With the Sundance Film Festival and South by Southwest in the rearview mirror, you might think that the western half of the country has no other film-festival representation for the next few months. Ah, but you’d be wrong; now in its 14th year, the Phoenix Film Festival is coming up in merely a couple weeks, beginning its eight days of screenings, seminars, events, and more, on Thursday, April 3. In advance of the festival, I spoke with Jason Carney, Executive Director of the Phoenix Film Foundation, about this year’s opening and closing films, its teenage-focused educational seminars, and everything in between.
Q: Is there an overriding theme to this year’s slate of films at the Phoenix Film Festival? If so, what is it?
A: There really isn’t a theme to our programming this year, or really ever. We try to program the best quality and variety of films that we can get our hands on. I think you can lose your focus if you try too hard to program a certain type of film. Our approach is that if we find a film that we want to play, let’s get it scheduled. And because we have a different programmer for each category, we naturally end up [with] a great variety of films.
Q: Although there are a number of more high-profile films, such as Joe or Dom Hemingway, on the bill for this year’s festival, which of the smaller entries are you hoping that festival attendees make sure to check out?
A: We’re screening a film called The Grand Seduction on Friday night of the festival, which looks really fun. It did well up at the Toronto Film Festival and it’s always good to have some lighter content to check out. Another comedy to check out is an Irish film called Life’s a Breeze. It’s always refreshing when we can discover some good indie comedies.
Q: What about Steven Knight’s film Locke made you want to choose it as the Opening Night film over other contenders?
A: When we were looking for the Opening Night film, Locke jumped out at me right away. Last year, we opened with another film from A24, The Spectacular Now, so we were anxious to see what they had coming up. Having a Tom Hardy film in your slate is super cool, particularly when it has an interesting hook like this one. And the fact that we were able [to] have Steven Knight attend is a huge bonus.
Q: Richard Linklater’s newest film, Boyhood, is the Closing Night Film this year, and had a unique (and lengthy) production schedule, spanning more than a decade. Was it Linklater’s standing in the indie-film world, the backstory of how Boyhood was made, or a combination of reasons that attracted you to screening the film this year?
A: It was a combination of a few different things. When we started talking to IFC Films about Boyhood, I was fascinated by the story about how the film was made, and how can you help but not be interested in a Linklater film? Combine that with the great reaction it has received at other festivals; we had to have this film.
Q: What knowledge do you hope the various middle- and high-school students attending your Educational Outreach programs throughout the festival will pick up?
A: We really stress the basics of filmmaking to the students. We tell them that if they’re really strong at the basics, the other stuff will come easier. Being able to tell a good story is so paramount to filmmaking and we want them to have a really strong grasp at that when they’re young.
Q: The silent auction is a standby of the Phoenix Film Festival. Can you tease any of the items that will be up for auction this year?
A: Items have just started rolling in, but we’ve got an iPad mini, airport parking for a year, and just like always, a ton of film-related memorabilia.
Q: Of the many seminars taking place throughout the festival, which one is the most exciting to you?
A: On Saturday at 4:30 p.m., we have “So You Think You Can Think You Can Shoot a Feature Film,” [which] is the most appealing. It will be a great opportunity to hear from filmmakers on what happened behind the scenes during these films. We’ve done a similar panel in the past and it’s always interesting to hear all of the challenges they run into creating their films.
Q: What kinds of vendors and displays can festival attendees expect during Geek Day this year?
A: The coolest thing we’ve got lined up for Geek Day so far is with the folks over at GameCo Lab. They’ll be bringing out some local video game developers, who will be coming out with their new content. Attendees will have a chance to play these new games at the event.
A: I think the biggest event is on Friday night. We’ll have Dee Wallace in attendance to screen her classic film, Cujo. Having grown up during that timeframe, it will be awesome to have her attending the festival and talking about the film. A couple of other films to check out would be Oculus and The Sacrament.
The 14th annual Phoenix Film Festival begins on Thursday, April 3rd, and runs through Thursday, April 10th at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 in Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information on this year’s films, events, and tickets, head over to the festival’s official website.
— Josh Spiegel