By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
”With European filmmakers, when you say, ‘Come to Arizona,’ it’s like they’re amazed: ‘A film festival in Arizona? That’s terrific, I want to go! Tucson and cacti! All right!’ They’ve all been to New York. They’ve been to L.A. and they all go to these big hotels. But they think ‘Arizona,’ and they think of all this ‘Western land.’ To them, this is the true America.”
—Frederic Lucas, Associate Programmer for the Arizona International Film Festival
The fourth annual Arizona International Film Festival (AIFF) opens today, launching its ten-day exposition of independent films, lectures and workshops. The festival will involve several Tucson locations, including The Screening Room (127 E. Congress), The Loft Cinema (3233 E. Speedway), Crossroads Festival (4811 E. Grant Rd.), and Gallagher Theatre (UA Student Union).
The 1995 AIFF is the largest one yet in a growing event that now boasts sites across Arizona. In addition to Tucson, festival screenings will be held in Sedona, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Nogales.
Giulio Scalinger, the director of the Arizona Media Arts Center, the organization that is presenting the festival, explains, “Since we have so many good programs and filmmakers coming in, we might as well share the expense. It’s a much larger project (than in the past) and it’s growing very quickly.”
The list of festival sponsors is almost as long as the play list. “It’s really quite amazing,” Scalinger says, regarding the numerous sponsors, ranging from the Arizona Historical Society to Tucson Electric Power.
While the AIFF is earning
Arizona a developing foothold in independent exhibition, film festivals are nothing new to the rest of the world. The first festival was established in 1932 by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Venice to attract tourists. Today, some of the more famous festivals range from the glittery hype-filled glamour of the Cannes Film Festival to the independent gala of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The AIFF focuses on independent films, meaning those films made outside of the multimillion dollar bureaucracies of the Hollywood studios like Universal, Paramount, and Warner Brothers. Independent films are traditionally “uncommercial” works like foreign films, documentaries, shorts, and experimental works that might never be seen locally.
One of the purposes of the AIFF is to focus attention on the Arizona Media Arts Center and its various programs.
“The Center has various projects,” Scalinger explains. “The Screening Room is one, the festival is another, and we have various educational programs. The festival obviously has the highest profile. I always say it’s a ‘sexy project.’ We have a lot of people come on board. I think (the attention) will help the Screening Room and the other projects.”
The opening film this year is “My Family,” a Mexican American saga executive produced by Francis Coppola that traces an immigrant family’s history from the ’20s through the ’80s. “My Family” was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and is now being distributed by New Line Cinema, one of the largest independent distributors.
Regarding the AIFF’s willingness to include an established film, Scalinger comments, “Last year, our big success was ‘Mi Vida Loca,’ (distributed by Sony Classics), which we played at Gallagher. It was packed, we had to turn people away. Then the Loft grabbed it and it played for ten weeks and we finally realized that we could offer a smaller studio a sneak preview.”
As independent distributors become more successful, access to their films becomes more difficult. Miramax received more Academy Award nominations this year than any of the major Hollywood studios with films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” and “The Madness of King George.” Scalinger notes, “Miramax is becoming harder to deal with, not because they don’t want to deal with us, but because they’re becoming more successful. All of their films are going to play in the theaters.”
The conflict between non-profit exhibitions and a festival’s popularity is frequently targeted by festival critics. The desire to exhibit “uncommercial” films versus the need to entice sponsors is a recurring problem for festival planners.
Scalinger adds, “Naturally, there’s always the push to bring in stars and (other popular aspects) which I think will eventually come, but that shouldn’t be the focus of the festival. To me, the stars are the films and the independent filmmakers.”
The AIFF will have many directors present their films at the screenings, including Don Campbell (“Young at Hearts”), George Ratliff (“Plutonium Circus”), and Joan Mandell (“Tales from Arab Detroit”). There will also be an appearance by Eduardo Lopez Rojas (“My Family”), one of Mexico’s leading actors, who won Mexico’s Best Actor award in 1976 and was nominated most recently for the same award in 1992 for “La Mujer de Benjamin.”
Many of the more famous film festivals include awards ceremonies that make them more alluring to competitive filmmakers, but turning festivals into competitions can discourage some filmmaker’s from entering works.
“Next year, we’re going to have to look at the possibility of handing out awards,” Scalinger says. “A lot of the filmmakers that come here enjoy the fact that it’s not competitive and there’s a very relaxed feel to the festival. Competition would change that. Also, larger distributors will not enter competitions because if they don’t win the big award, it’s bad PR. And then of course, the big debate is ‘what are you going to call the award?’ The Golden Cactus?”
The 1995 AIFF doesn’t have an awards ceremony, but it does divide its films into specific groups, depending on the nature of each film. Features, historical films, video works, and short films are placed into separate categories.
“The main category,” Scalinger explains, “is the ‘Premiere Showcase.’ We bring in 20 to 25 films within that program. We try to make sure that at least 4 or 5 are documentaries because
you don't get to see them anywhere else.
Everybody says, ‘Well, PBS shows them,’ but if they’re controversial, PBS won’t show them.
“Another program is called the ‘Arizona Media Arts Showcase’ where we put out a call to Arizona producers and they submit work. We’ll have (about 15) different pieces.” Some of the entries in this category include “Fabio and Juliette” from Pima Community College’s advanced film class and “Religion in Mesoamerica” by UA Media Arts instructor Alfonso Moises.
“We also have a program called ‘From the Archives’ where we look back and bring in some important films from history. For example, one of my favorite filmmakers is (Werner) Fassbinder. A really small distributor has found one of his early works that nobody has seen. So we’re going to bring that in. Also, because of the fact that this year is the centennial of film, ‘From the Archives’ will be expanded to include older archival films.”
Some of the older films planned include D. W. Griffith’s landmark “Intolerance” (1916), as well as an eclectic collection including Nicholas Ray’s “Johnny Guitar” (1954), Ophuls’ “Madame De...” (1953), Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” (1977), and Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country” (1962).
“‘Serving Independents,’” Scalinger notes, “is a series of workshops that are given by the filmmakers who are attending. Or if there’s a particular topic, we can bring in local people who have the expertise and we focus on them.
“The festival’s theme is ‘Celebrating the Centennial of Film,’ but we also want to look at the next hundred years. A lot of workshops will deal more with new technology like CD-ROM and interactive mediums.” Some of the workshops planned are “Using Digital Media,” “Producing a CD-ROM,” and “The World Wide Web: A Whole New World.”
As “newer” technologies like cable, satellite, video, laserdiscs, and computers begin offering more mediums and venues for film producers and distributors, more festivals will have to begin addressing this diversity. Many independent films, like last year’s critically acclaimed “The Last Seduction,” are made directly for cable or video and are only later distributed as theatrical films. As new technologies reach larger audiences, film festivals must begin including these mediums in their programs.
“Another program that’s developed really fast,” says Scalinger, “is ‘Short Takes,’ which is short films. This year it’s really expanded because we’re getting a lot of shorts from France and Spain. The interesting thing about short films is that in Europe, the short is considered an art form. So well-known directors and actors will do them along with everything else. In this country, a short film is a stepping stone to becoming a feature, so most short films are being made by young filmmaker’s just coming out of film school.”
Frederic Lucas, the festival’s associate programmer, is largely responsible for AIFF’s selection of short films. As a UA Media Arts student, Lucas went to Paris over Christmas break and began attending film festivals searching for short films and filmmakers to invite to Arizona.
“I saw 160 films in three weeks,” Lucas says, “They were all short films ranging from 14 to 35 minutes each. It was like a drug. I would wake up a start thinking, ‘I need to see a film!’
“I tried to meet with the directors themselves and say that I was working for film acquisitions for the Arizona film festival. All the directors, especially the Europeans, were very excited about coming to Arizona. They would say, ‘Wow, a film festival in Arizona! Great!’ They’re so used to the big cities that Tucson and the desert sounded wonderful.
“We have a total of 16 shorts and they’re all very good. All of the shorts we’ve gotten have been nominated for national prizes in France and many European countries.”
Scalinger and Lucas also attended various festivals in the United States over the past year. Lucas remembers, “I went to a couple of festivals, to Sundance and the Chicago Latino Film Festival, and eventually got films from South America.”
The Arizona International Film Festival will continue to grow and promises to become a popular cultural attraction in the years to come, bringing in more filmmakers and cinephiles as the festival develops a personality of its own and further entrenches itself in independent filmmaking.
“We try to get so many films,” Lucas says, “and I think it’s good that most of the films we’ve tried to get have soon afterwards been bought by distributors. I can tell from my involvement with the festival over the past six months that the independent film industry is so much more alive than it was four or five years ago. There are many more distributors and many more producers making films.”
The Arizona International Film Festival begins today through Sunday, April 30th. For schedule information, call the Media Arts Center, 628-1737, or The Screening Room, 622-2262. A festival schedule is available and individual theaters may be contacted for show times.
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