Updated: Nov 15
By Shi Bradley
The Phoenix Film Festival is amajor local celebration of films. For 23-years the festival has highlighted everything from local student films to the next box office hit. Along with that the festival is equipped with seminars, workshops, and festivities. I had the privilege of speaking with Jason Carney, executive director of the Phoenix Film Foundation about the importance of the festival for both the local and national film landscape, what goes into crafting the 11-day festival, and what he’s excited about for this year’s festival.
Tell me about yourself. What is your role in organizing the Phoenix film festival?
“My name is Jason Carney and I’m the executive director of the Phoenix Film Foundation, which is a non-profit organization.”
Discuss the film lineup this year. What films are being showcased?
“There are several films being showcased, ranging from major films to local short and student films. There’s over 200 films this year. Some are higher profile films, like this year our opening film is “Somewhere in Queens,” which is directed by Ray Romano, (the former star of Everybody Loves Raymond). We are also showcasing “Spinning Gold,” which stars Jeremy Jordan and a lot of really cool singers including Jason Derulo. It’s a really cool film with really great music. And we also just have some really great documentaries: we have a film with Michael J. Fox, a documentary about Stephen Curry called “Underrated,” a Judy Blume documentary. Then we have our smaller films, student films, which is really cool as well.”
How was the lineup selected this year?
““It all starts way back in August. Between August and September, we look at nearly 1,000 films, we review them, consider them, and then we just get the best of the best from that early roundup. Then people on the board look at it to create the ultimate lineup for the festival.”
Talk about the process of creating the festival in terms of logistics and funding. What goes into creating the Phoenix Film Festival?
“We start on marketing campaigns, we make our poster art in about October and that will typically get released by December. Once January hits, we select our films and then we are up and running: working on all the operations, setting up all the parties, and scheduling films, workshops, panel discussions, figuring out who’s attending the festival. Ideally we have as many filmmakers attending as possible so working out those travel details is very important. “
How many people are involved in creating the festival? What different types of jobs are involved?
“We have ten members on the board and then we have two-full time employees at the foundation: myself and Samantha Bartham, who is the managing director at the Film Foundation. There are also so many volunteers, about 70 on the board and then about 100 more volunteers who are working on the festival itself. In addition to that, we are fortunate to have great attendance at the festival. Ideally, we’ll have about 100 filmmakers attending, from all over the world.”
What other events are being hosted this year for the festival?
“Absolutely! We have parties going throughout the festival, the cocktail party is a big part of opening night. So of course, you see the films but you also get a great premiere event where there’s a lot of different restaurants, drinks, music. Our first Friday party is Industry Night so the local film community gets to make connections with one another. Our Saturday night party is “Film Prom” which is basically just prom night: we have people dressed up, a DJ, cheesy prom photos.
Other than that, we have a lot of panel discussions going on and usually that’s four filmmakers on the panel talking about multiple topics in regards to filmmaking and the industry.”
What’s the biggest challenge in forming the festival?
“Getting the schedule just right. You have to wait on requests from films, and getting permission from the studio, and then creating the schedule with over 200 films, it can get really challenging. It’s a really tight deadline, organizing this in October and finishing by March. There’s a lot of late nights involved.”
What do you look forward to the most about this year’s festival?
“Pretty easy, it’s amazing to connect filmmakers with the audiences. For many filmmakers, this is their first time screening for an audience at a major event, and there’s a lot of nerves and excitement. Every year, we get to help filmmakers feel comfortable and get the audience excited and it’s a good feeling to make that connection between the filmmakers and audience and make sure both parties have a good experience.”
How do you feel the Phoenix film festival contributes to the film scene across the state and country?
“Locally, it’s big for us: it’s a great networking opportunity and gives local filmmakers a chance to grow and connect with others. Film is such a collaborative experience and networking is a big part of that, so the more we can foster the growth of the local film community, the better. But also in general, I want to show people all across the country and world: we show great films, we have a lot of talent here, and I want filmmakers all over the world to think: “ this is where I wanna submit a movie to.”
What do you hope the attendees of this year’s festival take away from the experience?
“I just hope they love the films. I want it to be a great experience when you see the film. The goal is, that even if the audience doesn’t like a film, they can still enjoy the art behind it and find something interesting about it. And as well, I hope everyone can walk away with a new favorite film.”
The Phoenix Film Festival will be held March 23rd through April 2nd at Harkins Theatres Scottsdale 101 14. Opening night on the 23rd begins at 6pm and tickets can be purchased on the Phoenix Film Festival website for $60.
Learn more about the festival at Phoenix Film Festival.