Friday morning was crisp and sunny. Half a dozen core staff of the Syracuse International Film Festival left their ground floor office on Warren Street for the grander Persian Terrace upstairs in the old Hotel Syracuse to speak with press, just a week before the official April 24th opening night of this year's festival, the sixth. The first festival was visited by about 4,000 people, according to organizers, and last year by about 10,000.
One of this year's major "facelifts" is the website, www.syrfilm.com, which offers on-line ticketing and a cross-indexed calendar of festival film programs and events. This is a major improvement over last year's website. The MYSYRFILM function allows site visitors create and print their own customized festival schedule and then purchase and print their own tickets at home as well. Films are indexed alphabetically, by type and by interest area. Tickets are available from the website, in the festival office at Hotel Syracuse, 500 S. Warren Street (315.443.8826) and at the door of each screening.
This year's festival offers 108 films from 30 countries, noted SYRFILM artistic director Owen Shapiro. Forty-one of those are feature length fiction or documentaries. This year's festival has been tightened to 50 programs (last year's had 90) in fewer venues.
Shapiro called the pre-screening process more selective and rigorous. And the leaner over-all program seems more thoughtfully and better designed too, both in the clusters of films offered together and with considerably fewer of the sometimes maddening conflicts in programming that plagued the festival in years past. This also means that highly regarded filmmakers - some who have traveled great distances to be here - may enjoy audiences that their work and reputations deserve at reasonable hours.
"Filmmakers tell us they enjoy being here," said Christine Fawcett Shapiro, the festival's executive producer. "They say it's not all about being seen here. They like the chance to meet and talk with other filmmakers, and they like the chance to interact with our community. There is time to go for coffee at this festival."