Phoenix produces dozens, if not hundreds, of festivals throughout the year, each catering to a different target audience, be they foodies, artists, crafters or special collectors. For movie lovers, the most exciting event of the year takes place in April, when Scottsdale Harkins 101 rolls out its biggest red carpet for the Phoenix Film Festival.
This high-energy, creativity-fueled extravaganza features 250 film screenings, daily events, such as auctions, workshops, theme parties, celebrity sightings, and an opportunity for movie enthusiasts and moviemakers to mingle. One thing that makes this year’s event especially exciting, according to Festival Director Jason Carney, is its expansion from eight days to 11.
“In the past, it’s been Thursday to Thursday, so we’d have a big opening weekend, and then slow down during the weekdays,” Carney says. “But now we have a second weekend, so we hope to really blow things up and have a great amount of programming.”
Every year, thousands of films are submitted from around the world to be considered for screening at the festival. A viewing committee watches each film twice, ranks them, and chooses which films will be shown in Phoenix. There are numerous categories, ranging from documentaries, to indie comedies, to feature films. Carney is particularly excited about a film from Focus Features that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
“It’s an amazing documentary about Mr. Rogers called Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” he says. “It’s fascinating to learn about him, and how kind he was, and all the good he did, [as well as]the politics that went on throughout the creating and running of the show. It has a more touching ending than any other documentary you’ve seen. It’s a must-see.”
The festival welcomes all ages, but an especially good time to bring children is on Saturday morning of the first weekend for Kids’ Day. Activities include experimenting with a green screen, learning how to film using smartphones, coloring and game stations, and even a red carpet (replete with props) for kids to strut down while having their pictures taken.
One of the most popular events for adults is Industry Night, which, according to Carney, is the biggest film networking night of the year for Arizona. This Friday night showcase, with a party atmosphere, brings together actors, directors, agents and fans to talk shop, and peruse exhibitor booths related to all things film. Whether it’s learning about the latest in computer graphics, or how to impress at an audition, Industry Night is the place to be for members of the local film community.
Casual movie fans may go to the festival to watch one or two shows, while more passionate film enthusiasts are in it for the longhaul. To accommodate all levels of interest, the festival offers a wide array of ticket options, ranging from single movie tickets ($15), to super flex passes, which include 10 individual screening tickets to any show, excluding opening night ($120), to platinum passes, which grant entry to the entire 11-day festival, including every event, party, meet and greet, and film on the schedule (with priority line access and seating), plus a commemorative festival T-shirt ($450).
“Some people take time off from work for this,” Carney says. “This is like their vacation. It’s just such a good vibe. You have all these people who are passionate about film; and you see the same people from year to year, and these bonds are kind of created. It’s really fun.”
Because of the extra days this year, the festival will try out new programs, such as one focusing specifically on how music and movies go together, and another on women directors. And in the future, Carney says, they’d like to broaden their scope to include programming that showcases African American, Latino and Native American directors; essentially, any diverse factions unified by film.
“We landed on a second weekend like any other festival our size, and now it’s an opportunity for us to take advantage of that and really showcase so many other things in film that are out there,” Carney says.
Phoenix Film Festival, Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theaters, 7000 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix, 480.513.3195, phoenixfilmfestival.com, Thursday, April 5, through Sunday, April 15, various prices.