My luck with the Phoenix Film Festival has always been ridiculously good. Even things they couldn’t possibly have manipulated – for instance, the smoothness of my travel from Los Angeles – seem to be sprinkled with magic dust.
Indeed, every aspect of my journey from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport to Phoenix was strangely pitch-perfect: the shuttle pulled up to me just as I stepped out of my car in long term parking; the sky-caps were waiting to check my luggage as I stepped from the shuttle; literally no line whatsoever existed at the TSA checkpoint; as I boarded my plane, I was seated near two gorgeous British models who proceeded to discuss their predilection for girl-on-girl sex in graphic detail. This was unparalleled inflight entertainment that in no way could be credited to the festival – yet because of the festival, I was able to enjoy it.
Upon arriving at filmmaker check-in, I experienced the first, and perhaps most significant, perk of the Phoenix Film Fest – it’s centrally-located nature. While most festivals tend to be spread out, Phoenix centers their entire event around their venue, the Harkins Scottsdale/101 Theatre. In previous years they’ve staged a large tent in the parking lot within which all the parties, panels and ceremonies are held. This year they’ve done it one better and taken over a closed nightclub in the same parking lot, creating a classy, spacious and climate-controlled party pavilion.
By keeping all of its activities in one place, visiting filmmakers are never disconnected from the festival, able to smoothly go between screenings and panels and parties all day long. There’s no pesky downtime. A variety of terrific restaurants surround the location, and the host hotel, the most remote destination in the set-up, is less than a mile away and accessible via frequent shuttles.
Generally a casual festival, for the past two years PFF has thrown a formal opening night gala. Last year was a full sit-down dinner event, which was enjoyable but felt a bit uncharacteristic. This year the fest instead opted for a cocktail party, and they executed it perfectly. Using the evening as a fundraiser for the Phoenix Film Foundation’s educational programs, PFF generated a truly relaxed party atmosphere that lead seamlessly into the opening night film, STARTING AT THE FINISH LINE, an inspirational doc about sports coach Al Buehler. Producer and Phoenix Suns player Grant Hill showed up with Cuba Gooding, Jr., giving the gala it’s requisite celebrity participation. Both guys graciously took photos with partygoers, affording me the opportunity to raid the suddenly deserted open bar.
Although PFF doesn’t do an official after-party following it’s opening night film, festival director Jason Carney alerted me to an informal gathering at the Tilted Kilt, a bar which, thankfully, is staggering distance from the hotel. This found me downing several Irish Carbombs while discussing the educational panel for middle school students I’m doing in the morning.
Coverage will continue with Day Two…
Paul Osborne is the director of OFFICIAL REJECTION, the acclaimed documentary about the experiences of independent filmmakers at film festivals. He also wrote and produced the indie feature TEN TIL NOON, and is currently raising funds via Kickstarter for his new film, the suspense drama FAVOR. Follow him at www.twitter.com/paulmakesmovies.