When Chris LaMont co-founded the Phoenix Film Festival in 2000, he had no idea of the success that would come with it. Now, 14 years later, the festival is preparing to kick off for the 14th time.
“The first year when we had the festival, it was something we wanted to do in order to give local filmmakers an outlet to show their hard work,” he said. “But during the festival, someone came over and asked me when next year’s was going to be, and that was when I realized that we had something successful on our hands.”
LaMont, who is a professor in the Film and Media Production program at ASU, started the festival as a way to help filmmakers show their work, as well as to help put Phoenix’s film scene on the map.
“As a local filmmaker here and as someone who grew up here, I was always curious why there wasn’t a big film festival here in Arizona,” he said. “Tucson has one, but it’s on a much smaller scale than something such as Telluride or Tribeca. Then one night, in the editing suite, I had the idea to start one, so I told some guys at my production company and they bought into the idea.”
LaMont was hoping for a turnout of around 500 people. Nearly 3,000 showed up.
“The response was really eye-opening,” LaMont said.
LaMont believes that the festival’s outstanding attendance encourages filmmakers to submit their films.
“Unlike some festivals where filmmakers have to drum out attendance for their films or go around handing out post cards on the street corner, the audience that comes to the festival is already there and willing to see as many different types of films as that can,” LaMont said.
This year’s festival runs from April 3 to April 10 at the Harkins Scottsdale/101. Nearly 25,000 attendees are expected to view the more than 150 films that will be shown on the theater’s seven screens.
Jason Carney, the festival director and executive director of the Phoenix Film Foundation, is especially excited about this year’s lineup of films.
“I think this could be our best year ever,” Carney said. “The quality of our completion films is truly outstanding, and we have some really great studio films as well.”
Carney says choosing the films to be shown is no easy feat.
“The selection committee begins screening films in August, when the deadline opens, and we usually get between 1,100 and 1,200 submissions,” he said. “But at the end of the day though, we can only screen around 100 of those films, so about 1,000 of the applicants wind up getting rejection letters.”
Highlighting this year’s slate of studio films are Richard Shepard’s “Dom Hemingway,” which features Jude Law as a foul-mouthed, short-tempered ex-con seeking revenge, and Steven Knight’s “Locke”, which features Tom Hardy as a successful construction manager who receives a phone call that could dramatically change his life. Both directors will be doing question and answer sessions after their films screen.
Along with the festival’s regular block of programming, the festival also sponsors the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, which serves as the festivals late night branch of programming. Separate awards are given to these films, which serve as their own competition.
“It’s essentially our version of Toronto After Dark,” LaMont said.
LaMont says that the biggest change he’s seen in the festival’s history is in the way films are screened.
“We were the first festival to screen films in a digital format,” LaMont says. “It was difficult for filmmakers to shoot on film, between it filtering out a bit and the sheer expense of it, so we wanted to make it more accessible for our applicants and so we did.”
Along with that, LaMont says that the festival is also one of the only ones to offer student interns an opportunity to work at a major film festival.
“We offer a class at ASU that focuses on film festivals, and it allows students the opportunity to intern at the festival and get a feel firsthand of what it’s like to plan and run one,” he said. “It’s a really unique experience for them to work not just at any festival, but the biggest and best in Arizona.”
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