With all the movies that screen at the Loft Cinema every month, it seems like an endless film festival. Between the arthouse films, the Essential Cinema classics, the Science on Screen series, the Mondo Monday grindhouse spectacles, the late-night cult flicks and the children's matinees, the Loft is a nonstop celebration of cinema.
But then the annual Loft Film Fest rolls around and the reels really start rolling.
The Loft will be showing 40 films between Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 13, when retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly will be on hand to close out the festival with the screening and discussion of The Martian.
"It's one of Mark's favorite films and he has a lot to say about it, so we thought it would be a fun closing night to have him come talk about this amazing film," says Peggy Johnson, the Loft's executive director and resident force of nature.
Johnson, a former political journalist at the local PBS affiliate who launched the nonprofit Loft Cinema Foundation to purchase and run the landmark midtown theatre in 2002, says the Loft Film Festival is designed to give Tucsonans a glimpse of "the spectrum of the film world."
The festival opens with the North American premiere of Dominion, a portrait of the final hours of poet Dylan Thomas, who fell into a coma after drinking, by his count, 18 double scotches at New York City's White Horse Tavern in 1953. Director Steven Bernstein will be at the Loft for a live conversation about the film with noted film critic Elvis Mitchell, who has worked for the L.A. Weekly and New York Times and now hosts the radio program The Treatment on NPR affiliate KCRW. The exchange will be filmed and shown across the country as an upcoming episode of the New York Film Critics Series, a program that accompanies preview screenings of marquee films at select theatres.
Subversive independent director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) will also be on hand to show a work in progress: Tombstone Rashomon, a retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corral from multiple perspectives. Cox shot the film earlier this year at Old Tucson Studios. "We love Alex and he loves Tucson, so we're really super-excited to have this work in progress world premiere."
On Sunday afternoon, Fire at Sea makes its Southwest premiere. The heartbreaking documentary about Europe's refugee crisis picked up the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival and is a sure Oscar contender.
On a much different note, Lost in Paris will make its Arizona premiere on Sunday evening. The absurdist adventure about vagabonds in Paris stars the comedy duo of Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, who "are two of my favorite people in the film industry," Johnson says. "I don't think people in America know them very well but I would really encourage people to take a chance and see that because it's really fun."
The fest includes a number of horror and fantasy films, although Johnson says she personally steers clear of the spooky stuff: "I am a big chicken, so I don't tend to see scary movies too often." Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa' disturbing Creepy is about a next-door neighbor who isn't up for any father of the year awards. French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic' haunting Evolution explores the secrets of an eerie seaside village populated only by young boys and adult women.
Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyska's The Lure, billed as a musical horror film about mermaid sisters with unhealthy jealousy issues, picked up the special jury award at Sundance. It will screen on Wednesday night.
Horror mixes with twisted comedy in Another Evil, an independent film from director Carson Mell, a writer for HBO's Eastbound and Down and Silicon Valley who will be on hand to talk about the movie at its Saturday night screening.
The horror mood gets lightened up a bit on Thursday night with the screening of a spectacular 70mm print of Ghostbusters. "We thought it would be fun to do something in the pop-culture zeitgeist so that maybe people who don't want to see Lost in Paris or Fire at Sea would come see it and maybe stick around for something else," Johnson says.
When planning out the festival, the Loft team looks for partnerships and connections. The Desert Diamond Casino is the festival's title sponsor, so it's only natural that the Loft's ongoing Native Eyes Film Showcase is represented. 100 Years: One Woman's Fight for Justice follows the story of Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet warrior from Montana who spent three decades fighting the federal government in court over mismanagement of tribal assets over, Johnson says, "billions and billions of dollars. It's a really compelling but sad story about how frustrating it is for Native Americans to get treated fairly in this country. She was a strong, smart woman that really just didn't give in and finally prevailed."
Hens will be enjoying popcorn on the patio with the Tucson City Living Urban Chicken Keeping Society for the Arizona premiere of Chicken People, a documentary that goes inside the world of competitive poultry shows and the pursuit of the perfect genetic chicken.
The Rebound, a documentary about the Miami Heat wheelchair basketball team, makes its Arizona Premiere at the Loft on Sunday afternoon, but the theater will also do a private screening during a wheelchair basketball tournament at the Pascua Yaqui Wellness Center next weekend.
The Loft's Journalism on Screen series—a partnership with The New York Times, the UA School of Journalism, the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Arizona Inn—will be represented during the festival with the Arizona premiere of Obit, a documentary about how NYT obituary writers find ways to focus on the extraordinary moments from the lives of the deceased.
The Loft will partner with the UA Center for Creative Photography for the Arizona premiere of The Jazz Loft According To W. Eugene Smith, a documentary that pulls together highlights from the 40,000 images and 4,000 hours of recordings that LIFE magazine photojournalist W. Eugene Smith made in his New York City apartment that doubled as a hangout and rehearsal space for many of the jazz legends of the late '50s and early '60s. Smith's photos are now housed at the CPC.
Other standout documentaries include Thursday's Arizona premiere of Speed Sisters, a profile of young Arab women who are breaking barriers as the first female racing team in the Palestinian race-car circuit; Friday's Arizona premiere of Marinoni: The Fire in the Flame, a look at how champion cyclist Giuseppe Marinoni attempted to set a world record at age 75; Friday's Tucson premiere of Do Not Resist, which explores the militarization of America's police forces; and Saturday's Southwest premiere of Jackson, who examines the battle over abortion rights against the backdrop of efforts to shut down the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.
And that's just a sampling of what the festival has to offer. It's no easy task to trim the list of films down from the hundreds of candidates, but Johnson—who personally tackles the tough globe-trotting assignment of traveling to festivals in Telluride, Cannes, Venice and other hotspots to see firsthand how audiences are reacting to films—says she's blessed with a Loft staff that has "incredible depth and knowledge—they just know everything that's at every festival and they know everything that's going on. We look a lot and lot of films and we just kind of glean the best."
"Our goal is to be really inclusive," she adds. "Everybody should find something they want to see at this festival."