One of the biggest paring-down jobs in the arts year in northern Arizona is the effort to select final films for screening from the more than 1,000 submitted to the Sedona International Film Festival.
The nearly 160 films that made the cut will delight and inform audiences of the 19th annual red-rock film festival, which begins Saturday.
"Every year, we head into the festival with incredible anticipation about the breadth and diversity of the films we're screening, and this year's entries -- not just those that were chosen by our screening committee but those that, unfortunately were not -- will lift the festival to the next level," said Patrick Schweiss, SIFF executive director. "We are thrilled with the films, from the shorts to the full-length features and documentaries, because each carries a very special element, whether it's the cinematography, acting, messages, storyline or the writing. We have an absolutely incredible lineup."
Tickets sales topped 34,000 for the films last year and the visibility of the festival on the international cinematic skyline increases each year.
"Audiences have praised us as one of their favorite festivals," Schweiss said. "We remain committed to the heart and soul of independent film and the filmmakers who bring their vision and their voice alive on the screen."
Audience enthusiasm has gained momentum each year, culminating in excellent attendance, as well as feedback on films, such as the 2012 Audience Choice Awards for Best of Fest Overall for "The Women on the 6th Floor," a social comedy with emotional themes set in Paris in the 1960s.
TWO FANTASTIC NEW VENUES
Rolling out the 2013 lineup begins at noon Saturday, when "Shun Li and the Poet" comes to the screen at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre. It tells the story of Shun Li who works in a textile factory near Rome, slowly paying off the broker that brought her from China to Italy, while saving money so she can bring her young son to join her.
Over at Sedona Red Rock High School, another noontime showing, "Carbon Nation," a full-length documentary from the U.S. about climate change solutions, will be shown at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.
These two fantastic new venues have added greatly to the international reputation and enjoyment of the festival offerings.
The 112-seat Mary D. Fisher Theatre, which showcases quality independent films Monday through Friday each week, opened Feb. 18, 2012, just in time for the 18th annual film festival.
In March 2011, the state-of-the-art, 750-seat Sedona Performing Arts Center on the grounds of Sedona Red Rock High School opened for business with a live broadcast in HD of The Metropolitan Opera performing Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."
By the time of the 2012 Sedona International Film Festival, Schweiss said organizers were able to book nine full festival days into the Harkins Theatre, the Mary D. Fisher Theatre and the two-tiered Sedona Performing Arts Center.
The festival is a win-win for attendees and Sedona.
"Sedona attracts a very educated base of filmgoers who understand, appreciate and enjoy what it means to be part of the independent film industry," Schweiss added. "There's also the benefit to Sedona in terms of economic impact across the entire week."
BECOMING A MAJOR FESTIVAL
The film festival started in 1994 as a fundraising event and awareness-builder of the Sedona Cultural Park and was originally designed as two-day festival in a weekend in the offseason of the park's season.
When the Cultural Park closed in 2003, the board members formed a new 501c3 Sedona International Film Festival to keep the festival alive and going strong.
"Since then, we have been operating as our own organization," said Schweiss, who took over as executive director in July 2004. "Together with the board, we grew to the nine-day festival we are today, plus we have our own year-round arthouse theatre, Mary D. Fisher Theatre, which allows us to present independent films and special events 52 weeks of the year."
Three years ago, SIFF landed a major coup when it brought Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
In 2011, it followed up by bringing Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump," as well as comedians Jonathan Winters and Rita Rudner.
In 2012, festival organizers brought actress Lea Thompson, who is also a film director and producer, acclaimed director Peter Bogdanovich and many others who drew several sellout crowds.
"Because they were the most well-known, they always attracted interest at the galas and parties," Schweiss said at the time. "There was definitely a huge buzz around Sedona ... with the level of celebrities who attended."
This year, legendary actress Joan Collins will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. She will also be the guest of honor at "An Evening with Joan Collins," which is Wednesday, Feb. 27, on stage at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.
"It's nice to be able to say that those days of struggling to attract quality films and filmmakers are just a vague memory," Schweiss said. "The Sedona Film Festival pays dividends on both sides of the screen: To the public who can experience thoughtful, funny, quirky, creative and, at times, troubling films, but all that entertain, and to the filmmakers who will quickly and passionately tell you that their experience in Sedona is second to none in how they're treated, regardless of their budget or genre of film, by both the festival staff and volunteers and the patrons."
For a complete interactive film schedule grid and a list of special events, including workshops and galas, visit the SIFF website at www.sedona filmfestival.org.
Betsey Bruner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2255.
IF YOU GO...
WHAT: 19th annual Sedona International Film Festival
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 23 to Sunday, March 3
WHERE: Films will run all day beginning Tuesday, Feb. 26, on four screens at Sedona Harkins 6, 2081 W. State Route 89A; the Mary D. Fisher Theater, 2030 W. State Route 89A; and the Sedona Performing Arts Center at Sedona Red Rock High School, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Road.
TICKETS: Festival passes and ticket packages are available online at www.sedonafilmfestival.org.