Thirteenth annual Phoenix Film Festival promises to stand out among the festival-circuit crowd

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phoenix_film_festival_2013The beginning of April, for those in the Southwest, heralds an all-new Phoenix Film Festival. This year, the Phoenix Film Festival kicks off its 13th annual edition with impressive celebrity guests, independent feature premieres, seminars, workshops, parties, and more. The festival, which runs from April 4 to April 11, boasts some star-studded new films and other events as it holds court at the Harkins Scottsdale 101, well-known for its Cine Capri theater, the largest non-IMAX screen in all of Arizona. With films like The Spectacular Now, The East, The Way, Way Back, and The Kings of Summer among the spotlight presentations, this year’s Phoenix Film Festival may prove to be one of the hidden gems of the festival circuit.

The Phoenix Film Festival, which has been running every year since 2000, had quite the act to follow after last year’s festival. Festival president Chris LaMont said, “We broke attendance records, had more screening sell-outs than ever before, and filmmakers walked away saying this was the best festival they had ever been to.” However, he and festival director Jason Carney are confident that this year’s fest will top last year’s bash. And with some of the most buzzed-about indie films of 2013 making a stop here, along with smaller films hoping to build a fanbase, they’re likely onto something.

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The 2013 Phoenix Film Festival opens this Thursday with The Spectacular Now, from director James Ponsoldt, based on the novel of the same name. Starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, both of whom won acting awards for their work at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Spectacular Now is about the connection two high-schoolers make despite their differing outlooks on life. The praise for The Spectacular Now, written by Scott Neustadt and Michael H. Weber, previously of (500) Days of Summer, has been deafening. As it won’t be opening in theaters nationwide until early August, this is another prime opportunity to check out this buzzworthy comedy-drama before all your friends.

The closing-night film, on the 11th, a week after the fest opens, is the comedy-drama Stuck in Love, starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, and Kristen Bell. Stuck in Love focuses primarily on the relationships between a novelist (Kinnear), his ex (Connelly), and their two kids (Lily Collins and Nat Wolff), and is written and directed by Josh Boone. If nothing else, Stuck in Love will be worth seeing for any fans of the extremely popular novel The Fault in Our Stars, as that book’s film adaptation is being helmed by Boone (and will star Woodley, of The Spectacular Now). If you’re a fan of the book, and curious to see what its director’s work looks like, Stuck in Love is a sure bet.

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In between these two films, the Phoenix Film Festival will have a host of films from all genres and lengths, varying from animated shorts to documentary features to the best in horror and science-fiction, tying into the International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival, also a Phoenix standby. This year, as well as new features and shorts, the IHSFF is partnering with FEARNet to showcase two cult favorites with special guests. On Friday the 5th, you can see the original Saw (and it’s been under a decade since it first premiered, as crazy as that may seem) with special guest Peter Block, who’s not only an executive producer of the film but also the President and General Manager of FEARNet. The night after, fans of the cult classic from John Carpenter They Live can rejoice, as it’ll be shown again on the big screen, with a Q&A session with one of its stars, Meg Fosters, afterwards. Another notable IHSFF showcase film is Play Dead with Teller, as iconic magician Teller performs a live show in Manhattan along with fellow illusionist Todd Robbins. And if that’s not enough, Teller himself will be there (and may even open his mouth, in case you’ve never heard him speak).

But, as the old saying goes, there’s more. The Phoenix Film Festival, along with showcase events and the tie-in with the International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival, will feature a World Cinema section, with films set or shot in Prague, Canada, America, the United Kingdom, Africa, and Mexico. In short, the eight-day festival is bursting at the seams, as in the past, with diversity. And there will be other special guests, such as musician Natalie Imbruglia, D.B. Sweeney, and Melora Walters, all among the stars of Underdogs, which will have its premiere screening on Saturday the 6th. Kids are also not being ignored, as there will be child-friendly events and films playing in repertory, such as Babe and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, playing during the day on Saturday the 6th.

The Phoenix Film Festival remains a burgeoning, exciting spot on the yearly circuit, a place for films of any genre to get their moment in the sun to a wider, more discerning audience. Their thirteenth annual fest looks to be as impressive, if not moreso, as its predecessors. The number of world premieres along with a handful of indie favorites that are likely to get remembered come next year’s awards season help make this year’s Phoenix Film Festival a must-do for any film buff interested in the next big thing. Check out www.phoenixfilmfestival.org for more details on events and how to get tickets in advance.

— Josh Spiegel

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