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What a nice place to come in from the gathering heat waves of late spring and the upcoming summer.

More and more, audiences are choosing to tuck themselves away inside the cool and comfortable interior of the new Mary D. Fisher Theatre off West Highway 89A in Sedona to watch fine independent films, many being screened for the first time in northern Arizona.

"It's been very exciting; our little baby is open and operating," said Patrick Schweiss, the executive director of the Sedona International Film Festival (SIFF), the nonprofit that calls the theater home.

Schweiss said the theater project was a "3 1/2-month build-out," breaking ground at the end of October 2011, and opening Feb. 18 for the 18th annual film festival.

"We had nine full festival days booked here and into Harkins and the Sedona Performing Arts Center," he said.

The theater was donated by Mary Fisher, a celebrated American artist, activist, poet and author who was born in Kentucky but lives today in Sedona.


From Tuesday through Friday, attendees from far and wide, including those coming down the hill from Flagstaff, can enjoy screenings of two different independent films each day.

"The people in Flagstaff could do a double-header and see a movie at 4 p.m. and a movie at 7 p.m., with a dinner in between," said Judy Maloney, who has been the chair of SIFF board for eight years.

The 112-seat theater is state-of-the-art, with cushy seats, a screen on a rolling cart, three giant speakers, a movie-fare concession stand that also offers healthy alternatives and an ADA accessible parking lot.

"It's a nice, intimate art house venue," said Schweiss, who many have credited with invigorating the festival, founded in 1994. "The sound and projection were designed specifically for this room. We even dug three feet into the floor to make pitched seating."

Schweiss said that within 90 days, the theater will also be offering wine and beer for theatergoers.

"I'm a dancer from New York, so I know theater, and this is a very, very beautiful film theater," said Alice Gill Sheldon, who spoke before the May 24 screening of "The Matchmaker," a delightful romantic comedy from Israel. "I understand the acoustics are beautiful. The sound system is supposed to be the best and the stone looks very wonderful."

Sheldon said she loves the fresh air in Sedona, where she lives six months of the year.


When the movie screen is rolled out of the way, a 10-foot stage is created, opening up opportunities for live performance, such as stand-up comedy on the last weekend of each month, Schweiss said.

The Sedona Performing Arts Alliance and Studio Live are working with SIFF to bring live shows to the new theater, he added.

Other types of entertainment are also possible.

"The programming we have goes beyond the run of independent films to include simulcasts and programs from ballet to live Broadway theater, to the just retained London National Theatre," Maloney said.

The theater and film offices were formerly a bank, so a lot of demolition of cubicles was necessary to make space for all the SIFF facilities, including a "green room" venue for performers and presenters, complete with shower, wet bar, dressing table and lounge area.

"We used it during the film festival and had snacks and drinks for them," Schweiss said.

The public restrooms are first-rate too, and were donated by part-time Sedona residents Laura and Gary Maurer.


Membership in SIFF has grown to more than 800 people, Mulroney said.

She said the organization screened more than 40 films last year alone.

"Essentially, we have everything from the one-time viewers to people who are coming to the films two times a week," she said.

Donna Frazier from Sedona came to see the film from Israel.

"It was very moving with great characters," Frazier said after the film ended. "I've been here several times for movies. In fact, I joined the film festival since the theater opened.

"I'll probably come next week for both movies. This theater is the best thing that's happened to Sedona in a long time."

After buying tickets, the first thing visitors will see is the colorful mural in the lobby, which is being painted by Tom Fish, a former Disney animator.

Fish works often on the mural, which Schweiss said is both multi-generational and multi-ethnic.

"We charged him with creating a mural that could only be found in Sedona," he said. "We wanted him to give depth to the lobby."

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Under the auspices of the Sedona International Film Festival, an art film is brought up the hill to the Flagstaff Harkins on the second Wednesday of each month, but Schweiss said folks in Flag should come down to Sedona, too.

"Come on down and experience the culture and art of Sedona and independent films," he urged. "It's a beautiful drive down Oak Creek Canyon, and brilliant weather when you get here."

Betsey Bruner can be reached at or 556-2255.


WHAT: Northern Arizona premiere of the award-winning documentary, "First Position," which follows six young dancers as they prepare to try to enter the world of professional ballet.

WHEN: Showtimes are 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

WHERE: 2030 W. Highway 89A, West Sedona (next to Coffee Pot Restaurant).

TICKETS: $12; $9 for Film Festival members

INFO: Call (928) 282-1177 or visit


WHAT: Northern Arizona premiere of "The Lady," the extraordinary story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman who is at the core of Burma's democracy movement.

WHEN: Showtimes are 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

WHERE: 2030 W. Highway 89A, West Sedona.

TICKETS: $12 or $9 for Film Festival members

INFO: Call (928) 282-1177 or visit www.sedonafilmfestival.

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