The 16th Annual Phoenix Film Festival is right around the corner, kicking off on April 7th and heading through April 14th, 2016. The best way to keep up with all of the great events and screenings is directly through their website or on Facebook. And The Massie Twins are proud to once again participate as judges for the competition films!
We caught up with Festival Director Jason Carney as the momentum builds to the Opening Night Premiere (“Morris From America”), cocktail party, and the Celebration of the Art of Food in the Party Pavilion, to ask him a few questions about this rapidly growing film festival.
The Massie Twins: Did you ever imagine, back when the Phoenix Film Festival was originally founded, that it would become as big as it is today?
Jason Carney: I think the idea was that we would grow it into something big but I think everyone involved had different ideas on the speed of growth. Growing a festival into something big usually take some time, but we’ve grown quickly. There are festivals that are about the same size as us that have been around for 35-40 years, so for us to get there in only 16 is pretty impressive.
MT: What is the process for selecting the feature films in the competition categories?
JC: When a film is submitted it is reviewed by two members of our Viewing Committee. If the film scores high enough it goes onto the next round. If it scores low, it is slated for rejection. If the two reviewers are vastly different, it is given a third view to make the determination. Films that get to the next round are given to the Program Director in that category. The programmer reviews that group of films and will determine the slate of films. This year we received 1,400 submissions to go through that process.
MT: What is the process for selecting the various talent for Q&A sessions and screening introductions?
JC: Our goal is to try to get the directors of the films first because we think they give the best perspective on the overall process. If they’re not available, we’re interested in actors, writers or producers from the film. It’s important for us to have someone represent as many films as possible because that’s what makes a film festival possible.
MT: What balance do you seek in the screening of independent cinema versus bigger-budget Hollywood productions?
JC: It’s very important to us that the competition features is a pure process. That means we only consider films that were submitted to us. We’re not recruiting films or pulling films from distributors for those competition slots. We want to focus strictly on films without distribution for our competition. The bigger films or “Showcase Films” as we call them are films that we recruit either from studios or films that we’ve heard about from the festival circuit. Those are the films that we can draw a broader audience with, and typically once folks are at the festival, they tend to stick around and see some of our competition films.
MT: What does it mean to you to see the progression of short film makers who premiere their works at the Festival, and then graduate to feature-length filmmaking that, in turn, also gets a shot at a PFF premiere?
JC: It’s so great to see our filmmakers grow from film to film. To see their maturation over time is something that makes us very proud. We tend to stay in touch with our filmmakers and keep up to date with what they’re doing. The relationship doesn’t end with the festivals. Recently we’ve had a filmmaker do the opposite. Scott Storm, whose previous features “Ten Til Noon” and “We Run Shit” were part of the festival, has an animated short in this year’s festival. It’s great to see him branch out into a different world. But it’s always exciting to see our alumni submit new films. Of course, those films still have to be good enough to make the cut. It sucks when we have to reject alumni, but it’s important for the integrity of the festival.
MT: We’ve noticed in previous years that a vibe exists for patrons to practically compete to see the most number of films. What does that level of enthusiasm mean to you and the evolution of the PFF?
JC: It’s extremely important to us to cultivate this community vibe that is created at the festival. We’ve had audience members develop friendships out of attending the festival. That buzz that’s created out of people talking to each other in line is impossible to replicate and it just happens organically. It’s super cool to hear about these folks that see 25 to 30 films in eight days. I could never do it, so I’m always impressed.
MT: Tell us a bit about Industry Night and what its impact has been for local filmmakers.
JC: Industry Night is one of the great events that happens in the Party Pavilion. It’s a great way for the local film community to get together and mingle. There are booths from local film businesses and such a great opportunity to network. You have directors, writers, actors and others coming out to really represent the local film scene. It’s kind of like a prom for the local film community.
MT: How important is it to get kids involved in film and related arts at an early age?
JC: It’s really great when kids get involved in the arts. They get so much more out of it then making a film. They’re learning some great technical and creative things but they’re also learning about responsibility, teamwork and leadership. I speak from personal experience. I was heavily involved in theatre in high school. The two teachers taught me so much about responsibility, trust and professionalism and it has had a profound impact on my life. They were such a huge part of me getting through the high school experience. I’m still in touch with both of them and they come to the festival. I just hope that with us encouraging students to get into film, they can get the experience that I was fortunate enough to get.
MT: How can patrons get more involved with the Festival? Are there volunteer programs?
JC: We have the Phoenix Film Society that screens films all year long so that’s a great way to keep that festival feeling all year long. We also need volunteers every year. It takes around 200 volunteers for us to make this machine go.
MT: With all that goes on at the Festival, do you ever get an opportunity to sit in with audiences and watch a movie during the festival?
JC: No. Not since the very first year. My mind is way too busy to be able to sit still that long. Plus there is so much going on, I want to ensure that our guests, filmmakers and volunteers are having the best experience possible. So I try to be very visible and circulate throughout the event.
If you can’t see every film at the festival, here are a few selected features to watch out for:
The Man Who Knew Infinity
Directed by: Matt Brown
Run Time: 110 minutes
Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Devika Bhise, Stephen Fry and Toby Jones
Synopsis: Based on the untold story of one of the greatest minds of his generation, The Man Who Knew Infinity charts the incredible life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, whose genius for mathematics takes him from the slums of India to Trinity College, Cambridge University in the early 20th-century. Spurred on by his mentor G. H. Hardy, Ramanujan overcomes racism and the rigidity of academia to revolutionize the field with his startlingly original theorems, which he attributes to divine inspiration. Driven by the engaging rapport between Patel and Irons as two vastly different men who find common ground in the world of numbers, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” is a fascinating look at how an unlikely, cross-cultural friendship changed the world.
Based on the book The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel.
No Greater Love
Directed by: Justin Roberts
Run Time: 94 minutes
Synopsis: No Greater Love explores a combat deployment through the eyes of an Army chaplain, first as he and his men fight their way through a hellish tour in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan, and then as they struggle to reintegrate home.
Victor Young Perez
Directed by: Jacques Ouaniche
Runtime: 103 minutes
Cast: Brahim Asloum, Steve Suissa, Isabella Orisin
Synopsis: Victor “Young” Perez, tells the astonishing, harrowing and incredible moving story of a Tunisian Jewish boxer, who became the World Flyweight Champion in 1931 and 1932. Because of his Jewish background he was deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis and had to fight there for the entertainment of the camp commander.
Cut to the Chase
Directed by: Blayne Weaver
Run Time: 90 minutes
Cast: Blayne Weaver, Lyndie Greenwood and Erin Cahill
Synopsis: An ex-con sets out in search of his kidnapped sister through the criminal underbelly of Shreveport, Louisiana.
Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
Directed by: Phil Furey
Run Time: 84 minutes
Synopsis: The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland killed 270 innocent people and ushered in a frightful new age of terrorism. Bound together in tragedy, the relatives of the victims fought tooth and nail for justice, only to watch it unravel for Libyan oil.
Directed by: Logan Kibens
Run Time: 87 minutes
Cast: Martin Starr, Mae Whitman, Nat Faxon, Christine Lahti, Retta Sirleaf
Synopsis: Joe, a programmer and obsessive self-quantifier, risks losing his marriage when he models the personality for a digital voice on his wife, Emily.
A Light Beneath Their Feet
Directed by: Valerie Weiss
Run Time: 90 minutes
Cast: Taryn Manning, Madison Davenport, Maddie Hasson, Kurt Fuller, Carter Jenkins
Synopsis: A Light Beneath Their Feet is an honest and poignant coming of age story about a high school senior struggling with the decision whether to remain the stable rock for her bipolar mother or go to her dream college across the country.
Welcome to Happiness
Directed by: Oliver Thompson
Run Time: 108 minutes
Cast: Kyle Gallner, Olivia Thirlby, Nick Offerman, Keegan-Michael Key, Brendan Sexton III, Josh Brener
Synopsis: A children’s book author, Woody Ward, is the gatekeeper to a mysterious door in his closet that only allows certain people to enter. One such person, a suicidal artist, is led down a rabbit hole of bizarre coincidences that ultimately bring him to Woody’s doorstep. Though he has no idea where the door leads, Woody happily shepherds people through until he finds out the truth and his life is forever changed.
Directed by: Larry Brand
Run Time: 78 minutes
Cast: Stephen Lang, Gary Sinise
Synopsis: A mixed media presentation implementing aspects of documentary, solo & live performance, and computer generated spaces, acclaimed actor Stephen Lang tells the true stories of eight Medal of Honor recipients both on the battlefield and beyond.
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Run Time: 115 minutes
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss
Synopsis: HIGH-RISE stars Hiddleston as Dr. Robert Laing, the newest resident of a luxurious apartment in a high-tech concrete skyscraper whose lofty location places him amongst the upper class. Laing quickly settles into high society life and meets the building’s eccentric tenants: Charlotte (Miller), his upstairs neighbor and bohemian single mother; Wilder (Evans), a charismatic documentarian who lives with his pregnant wife Helen (Moss); and Mr. Royal (Irons), the enigmatic architect who designed the building. Life seems like paradise to the solitude-seeking Laing. But as power outages become more frequent and building flaws emerge, particularly on the lower floors, the regimented social strata begins to crumble and the building becomes a battlefield in a literal class war.
Directed by: Scott K. Foley
Run Time: 85 minutes
Cast: Maya Boudreau , Kelly O’Sullivan
Synopsis: Adrift in a sea of anxiety and confusion, Jessica must reconcile the legacy of her long dysfunctional family or risk losing the people she cares about most.
Rwanda & Juliet
Directed by: Ben Proudfoot
Run Time: 87 minutes
Synopsis: Rwanda & Juliet is a documentary that follows eccentric Ivy League professor emeritus Andrew Garrod to Kigali, Rwanda, where he mounts Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with Rwandan college students from Hutu and Tutsi backgrounds. Twenty years have passed since the 1994 Genocide that left 1,000,000 Tutsis dead. Predominantly orphans, the cast of young Rwandans, led by a stunning, strong-headed Juliet, tackles their country’s past and their own futures as hopes, pasts, personalities and cultures collide and opening night approaches.