It’s a universal truth – as a film festival progresses, the filmmakers move slower and slower. Full days of screenings followed by late nights of partying gradually take their toll as, one by one, the attendees find the limits of their physical endurance. They become a scarce breed at the host hotel’s complimentary breakfast.
Here at the Phoenix Film Festival the process is a little accelerated in part because the nightly parties are so damn good. Perhaps if I hadn’t been treated to the sight of a chubby dwarf lady doing a high energy burlesque dance dressed as Darth Vader to MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”, I might have considered leaving and turning in at a more reasonable hour.
But wait – let’s back up. That’s how the day ended, not how it began. In fact, it started with just the opposite – the annual family friendly “Kids Day” event. Here children are invited to do a variety of nifty movie-related activities at ten separate stations inside the Party Pavilion, including performing in front of a green screen, playing with Final Cut Pro editing software, getting their photo taken walking a red carpet (complete with a variety of dress-ups) and adding their own live foley sound effects to a short film.
After watching my 16-month old son Liam tear thru Kids Day, my run of screenings began with the Arizona Shorts program, which included Paul DeNegris’ latest work, PARALLAX. It’s the DeNegris’ flick that drew me into the screening – I backed the project last year on Kickstarter – but throughout the program I noticed I was seeing flicks from a great number of other people I’ve gotten to know from my years of attending PFF. It’s gratifying to see how strong the local film here community has really become.
My wife Leslie and I then endured a torturously long line at Extreme Pita before heading into a screening of the time-shifting drama SHUFFLE. A catchy trailer convinced me this flick was a PFF must-see: a black-and-white Film Noir/Twilight Zone/ Frank Capra mash-up, with a big splash of MEMENTO tossed in for good measure. I’d met director Kurt Kuenne earlier in the festival, and knowing I would face him again at tonight’s party, it was a relief to find that SHUFFLE was staggeringly well-made. It’s quite possibly my favorite movie of the year thus far.
Next Leslie and I slid right into SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS, a quirky dramedy about a pregnant, technology-obsessed woman taking an unexpected roadtrip to find her estranged mother who’s gone “off the grid”. Although it’ll invariably be dismissed as “just another chick flick” by some, MOVING PARTS is an excellent, poetic little movie, beautifully anchored by Anna Margaret Hollyman’s lead performance.
It’s worth noting that PFF really stepped up the quality of its projection this year. The festival implemented a strict blu-ray-only policy, utilizing the DLP projectors and BD players native to the Harkins theatre. The result has been (mostly) glitch-free screenings with movies starting on time and presented with impressively crisp, bright, clear picture and sound.
An informal dinner gathering of some filmmakers at the Blue Agave led into the Saturday night party and the aforementioned Darth Vader dancer. PFF brought in an entire burlesque review, which in addition to the Sith Lord bit presented routines featuring Ghostbusters, Planet of the Apes and The Fifth Element. When the burlesque troupe departed the stage, it was immediately replaced with a trio of lip-syncing, show-stopping drag queens. There was so much commotion that festival guests Marcia Gay Harden and Michael Biehn were able to slip into the VIP “Smart Water Hydration” Room almost unnoticed.
Paul Osborne is the director of film festival documentary OFFICIAL REJECTION & screenwriter of cult thriller TEN ‘TIL NOON. His latest movie, FAVOR, is in post-production. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulMakesMovies.