Outdoor films in the hot Tucson summer? It's not as peculiar as it may sound. The balmy, deliciously warm air of the evening eliminates any need for jackets or sweaters--who can resist the opportunity to be comfortably nocturnal? It's a fun concept, too: The movies are projected onto a 30-by-50-foot screen painted on the side of a Fourth Avenue building, with seating in the parking lot behind the outdoor patio at Bison Witches. (It's no stadium seating, but hey, there's less of a chance that some kid will kick the head-rest on your seat.)
Chairs are provided, and popcorn, hot dogs, ITL coffee, Michelob beer and Skyy vodka are on the menu. In addition, attendees are close enough to grab take-out from Bison Witches or any other Fourth Avenue restaurant without missing too much of the movie's plot.
"The great thing about this film festival," says festival co-founder Joshua Dragotta, "is that the movies run from dark until 1 a.m., so people come and go. You don't have to sit there the whole time; it's very laid-back."
You won't see the likes of Scream 3 or The Lord of the Rings at this film festival, either. The 14 featured films were submitted to Jerseyboy Productions, the group presenting the festival, and each offers an unusual foray into the world of local and foreign films. This spring edition of the festival marks the sixth biannual event, and the third year of the festival. Joshua Dragotta, a filmmaker and co-founder of the Back Alley Film Festival with Jerseyboy partner Erik Hulten, had to solicit films at the beginning. These days they have to turn down some of the films, which now arrive on his doorstep en masse.
"The first film fest we had was all local films," says Dragotta. "It's evolved from 75 seats to 275. I've got movies coming in from Italy, Scotland, Vancouver and the United Kingdom. We (also) have our local flavor, which is so great."
A respectable four out of 14 films are locally made. Films from Los Angeles and New York City are also included in the screenings. Three of the films shown at past Back Alley Film Festivals went on to be official selections at the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals.
"As a filmmaker in Arizona, I feel that everyone here should be exposed to cinema they wouldn't normally get a chance to see," says Dragotta, adding that although the festival is open to all ages, "there are some films that are not for the younger ones, but they are scheduled later at night."
A goal of the film festival is to benefit more than just the cinematic awareness of the attendees. "I'm trying to create social awareness, too," says Dragotta. At this festival, someone will be registering voters; the Loft Cinema will have information on its activities; and the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation will be distributing condoms and AIDS information.
What better reason to check out Fourth Avenue, meet some of our downtown neighbors and enjoy the avenue's diverse restaurants? Bring an appetite, but don't bring your own booze to the event, says Dragotta, since the outdoor festival and surrounding restaurants provide anything you might crave.
"Just bring an open mind," he says, "because you'll get a chance to see some films you've never seen before."