In many cultures, the 18th birthday is a big deal, the serious coming of age birthday. Phoenix Film Festival turns 18 this year, and does indeed seem to be making the leap to the next level.
The schedule this year includes a number of anticipated, high-profile movies, including Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Morgan Neville’s documentary about Mr. Rogers, and Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age yarn, Eighth Grade. Various guests are slated to attend, and there will be the usual parties, receptions and showcases. But perhaps the most notable sign that the festival has grown up is simply that it’s grown out: It’s longer than in previous years, running from April 5 to April 15 at Harkins Scottsdale 101.
“This year we’re going from eight days to eleven days,” explains Jason Carney, the festival’s Executive Director. “It’s a big jump because it also means more movies. Last year we had 175, and now we’re hitting the 300 mark. This has allowed us to create a ‘Music in Movies’ section, as well as expanding out our other categories.”
Carney ascribes the fest’s growth, in part, to its unity of place.
“Not only are all screenings at one location, the amazing Harkins Scottsdale 101,” he notes, “but all of the parties and workshops happen just outside the theatre doors. There are very few, if any, festivals our size that take place in one convenient spot. Most festivals that have this many events are scattered throughout the city.”
Instead, says Carney, the Harkins venue “creates a real sense of community at the festival, as festival goers and filmmakers are able to connect and talk with the same people throughout the event. It’s a really cool vibe that develops each year.”
Helping to generate that vibe this year, says Carney, are ”a few guests I’m psyched about. And they’re screening back to back on closing night. First is director Jim Loach and actress Liana Liberato with the US Premiere of the film Measure of a Man, starring a great ensemble including Donald Sutherland, Judy Greer and Luke Wilson. Then following that we have director Bo Burnham screening his film Eighth Grade from A24 that premiered at Sundance. Coming of age films are right in my wheelhouse, and we’re closing out with two strong ones.”
This year’s festival will include short film showcases, including bills of shorts by Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans, college shorts, and shorts by Arizona high school students. There will be various parties and award presentations, a silent auction, and, on April 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., a Kid’s Day of free activities. But it’s the opportunities to meet and interact with filmmakers that’s essential to the festival’s success.
“The fact that we have filmmakers in attendance is a huge thing for audiences” says Carney. “Getting to hear the perspective from the director and others who worked on the film often gives you another level of appreciation of the films. It’s kind of like what helps separate a film festival from just going to the movies.”
Phoenix Film Festival 2018 runs from April 5 to April 15 at Harkins Scottsdale 101. Go to phoenixfilmfestival.com for details.