Event on down low despite expanded sked

Call it the Stealth Film Festival. The 22nd edition of the Boston Film Festival came and went last week, but it was so under the radar that the public and even most of the local press remained unaware of it.

Fest is now in its second year under the direction of former state film commissioner Robin Dawson. Idea was to come back strongly this year a shaky transition in 2005. There were some improvements, with an expanded schedule (event ran Sept. 8-15), although nowhere near the number of screenings held in its 1990s heyday.

There was little in the way of publicity — no trailers in the theaters, no ads in the newspapers, no souvenir sales, not even a published schedule of events or program book. The festival’s Web site was never fully updated (a link for “2006 news” brings you to a page for “2005 news” and the unfulfilled promise of “Coming Soon”).

One could pass through the Boston Common multiplex during the day and not even be aware that a film festival was being held there in the evenings. Fest organizers and sponsors threw private parties, but the Web site listed special events as “TBD” (to be determined) right through the fest week, with the “Special Appearances” link similarly uninformative.

Films with distributors were press screened in advance, but at least one critic for a Boston daily could be heard griping that promised screeners for other films in the fest never arrived. As a result, the only coverage in local papers — beyond a handful of initial preview pieces — were on the celebrity pages. There people learned, after the fact, of visits from stars and directors (such as Chazz Palminteri, who received a fest award while promoting “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”) who had passed through the city.

Given the lack of communication with local media, the public largely stayed away, and more than one screening was filled with people there on free passes as publicists scrambled to fill theaters so filmmakers and stars wouldn’t face empty seats. Boston critics have always had a love/hate relationship with the Boston Film Fest, dating back to when it was run by USA Cinemas, and its successor, Loews Cinemas, and was seen as a promotion for the theater chain.

Having had the opportunity for a clean start, Dawson and newly appointed creative director John Michael Williams have their work cut out for them to start building the lines of communication for next year’s event which, at the moment, can only be listed as “TBD.”

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