried ("Mean Girls," "Chloe") made an appearance, as did Bill Paxton ("Titanic") to lend his support to the festival. Judging by last night's warm reception, DIFF's new approach paid off.