Help Us Fund Phoenix FearCON V:

Hello Horror Fans!

We’re crowd sourcing some funding for our Horror Film Festival this year (Phoenix FearCON V) and hope you would be interested in sharing our Kickstarter project with your fans. With a little support from a bunch of backers, we’re partnering up with the community of horror fans and a sense of accomplishment that didn’t hurt in the pocket too much.

Horror Fans worldwide are a loyal lot and we’re making it simple for them invest a small amount and be part of something big. All we need is 1000 people to pledge $20 or more each, and it will be ridiculous fun at this year’s FearCON Pledging to our project includes a bunch of perks including VIP tickets to the event.

Here’s the link to pass on to whomever you like:

Thanks again!!
Chris & Jim – Festival Directors
Phoenix FearCON V

Ten Years in the USA

This week marks the tenth anniversary of my permanent arrival in the United States of America. What a long, strange journey it has been: like all of life, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows, and moments to remember in both directions. After the jump, you’ll find ten such memories, some personal and others global, to mark my decade as an American citizen…

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4th Phoenix Film Festival

Harkins Cine Capri, April 1st-4th, 2004

As predicted last year, the fourth Phoenix Film Festival found a new home in 2004 – the good news is, the venue was now only 15 minutes from TC Towers. The bad news…well, regular readers will know why the Harkins Cine Capri is not our favourite cinema. Add to this that organizers were now in bed with the Evil Empire of Ticketmaster when it came to selling festival passes – meaning patrons were the ones getting screwed – and the omens weren’t good.

From our standpoint, the timing could have been better. We had foreign friends visiting, and Friday night was spent with them at a baseball game. Then Chris came down with what felt like a 24-hour version of SARS, taking her out on Saturday afternoon and evening. This is why we only got to see four films over the festival, even though it was now extended by an extra day. Hence, we can’t fairly give out the TC Awards, as we’ve done for the past three years; we apologise, and promise to do better next year.

Looking through the program was also a bit disappointing. The opening night – described as the “largest independent film premiere in Arizona history” – starred those icons of indie cinema… Macauley Culkin and Mandy Moore. The closing night starred Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Half the others felt like an episode of Where Are They Now?, including Jennifer Beals, Kevin Sorbo and Brian Austin Green, while global cinema was represented by precisely one non-English language feature.

Culkin prepares to
pop a wheelie…

As for genre entries, the closest was i died, a real-time movie filmed from a ghost’s point of view. This was initially on our watch-list, but the reports from the first screening were unanimously dire, with a huge number of walkouts. The organizers can’t blame a lack of submissions: I know that The Great American Snuff Film was rejected despite, I strongly suspect, being superior to i died. Wussy “slice of life” dramas were, of course, present in abundance, though Phoenix is hardly alone there; what film festival ever shows horror or cult flicks any respect?

Let’s give praise where it’s due however; while we may disagree on genres, when it comes to specific movies, the selection committee showed excellent taste. The hit-rate among the films we saw was much better than last year, with only one falling a little below expectations. The others were all thoroughly enjoyable, and two will certainly be candidates for the year-end TC top ten.

The post-Superbowl Puritan backlash seemed to have hit proceedings. While useful information, such as the running time, was not listed in the program, each movie had notes on its content: language, violence (broken down into fights, gunshots and blood), sexual situations and – heaven forbid! – drinking. Let’s be honest: if you’re concerned about consumption of alcohol in movies by adults, you need to get a freakin’ life. The information was not even 100% accurate: I was pleasantly surprised by the cheerily gratuitous strip-club sequence in You Got Nothin’, about which the program said zilch. Dozens of Amish attendees were carried screaming out of the theatre, but otherwise, civilization as we know it in Arizona seems to have survived.

…as does Fonda.

From an organizational point of view, there seemed to be few problems, with films starting on time and smooth entrances and exits for audiences. The tribute to Peter Fonda was, however, embarrassingly gremlin-plagued, with a number of technical issues which should have been sorted out beforehand. And whoever arranged for a loud rock band to play just outside during proceedings, should be strapped to the back of a truck and taken for a long drag. [As a side note, it might be worth stopping people from going into screenings after the film has begun; the weekend-pass system seems to encourage irritatingly late arrivals] Other celebrities in attendance included Russell Means, Michael Tolkin and John Landis – his latest film is entitled Slasher, but is actually a documentary about a car-salesman, which is kinda sad.

All criticism aside: we love the Phoenix Film Festival. It keeps getting bigger – 10,000 attendees in 2004, up from seven thousand last year – but the people involved continue to treat all of them, whether paid, press or professionals, as if it’s an honour to have them there. While the volunteers deserve particular credit for their unfailing good humour, everyone involved with the festival is great, and are probably the main reason why the city and Arizona can justly be proud of this event. Now, put us on the selection committee, and it’ll be perfect… 😉

Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Official festival awards

  • Best Feature Film: Break a Leg
  • Best Director: Philip Angelotti Jr., You Got Nothin’
  • Best Screenplay: Philip Angelotti Jr., You Got Nothin’
  • Best Ensemble: Black Cloud
  • Best Documentary: Up For Grabs
  • Audience Ballot Award: Black Cloud

Festival reviews

3rd Phoenix Film Festival

AMC Arizona Center, April 11th-13th, 2003

It seems that the Arizona Center and the Arizona Film Festival are going in opposite directions. While the latter goes from strength to strength, the entire second floor of the Center has now been cleared of retail, to make way for an upcoming change into office space – yeah, like that’s something which downtown Phoenix desperately lacks. [Readers outside Arizona, please ladle sarcasm onto that phrase with a bucket] It’s probably significant that the last time we were at the Center was…hey, for last year’s film festival. A change of venue might be required soon, given the mausoleum-like atmosphere generated by most of the place.

Or maybe the air of gloom and doom was caused by the films – for no readily apparent reason, this year’s selections seemed largely downbeat and depressing. Not that this was in any way a reflection on their quality – in only one case did we feel like we wasted our time, even if we frequently came out with a strong desire to slit our wrists.

How much is that doggie in the window?
Shelter Dogs

This time round, we really don’t expect the TC Awards to match up with the festival ones. We only saw three of the ten films in competition, because most of the others just didn’t appeal. Here are a sample of the program descriptions that sank our interest, and sent us scurrying off to other movies:

* The Journey: “Eric Saperston set out in a VW bus with a couple of friends, on an odyssey that would take them across America, and into their own and each other’s souls”.
*Melvin Goes to Dinner: “A casual dinner…turns into an all-night confessional where secrets, skeletons and existential beliefs get passed around the table.”
*Shelter Dogs: [Documentary] “If you have a soul of any kind, bring tissue to this movie.”
*Totally Blonde: “In this comedic relationship film, Meg Peters can’t seem to find Mr. Right. That is, until she gets a bottle of blonde hair dye…”

I find it sad to see indie films getting inspiration from Reese Witherspoon studio pics. Maybe it’s just us. Going by the descriptions, entries also subscribed to the view that talk was cheap. While true (thus a significant saving on a low budget), it’s a philosophy uncomfortably close to that of daytime soap-opera. Resorting to talking heads is a disappointingly safe approach, when film-makers could use their independence to explore bleeding-edge cinema.

On the plus side, there was an greatly-increased quota of films from outside America. Although the official entries were all from the US or Canada, there were also movies from Spain, Australia, the UK, Japan, the Czech Republic, Mexico and China, giving a welcome global flavour. Unfortunately, the attendance at the ones we saw was disappointing, perhaps partly due to the brief coverage in the festival literature. The opposite was true of the short film programs: the two we checked out were both standing-room only, with people sitting on the floor for one of them.

The pope of trash,
John Waters

Celebs in attendance included James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) and Edward Burns, director and star of Confidence, which opened the festival. John Waters was also in attendance to perform his one-man show, The World is Trash – nice title – and going by the queues waiting to get into that, it was a popular attraction. Brian O’Halloran also made a return appearance, to present the awards ceremony and present a late-night screening of Clerks. Our son saw Lindsey Crouse at Paradise Valley Mall over the weekend, but don’t think she was actually in attendance at the event. 🙂

Despite the disappointing selection of films in competition, the renegades outside made up for it, and The Hard Word is certainly an early contender for a top 10 slot come the year end. While the event may be getting bigger, kudos are still in order for the friendly, informal atmosphere, and nothing happened this year to change its position as our favourite film festival, even putting home-town bias aside – though I admit having such a fine event 30 minutes drive away is not exactly a deterrent! The queue begins here for Phoenix 2004…

Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Festival Reviews

TC Awards

  • Best Film: The Hard Word
  • Best Actor: Kelly Harms, The Happy Couple
  • Best Actress: Maya Zapata, Streeters
  • Best Director: Zhu Wen, Seafood
  • Best Supp. Actor: Peter Stormare, The Movie Hero
  • Best Supp. Actress: Rachel Griffiths, The Hard Word
  • Best Script: Scott Roberts, The Hard Word

Official Festival Awards

  • Best Short Film:
  • Best Feature Film: Melvin Goes to Dinner
  • Best Director: John Carlos Frey, The Gatekeeper
  • Best Screenplay: Chris Philpott, The Happy Couple
  • Best Ensemble: Melvin Goes to Dinner
  • Arizona Filmmaker Award: Wayne Dickmann, The Sum of One
  • [Our reaction: You have got to be kidding…]
  • Audience Ballot Award: The Gatekeeper
  • Best Student Short

2nd Phoenix Film Festival: AMC Arizona Center, April 5th-7th, 2002

It’s spring, and a young man’s thoughts inevitably turn to…spending all day in the dark. Yep, it’s film fest time again, with Arizona’s own Phoenix Film Festival, back for its second year. For some reason, they invited us back too. Guess we’re not trying hard enough. 🙂

Things were slightly different from last year; fewer films, I think, but more chances to see them, which works fine for us harried acolytes who are making (inevitably futile) attempts to see everything. The staggered start times were a bit of a mixed blessing – while it does reduce the crush to get in when you don’t have three films beginning simultaneously, it occasionally led to perilous rushing between screens. Still, some things were the same as last year. The venue for one, though the Arizona Center seemed a good deal more…well, vacant than last year, exemplified by a food court where two-thirds of the units are unoccupied.

Not much better luck in the cinema, where the concession stands seemed wildly unprepared for people actually wanting snacks at 11am in the morning. We felt particularly bad about forcing the director of Jane White is Sick and Twisted to chase after us, waving a press-pack, as we sprinted off in search of something edible. Hopefully, he’ll understand that man cannot live by popcorn alone.

Sarah Graham Hayes from Dead Dogs Lie
Pic by Dennis Yeandle

Was delighted to see the punctuality of the festival remained as eccentric as ever – this is not an event for the fastidious clock-watcher, shall we say. Some of this was self-inflicted by the organisers: if you schedule a 100 minute film for noon, it’s a bit optimistic to have the next begin at 1:30pm! As a result, events started anywhere up to 45 minutes late, but the great thing is…no-one minded – all the more time to chat. And, as last year, without exception, people were more than happy to hang round and talk, a delightful change from bigger events where guests get bussed in, and escorted out. Mind you, could have done without the house lights coming up four separate times in the middle of one poor movie – it’s not like we were having sex or anything.

We crammed in seven films in a day and a half. It would have been eight, but an accident on Highway 51 delayed our arrival – just one of several oddities that weekend, including my receipt of a summons for jury service (dammit, you have to be a U.S. citizen, so no Twelve Angry Men role for me). Also caught the high-school short film program, which was a wide mix between the unexpected – Taken Away featured martial arts choreography worthy of a Hong Kong movie – and the…well, let’s just say a couple of the makers probably took time out from writing bad poetry in their bedrooms.

The regular features were, almost without exception, impressive. It’s immensely sad to realise the hard part is no longer making a movie, it’s giving anyone else the chance to see it. I have no doubt at all that if films like Drop Dead Roses or Dead Dogs Lie got to open in 3,000 screens across the continent, they would royally kick the arse of Van Wilder. That they get no such opportunity is unutterably sad – check out last year’s report, and see how few of 2001’s movies got any distribution. The organisers did get one foreign language film into this year’s festival, something I’d like to see more of – if chances to see low-budget English-language movies are thin on the ground, for overseas ones they’re effectively zero.

Maybe next year they’ll even expand it out beyond a weekend – with 300 submissions this year, there’s clearly a demand for a festival like this, and personally, I’m perhaps better equipped for stamina than a sprint (I always seem to end up wanting to lie down in a well-lit room for a while, having had quite enough of darkened ones). This is probably just me being greedy though; why have a weekend of fun when you can get a whole week?

[Thanks once again to Golan and everyone else at the PFF for their help and assistance, the film-makers for unfailing friendliness, even in the face of…er, us, and co-editor Chris Fata for dealing with ACT tests, suffering through another bout of shaky-cam nausea, and being everything one could want. And she’s all mine, hahaha!]

Phoenix 2003? Hell, yeah! Can’t wait!
Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Festival Reviews

TC Awards

  • Best Film: Dead Dogs Lie and Jane White is Sick and Twisted – tie
  • Best Actor: Eddie McGee, Drop Dead Roses
  • Best Actress: Kris Carr, Five Years
  • Best Ensemble: Tommy Flanagan, Gary Stretch, Sarah Graham Hayes, Dead Dogs Lie
  • Best Director: David Michael Latt, Jane White is Sick and Twisted
  • Best Supporting Actor: Chris Hardwick, Jane White is Sick and Twisted
  • Best Supporting Actress: Barbi Castelvi, Drop Dead Roses
  • Best Script: David Warfield, Ocean Park