Sedona International Film Festival organizers lucked out with last year’s event.
Set just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic led to mass shutdowns of businesses and cancellations of events, the event continued with little foresight as to what was to come — and came out “unscathed,” Executive Director Pat Schweiss says.
Organizers are hoping that success carries forward when the Sedona festival returns June 12 to June 20 for its 27th year — this time with the necessary safety precautions in place. It will feature nearly 180 films, whittled down from over 1,000 contenders, plus a variety of guests, conversations, workshops and more.
“We knew that we could not luck out again, have the festival in February and have it seem any sort of normal, so we got our sponsors, donors, key stakeholders together and said, ‘What does this look like?’” Schweiss admits.
The result of those discussions is a delayed, hybrid event, with films both new and old presented at venues such as Harkins Theatres Sedona 6, the Sedona Performing Arts Center at Sedona Red Rock High School, the Mary D. Fisher Theatre and the Enchantment Resort — as well as online. Workshops will also be hosted both in person and virtually.
Although the festival curated a selection of films consistent in size with pre-pandemic lineups, Schweiss says it’s a scaled-down affair otherwise, with reduced-capacity theaters, social distancing and eliminated wait lines. Masks will be required unless seated in the theaters, and health and safety protocols will be followed.
“We didn’t scale it down quality or artistic content-wise, but we are limited to half to two-thirds capacity in the theaters we’re showing,” Schweiss explains.
That content is diverse, with features and shorts ranging from documentaries to narrative stories, whether they’re animated, foreign, a student production or otherwise. Schweiss estimates 80% of the films will be streamable for at-home viewers.
The long lineup of recent films the festival will screen includes “Queen Bees,” a comedy starring Ann-Margret, Ellyn Burstyn, James Caan, Jane Curtin, Christopher Lloyd and Loretta Devine; “One Moment,” actor Danny Aiello’s final film; the documentary “Say His Name: Five Days for George Floyd”; “The Cave,” a narrative telling of the 2018 Thailand soccer team rescue that made headlines; and many more.
Among the other highlights of the festival is a screening of François Girard’s Academy Award-winning 1998 drama “The Red Violin,” which Schweiss calls “an extraordinary work of art about this violin that has this history of passing through all of these different owners over the years.”
“We have the woman coming who owns the violin, whose grandfather is the one that bought that violin in the auction that’s featured in the movie — and so we have the actual red violin,” Schweiss says, adding that the Saturday, June 12, screening will be followed that evening by a performance by classical musician Elizabeth Pitcairn on the “one-of-a-kind” 1720 Stradivarius violin, nicknamed the “Red Mendelssohn.” Both will take place at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.
The next day, Sunday, June 13, the performing arts center will screen the documentary feature “In Memoriam.” It will be followed by the documentary short “The Children Will Lead the Way,” produced by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. The films’ subject matters deal with mass shootings.
“What he (Yarrow) decided to do is go into the schools where there have been school shootings and work with students and work with the teachers to heal through music; so, you know, write a song, compose a song, record a song — not him but the students, but he’s working with them side by side,” Schweiss says.
The festival will bestow Yarrow with the Humanitarian Award for his track record of activism, and Schweiss says the school shooting survivors who are featured in his short will perform.
“That’s going to be kind of a nice little touching moment, because he wants people to see that there’s hope; that these schools, as tragic as it’s been, they’re doing their best to bounce back; and he could do his part of it, we all can do our part of it by offering some way to give these people hope,” Schweiss says.
Several Lifetime Achievement Awards will also be given out.
Marking the 35th anniversary of the Ritchie Valens biopic “La Bamba” is a Tuesday, June 15, retrospective viewing of the film from the performing arts center. Director Luis Miguel Valdez will receive one such award.
Then, Wednesday, June 16, the performing arts center will screen the 1975 Oscar-nominated musical “Funny Lady,” starring Barbra Streisand and James Caan, as part of a tribute to fashion designer Bob Mackie, whose work will be on display. Mackie will participate in a live conversation on Thursday, June 17, and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Saturday, June 19, a screening of the new film “East of the Mountains” will be followed with actor Tom Skerritt receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award. It co-stars Mira Sorvino and local Sedona actor Jule Johnson.
Earlier in the week, on Monday, June 14, the Sedona International Film Festival will host the blindDANCE Film Festival, which provides film industry opportunities and training to visually impaired people, for a variety of screenings — including the locally shot documentary “See Sedona Blind” — at the performing arts center.
In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the American Foundation for the Blind, the selections will also feature a screening of the Academy Award-winning 1954 documentary “Helen Keller in Her Story” and a display of memorabilia from her museum in Alabama, such as the Oscar.
“There’s a film on this group of Mexican — I think it’s down in Mexico City — students that are all visually impaired, and they filmed their process of doing this big performance, and you would never, ever know these kids are blind,” Schweiss adds of “Color Sonrisa,” the documentary short that will kick off the daylong blindDANCE Film Festival lineup as part of what’s called the Able Artists Gallery.
“It’s just so inspiring and beautiful and wonderful, and they’re working on their visas now to see if the kids can come up and join us for a festival,” Schweiss says.
The Directors’ Choice Awards and Audience Choice Awards will be presented on the final day, Sunday, June 20. The former is tallied by festival committees, while the latter is determined based on ballots handed out to audience members at screenings.
“Our film screeners are from all walks of life, because that’s what our audience members are,” Schweiss explains. “So, some are in the business; some are not. Some are retirees; some are working people. Some are housewives; some are lawyers. It’s made up of a vast, broad array of people, because that’s what you experience in the theaters.”
Inevitably, Schweiss says, the committees that are selecting the films and the audiences who are then watching them have similar tastes.
“It’s pretty amazing how we’re pretty close,” Schweiss says. “Our committees are pretty close to how the audience ends up rating them.”
Sedona International Film Festival
When: Saturday, June 12, to Sunday, June 20
Where: Harkins Theatres Sedona 6, 2081 W. Highway 89A; Sedona Performing Arts Center, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Road; Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 2030 W. State Route 89A, Suite A-3; and the Enchantment Resort, 525 Boynton Canyon Road, plus other locations
Cost: Prices vary; individual tickets, $15, go on sale June 7; packages on sale now
Info: 928.282.1177, sedonafilmfestival.com