Harkins Cine Capri, April 1st-4th, 2004

As predicted last year, the fourth Phoenix Film Festival found a new home in 2004 - the good news is, the venue was now only 15 minutes from TC Towers. The bad news...well, regular readers will know why the Harkins Cine Capri is not our favourite cinema. Add to this that organizers were now in bed with the Evil Empire of Ticketmaster when it came to selling festival passes - meaning patrons were the ones getting screwed - and the omens weren't good.

From our standpoint, the timing could have been better. We had foreign friends visiting, and Friday night was spent with them at a baseball game. Then Chris came down with what felt like a 24-hour version of SARS, taking her out on Saturday afternoon and evening. This is why we only got to see four films over the festival, even though it was now extended by an extra day. Hence, we can't fairly give out the TC Awards, as we've done for the past three years; we apologise, and promise to do better next year.

Looking through the program was also a bit disappointing. The opening night - described as the "largest independent film premiere in Arizona history" - starred those icons of indie cinema... Macauley Culkin and Mandy Moore. The closing night starred Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Half the others felt like an episode of Where Are They Now?, including Jennifer Beals, Kevin Sorbo and Brian Austin Green, while global cinema was represented by precisely one non-English language feature.

Culkin prepares to
pop a wheelie...
As for genre entries, the closest was i died, a real-time movie filmed from a ghost's point of view. This was initially on our watch-list, but the reports from the first screening were unanimously dire, with a huge number of walkouts. The organizers can't blame a lack of submissions: I know that The Great American Snuff Film was rejected despite, I strongly suspect, being superior to i died. Wussy "slice of life" dramas were, of course, present in abundance, though Phoenix is hardly alone there; what film festival ever shows horror or cult flicks any respect?

Let's give praise where it's due however; while we may disagree on genres, when it comes to specific movies, the selection committee showed excellent taste. The hit-rate among the films we saw was much better than last year, with only one falling a little below expectations. The others were all thoroughly enjoyable, and two will certainly be candidates for the year-end TC top ten.

The post-Superbowl Puritan backlash seemed to have hit proceedings. While useful information, such as the running time, was not listed in the program, each movie had notes on its content: language, violence (broken down into fights, gunshots and blood), sexual situations and - heaven forbid! - drinking. Let's be honest: if you're concerned about consumption of alcohol in movies by adults, you need to get a freakin' life. The information was not even 100% accurate: I was pleasantly surprised by the cheerily gratuitous strip-club sequence in You Got Nothin', about which the program said zilch. Dozens of Amish attendees were carried screaming out of the theatre, but otherwise, civilization as we know it in Arizona seems to have survived.

...as does Fonda.
From an organizational point of view, there seemed to be few problems, with films starting on time and smooth entrances and exits for audiences. The tribute to Peter Fonda was, however, embarrassingly gremlin-plagued, with a number of technical issues which should have been sorted out beforehand. And whoever arranged for a loud rock band to play just outside during proceedings, should be strapped to the back of a truck and taken for a long drag. [As a side note, it might be worth stopping people from going into screenings after the film has begun; the weekend-pass system seems to encourage irritatingly late arrivals] Other celebrities in attendance included Russell Means, Michael Tolkin and John Landis - his latest film is entitled Slasher, but is actually a documentary about a car-salesman, which is kinda sad.

All criticism aside: we love the Phoenix Film Festival. It keeps getting bigger - 10,000 attendees in 2004, up from seven thousand last year - but the people involved continue to treat all of them, whether paid, press or professionals, as if it's an honour to have them there. While the volunteers deserve particular credit for their unfailing good humour, everyone involved with the festival is great, and are probably the main reason why the city and Arizona can justly be proud of this event. Now, put us on the selection committee, and it'll be perfect... ;-)

Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Festival Reviews
  • The Falls
  • Noon Blue Apples
  • Up For Grabs
  • You Got Nothin'
  • Official Festival Awards
  • Best Feature Film: Break a Leg
  • Best Director: Philip Angelotti Jr., You Got Nothin’
  • Best Screenplay: Philip Angelotti Jr., You Got Nothin’
  • Best Ensemble: Black Cloud
  • Best Documentary: Up For Grabs
  • Audience Ballot Award: Black Cloud

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