April 18, 2016

Phoenix Film Festival

This is becoming a trend.  Betty and I spent the first week of the New Year in Palm Springs for the International Film Festival. Last week, we took part in the growing Phoenix Film Festival about 35 minutes from our new home. Palm Springs is fun every year because we meet good friends, Mike and Tamara Reddy, enjoy different restaurants, and see some fascinating movies.

I must admit it is nice to be so close for the Phoenix version. It is held in Scottsdale, very close to where we used to live. So, we re-visit favorite restaurants in the area as well as explore new ones before or after each screening. And, driving home to sleep in our own bed each evening is nice.

Not as big or as well known as its California cousin, there are still plenty of films to choose from. This year 150 different screenings were offered, some premieres, some on the film festival circuit, and others festival officials screened, liked, and added. Several were products of the Arizona film community.

Attracting around 25,000 film buffs over the 7 days of the festival, there are never huge crowds. Unlike Palm Springs where it is wise to get in line at least 60 minutes before a movie starts, here 20 minutes is about right. But, just like most film festivals, directors and actors are often available for Q & A sessions right after each screening.

Our first film was one that does what movies are supposed to do: it moved me to tears, made me angry, sad, empathetic, happy, and questioning what I would do in a similar situation. Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 is a documentary about the terrorist act that resulted in 259 people being blown out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, as well as killing eleven folks on the ground. The flight was taking holiday travelers from London to New York and Detroit when it disintegrated at 30,000 feet. I had not realized that there was a large contingent of student from my alma mater, Syracuse University, on that flight. 

One of the first major terrorism act against civilians during the post Cold War era, the story is chilling in its details of the effect of the crime on the survivors, both in America and Scotland. The film presents the view that the governments of The United States and Great Britain were uninterested in solving the criminal aspect of the crime due to the importance of Libyan oil. 

Lucky U Ranch was quite a bit easier on the emotions. It is the story of two youngsters, thrown together by a mix of circumstances, in a 1950's Arizona trailer court. They form a bond of friendship, with each supplying what the other needs. 

I found the pacing too slow and the acting by the two lead youngsters to be weak, but the adult actors were competent, the music score was excellent, the cinematography good. Mainly shot around Tucson, I felt at home with the mountains and terrains.

The two child actors were present at the screening Betty and I attended for a Q&A session. Both have grown considerably in the two years since  Lucky U Ranch was filmed and couldn't pull off those parts today.

Patagonia Treasure Trail is set in one of our favorite small Arizona towns. An RV trip there a few weeks ago had to be cancelled at the last moment for health reasons, so Betty and I were doubly happy about this movie's setting.

It was a dud. I will say the horses acted well in this movie. Otherwise, it had serious flaws in acting, editing, musical score, pacing, and plot. Even Betty who rarely says anything bad about something agreed this was not worth our 90 minutes.

For something completely different, our final choice was a fascinating look at what happens after fame and fortune leave one's life. Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life is the look at the life of the lead singer of the 80's band, Men at Work. After the band fell from favor and broke apart, Colin was faced with decades of life without a clear direction or purpose.

This film is an inspiring look at a man with lots to prove, but no clear path to do so. He reinvented himself as a solo act and songwriter, on the road continuously because of his need to perform and his love of connection with others. This is a documentary that I would watch again.

That was it for our participation in the 2016 version. At one point I suggested to Betty we travel the country to visit film festivals throughout the year. That might be a fun adventure!


  1. What a fun bucket list idea! While we don't have this idea on our bucket list as of yet, we have thoroughly enjoyed the various film festivals we've attended so far, and are currently eyeing the Banff Mountain International Film Festival in late October for possible attendance. There is a World Tour of this event which we've attended locally for some years now, and the exciting outdoor focus of this festival, based on the films we've seen, has really made us want to be there in person for the entire event. As you've described in your post, there is a very fun vibe at these events that differentiates them from 'normal' movie attendance.

  2. Maybe you will find one in Transylvania during your travels. Horror movies, mainly!

    1. Well, we will be bringing the novel Dracula along, so you might be on to something!

  3. The documentary on Colin Hay sounds interesting, Bob. Not sure why they fell out so quickly after a few monster hits. They did have a quirky sound but were not untalented musicians. Perhaps their management had a hand in their demise, since I remember they did some stupid music videos which largely put them into a certain category for many people. Sounds like a great film festival all in all.

    1. Some of their early videos were seriously off the wall, though in all fairness this was at the beginning of the music video explosion on MTV and there were a lot of bad efforts. I have found myself checking out Colin's newer stuff on Spotify. I like a lot of what he has been doing.

  4. Sounds fun! How many films do you typically get to see during the week? Is it like a one or two a day type thing? We haven't done a film festival yet, but it sounds like an interesting thing to try! One thing we do enjoy is the Sun Valley Jazz Festival here in Idaho. Dozens of venues all within walking distance and all types of music - from traditional jazz to big band! Thanks for a great post!

    1. We usually take on four films over a one week period and try to pick daytime showings for the smaller crowds and less traffic to and from. That means one a day, though for the PHoenix festival we did two in one days to eliminate some of the back and forth drive. For that day we saw a movie, had a 45 minute break, saw the second film, and then went to dinner.

  5. We went to the Sedona Film Festival a few years ago. It was in February as I recall, and we saw a couple of good movies. Maybe some of these from Phoenix will come to our local arthouse movie theater in the near future. Meanwhile, if you ever do make your film festival adventure, you gotta come to New York for the Tribeca Film Festival which is going on this week.


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