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Phoenix Film Festival: A Celebration of Diversity in Film

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Written by Shi Bradley

These past two weeks have been a major deal for Phoenix’s local film community and the film scene as a whole as Scottsdale has welcomed the annual Phoenix Film Festival to the doors of Harkins 101.

The Phoenix Film Festival serves as one of the biggest events for the film industry of Arizona, complete with screenings of major films such as “Spinning Gold”, industry events, film panels complete with accomplished filmmakers, and industry parties at some of the best restaurants and bars in the Scottsdale area. Film professionals from all across the country come for a chance to network and showcase their work.

One of the highlights of the Phoenix Film Festival to me was the Chevalier film, directed by Stephen Williams. I felt the film beautifully shared the struggle African-Americans experienced at this time and the sad truths of racism, slavery, and classism across the world. It also displayed very real, beautiful, and tragic human experiences: forbidden romance, abusive relationships, art, and music. The ending scene brought a tear to my eye for its celebration of strength and determination in the face of adversity and the strength displayed by the real Joseph Bologne, the genius composer and black man who rose to the royal ranks of France.

However, the Phoenix Film Festival had something for everyone.

“The best part of the Phoenix film festival to me was getting to see so many great films at one time,” said audience member Spencer West. “My favorite part was ‘Everything Went Fine,’ a French film. I think foreign films deserve just as much recognition as any Hollywood film. They represent both unique cultures and experiences, but also the same experiences that are shared across the world.”

Even the theater itself to me represents the idea of the Phoenix Film Festival: a large, grandiose, lit-up theater among the series of small shops and restaurants perfectly encapsulates this small slice of great films that have made its way from the hearts of major film cities like Los Angeles and New York City into the Phoenix area.

More than merely recapturing some of the magic of Hollywood, the fancy parties, and the screenings of soon-to-be major box office hits, I think the Phoenix Film Festival is beautiful in the sense that it captures the mundane of life and celebrates the beautiful diversity of everyday life and everyday people, as well as the highs and lows of the human experience, including love, beauty, pain, and death, as seen by indie-level filmmakers.

Similarly, there were various diverse showcases of short films the Phoenix Film Festival had, including women, LGBTQ+, and African-American-directed shorts. I had the pleasure of seeing the women-directed shorts, which captured a beautiful range of feelings, from the zany ridiculousness of the Halloween-themed film “Witchy,” to the emotional rawness of the film “The Last Bell,” to the heartbreaking tragedies revealed in the documentary “The Blake.”

Audience members at the Phoenix Film Festival, such as Gib Manrique, praised the festival for its efforts to capture the audiences with its diversity.

“The films capture audiences by having themes that were pretty topical, including many themes of complex relationships. I think the festival made a point to have many different short and full-length films that come from people of differing viewpoints. In my time attending, I’ve seen films on the LGBT community, the Latino community, and the Native American community which is really cool.”

The events were also an amazing opportunity for filmmakers to network with one another. One of the final events for the film festival was the awards ceremony, where filmmakers from all over the world, of different genders, races, and sexualities, came together to congratulate each other on their film accomplishments and network with fellow film professionals.

“I was born and raised in Phoenix, so it’s really such an honor to be here tonight,” Jim Warne, winner of best Native American short film for the documentary film “Remember the Children,” said. “It’s important that we get more and more representation and I love that I get a chance to be a part of bringing that diversity into a film across Phoenix and the country.”

The Phoenix Film Festival is a pillar of the film community in Arizona and a place where the diversity of Arizona is appreciated and celebrated. From the many screenings from dozens of filmmakers to the events meant for film professionals to network with one another, the Film Festival encourages the community to celebrate one another for what makes them different and also to connect over the shared human experiences that all filmmakers desire to share through their work.

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