The Phoenix Film Festival is back again this year and bigger than ever! The annual movie lover’s event takes place this year from April 7th-14th in North Phoenix, bringing the widest and most diverse lineup yet. But don’t get too overwhelmed – I got to chat with Festival Executive Director Jason Carney, who gave us a brief history of the event and what films to highlight on your calendar.
Can you give us and our readers a little bit of the history of the Phoenix Film Festival and your involvement?
Jason Carney: Sure! The festival started back in 2001 by two filmmakers Golan Ramras and Chris Lamont and they wanted Phoenix to have a real film festival. The very first year one of their roommates, Greg Hall, became the program director – he and I went to high school together, so he asked me to come down and help out and I was like, “I don’t even know what a film festival is, but sounds like fun. I’m in.”
I volunteered for the first five years and then in 2005 I became the Executive Director of the organization. The film festival is a big part of the non-profit and my biggest responsibility is to run the festival, and here we are eleven years later still doing this thing and it’s bigger, and I hope, better than ever.
Speaking of that, what do you think the biggest difference is now with the 2016 Phoenix Film Festival compared to when it started?
Jason Carney: I think audience size is the easy one. We went from 3,000 the first year and now we’re at 23-24,000. That’s an easy one to put numerical value on for growth. And I think the quality of the films is a big one. While we were struggling that first year programming for two and a half days, now we’re putting in really great films all the way through eight days.
So I think that quality of film improvement from year to year, you see it. It’s not just, “Hey! They have three or four really good films and the rest are pretty good!” Now we have a lot of really good films. It’s such a great, deep class of films that we get to program and I think that’s a big sign of our growth. I think a big chunk of that is that filmmakers are putting their faith in us, because we take great care of filmmakers and we really make them the stars of the festival.
We take seriously the fact that we get to play their films. We don’t want to screw it up, we want them to love the festival. I think they appreciate that and that’s why they tell their friends: “Enter this festival and you’ll have a great time.”
What makes the Phoenix Film Festival unique for film fans compared to what other cities offer in their festivals?
Jason Carney: I think the biggest thing is that we’re all in one location. You go to other festivals our size, they’re running six or seven screens, they’re running them in two or three theaters throughout town and their parties are in another location. So you’re kind of hustling to go from location to location just to see a film or go to a party or go to a panel discussion.
We do it all in one place. We take over half of the Scottsdale 101 Harkins theater, and we do our party pavilion on site where all of our parties and special events are. Our ticketing is all on site so basically you don’t have to leave. You can show up at 9am for the first film and stick around until the party closes at 1am with so many restaurants and the panels that happen there. It creates a really cool community vibe because you’re going to see a filmmaker at a film and two hours later you might be having a beer with him at the party.
That makes it extremely less imposing for people to show up and not be overwhelmed by a complicated planning experience and just get to enjoy what they want to see.
Jason Carney: Yes, and we’re super inclusive. Our filmmakers are really accessible and they want to talk to people about their film. So it’s not a situation where you should be shy to ask a question about the film. The filmmakers – that’s what they’re here for. They want to talk about their films. This is a big deal for them and one of their special days. They love talking about their films and we’re glad to provide that venue for them to do that.
I really dig the posters that have been created to promote the festival this year that are homages to other classic film posters. How did those come about?
Jason Carney: Last year we kicked off this new “Find your new favorite movie” theme and we did it a bit there, and historically we’ve used our mascot Camera Head on a few different posters. So we had such success with that campaign last year, we were working with our marketing team and and we started to look for other movies from other different eras to put Camera Head in. Our designers are so talented. I’m blown away. They can do so much that I have no clue about. That’s the key – always have smarter people than you on your team.
This year, going way back we have the King Kong, and Alex that did that design – there’s a lot drawing involved with that and he did a great job. With Marty doing The Graduate with the leg, we did a special photo shoot for that. Then with Jurassic Park it just kind of popped up with Jurassic World last year we thought that would be really slick and work Camera Head into it. That one was a little tricky – there’s a lot visuals that you have to make happen there. Finally, of course we have the Napoleon Dynamite and we did a photo shoot for that. It turned out great and Lisa did a great job on it and Amy did the Jurassic Park. Such a great team and they do such great work.
Since we are The Nerd Repository, what does the Phoenix Film Festival offer for the nerd audience at this year’s event?
Jason Carney: I think the best element for them is the International Horror and Sci-Fi Festival that takes place as part of the Phoenix Film Festival. We have a theater that is dedicated to all horror and sci-fi content pretty much all festival long, and in the evening we have our two or three theaters for horror and sci-fi content. It’s really great because these guys that are programmers are huge fans of these genres and it shows in the quality of films that they’re picking.
Mike Stackpole that does our sci-fi stuff is an acclaimed sci-fi author, so he knows what to look for, and Brandon and Danny are just machines when it comes to horror knowledge. And Monte Yazzie, who is our new festival director for the International Horror and Sci-Fi Festival – that guy, his knowledge is so impressive. He did a great job of researching and recruiting films. Our programming is badass this year and any horror and sci-fi fan is going to be really blown away by what they’ve put together. That’s your stuff for the nerd or geek crowd for sure.
Nerd content aside, what are the big marquee films that have generated the biggest buzz going into the festival?
Jason Carney: There’s a film called Sing Street that we’re playing on Sunday night that looks great. The director is John Carney who directed Once and Begin Again, as always he’s big on the music themed films. But this one is about a kid in Dublin that wants to impress a girl and tells her that he’s in a band, and he realizes he actually has to create a band. He’s not really much of a musician and he gets his buddies together and they get a band going. It’s semi-autobiographical of what [John Carney] went through when he was young in Ireland. So that’s a really good film that we’re screening.
We also have a cool opening night film called Morris from America that has Craig Robinson (The Office) in a somewhat serious role, but it’s really a feel good movie. It picked up a couple of awards at Sundance. That one I would check out. Also, The Man Who Knew Infinity, we get that on Friday night and it has Dev Patel (The Newsroom) and Jeremy Irons (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) in it, and those guys are great. It’s a kind of fish-out-of-water tale and in those guys’ hands, I’m psyched to see it and how audiences react.
To buy tickets and download the Phoenix Film Festival schedule of events, head on over to their website PhoenixFilmFestival.com.