I hear…a rebound…
After an Omicron spike last month, COVID new-case numbers in Arizona—like most of the country—nosedived over the last week; the pandemic is not over (note a frightening increase in deaths), but it’s starting to feel “manageable.”
Just in time for events like the Sedona International Film Festival, which starts its 28th year Saturday, Feb. 19. A packed lineup of new-movie screenings, events and workshops runs through Feb. 27.
This year marks a return to form for the festival, which was delayed and slimmed down last year, due to COVID.
The schedule shows daily screenings beginning at 10 a.m., with 150-plus titles, ranging from Hollywood flicks like “Keeping Mum,” with Dame Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rowan Atkinson and the late Patrick Swayze. Documentaries range from “Deconstructing The Beatles: The Birth of The Beatles," to "Powerlands" (pictured, above), a Navajo filmmaker's investigation of the displacement of Indigenous people and devastation of the environment. “When We Were Bullies" is a short in which Jay Rosenblatt tracks down his fifth-grade class, 50 years after a bullying event. The latter is paired with "Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” a home movie shot by David Kurtz in 1938 in a Jewish town in Poland.
A variety of ticket options, from 10-ticket passes for $150 to “platinum” all-event passes for $2,500, are listed here.
(Individual tickets can be purchased throughout the week.)
Events include a Lifetime Achievement celebration of veteran theater, TV and film actress Mariette Hartley, with a screening of a new film she wrote, and “An Evening with Dr. Elvis,” also known as “the singing surgeon.”
There are free workshops on a variety of movie topics, from writing and directing to how to get representation (featuring a pair of Hollywood agents). For a list of workshops, click here.
HARK Valley did a Q&A with Pat Schweiss, executive director of the festival:
Q: What were the last two festivals like at the height of the pandemic?
A: Two years ago it was business as usual because the Festival took place before the pandemic really took hold. Last year, as numbers were climbing, our board spent a lot of time debating what to do.
Ultimately, the decision was made to move the Festival from its usual last-week-in-February timeframe to June and to add a virtual component for those who wanted to experience the films but preferred not be in theaters. We also put in place strict health and safety protocols including temperature checks at all venues, mask requirements, social distancing and reserved seating so that there was no congregating in theater lobbies before the films screened.
Even with reduced capacity in the theaters, filmmakers were very pleased to be able to have their films screened in front of live audiences. And those who attended appreciated the chance to get out, even if only for a couple of hours.
An unexpected challenge was the fact that it was unusually warm in Sedona last June. We did hear from many people that they couldn’t wait to get back to our February schedule.
Q: What challenges do you face this year?
A: We’re prepared for many of the same challenges we experienced in June. Masks will be required in all venues, capacity has been reduced in theaters through social distancing and we have gone from 5 theaters to 4. We also will be screening fewer films (145 as opposed to between 160 and 170 in pre-pandemic years).
That being said, we have a terrific lineup of films this year and we know there is tremendous excitement from both filmmakers and patrons about the opportunities and being able to see films as they should be seen: on the big screen.
Q: Who are some of the filmmakers and events you are most excited about?
A: It’s hard to talk about only a few. We received about 1,200 submissions for consideration that our three committees (features, documentaries, shorts) had to whittle down to 145. That’s not an easy task.
We’re very excited to have Emmy Award winner Mariette Hartley with us this year for her film, “Our Almost Completely True Story,” which features many of the actors from the hit TV series “Love Boat.” She will receive our Lifetime Achievement Award.
There also are some incredibly powerful documentaries, including the world premiere of “Powerlands” about the impact of devastating mining on the Navajo Nation by award-winning Diné filmmaker Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso.
Opening weekend will be packed with a special performance by Dr. Elvis Francois, or “Dr. Elvis” as he’s known, an Atlanta orthopedic spine surgeon who gained national attention for an impromptu rendition of “Alright” performed after a trauma call shift, and again after a cover of “IMAGINE” promoting hope during Covid-19.Since that time, Dr. Elvis has been featured on The Ellen Show, Forbes, Rolling Stone, Good Morning America, Today and The View, among countless other mainstream media appearances.
Q: What is the usual mix of audience, Sedona/Phoenix/beyond?
A: The Sedona International Film Festival attracts both filmmakers and film lovers from around the world. We know that 18 countries will be represented this year. The largest percentage of our audience is from the Verde Valley and the Phoenix metro area.
Q: How long have you been with the festival and where do you see it going?
A: This will be my 18th year with the Festival and it’s been an incredible ride so far. We have expanded from a weekend Festival during my early years, at a time when we pleaded with filmmakers to submit their films to us, to a 10-day Festival with filmmakers pleading with us to let them in! We have earned an international reputation for the incredible experience by both filmmakers and audiences and when you factor in being able to spend time in and around Sedona, it’s a perfect combination.
Looking ahead, we’re now in the process of building our second Sedona Film Festival-owned-and-operated theater. We really look forward to getting back to full capacity in the years ahead as the impact of the pandemic softens and we return to some level of normalcy. We are extremely confident that the Sedona International Film Festival will continue building our reputation and attracting film lovers from around the world.