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