Twenty-three years ago, the first Arizona International Film Festival opened at the newly restored Temple of Music and Art. Highlights included dreamlike animation from the brothers Quay and the 1927 silent film Wings, with live musical accompaniment by Tucson jazz musician Jeffrey Haskell.
Since then, the festival has grown into Arizona's longest-running independent film festival. It's expanded from the Temple of Music and Art and now holds court at two venues: The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., and Crossroads Cinema, 4811. E. Grant Road. What started as a four-day affair is now spread across two weeks.
Film submissions start in October and typically end in late February. "The format is not important, the length is not important. We just need a good story," says Mia Schnaible, director of marketing and development. Indeed, the simple formula works. Both Feral, an animated short film, and Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me), a live-action short film, were AZIFF highlights last year and were nominated for Oscars this year. "When you come to the Arizona Film Festival you'll see films that'll help your Oscar brackets for next year," Schnaible says.
The AZIFF has a team of film submission "screeners," viewers who decide which films are in and which are out. "We have our local team, about 10 people, and then we have one in Ireland that curates all the Ireland films for us," Schnaible says. "This year we're really lucky. We have a Cuban filmmaker that we met last year and she's sent us the best Cuban films that she could find."
Cuba seems to be setting the pace for this year's festival. On opening night, Friday, April 11, the festival takes over Crossroads Cinema with "Noche Cubana," a Cuban-themed party that Schnaible says will include "music by Ritmo Vacache, dancing, domino players, vintage cars and refreshments with the flavor of the Caribbean."
The films this year include Cas & Dylan, a "comedic drama" road trip starring Richard Dreyfuss and directed by Jason Priestly (Brandon Walsh from Beverly Hills 90210); Late Spring and 18, two films from South Korea, the current hotbed of innovative cinema; Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo, a documentary chronicling one season of the International Gay Rodeo Association; and Bulimia: The Musical, a short comedy from Los Angeles' Upright Citizens Brigade. "That's the cool thing about film festivals, you never know what you're going to get. It's a really funny musical about bulimia, which is not so funny," Schnaible says.
"We have 135 films, 31 countries, including Mongolia and Serbia for the very first time," Schnaible says. "There is a film for everyone—young, old, comedy, experimental, drama, docs. If you like it, we got it."
The Arizona International Film Festival runs through Sunday, April 27. A variety of festival passes and single-admission tickets are available. For more information, visit filmfestivalarizona.com.