Tucson Festival of Films captures the city's cinematic presence

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Josh Evans, the filmmaker behind "Death in the Desert," tells the story of an eccentric casino owner, his young girlfriend, and the man he hires to bury his millions worth of silver. The film is hosting its world premiere on Friday night at 9 p.m. as part of the Tucson Festival of Films.

From independent theatres such as The Loft Cinema and The Screening Room, to copious local film-shoot locations, to the substantial number of filmmakers that began pursuing their silver-screen dreams here, Tucson is definitely a movie town. The number of niche festivals dedicated to film indicates this, and while each fest is excellent on its own, Tucson’s newest festival, Tucson Festival of Films, endeavors to bring them together under one roof.

Tucson Festival of Films will hold its inaugural fest from Oct. 8 to 10 and pulls the best of the best of film from the other Tucson movie showcases, giving audiences a complete overview of the movie-making scene in the city. TFOF features eight festivals: Arizona International Film Festival, Tucson Film and Music Festival, Arizona Underground Film Festival, Tucson Terrorfest, Loft Film Fest, Native Eyes Film Showcase, Tucson Cine Mexico and Tucson International Jewish Film Festival.

“[TFOF] was actually the brainchild of Mayor Jonathan Rothschild,” said Kerryn Negus, the co-producer of TFOF. “We bring all of these fantastic film festivals together under one roof so that audiences can have a chance to experience the best of all the fests in one place.”

Over the course of the three days, each featured fest screens one feature-length movie at the Temple of Music and Art with the exception of The Loft’s 40th Anniversary Gala Screening of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” directed by Martin Scorsese. TFOF also features two short film programs: one for documentaries, and the other for narratives.

Almost all of the screenings will be followed by Q&A’s with the filmmakers, and some have extra surprises. For “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” Scorsese sent a video message directly to the festival audience about the film, according to Negus. There will be a post-screening concert following the Tucson Film and Music Festival’s showing of “Sounds of Tucson.”

TFOF features the world premiere of “Death in the Desert,” presented by the Arizona Underground Film Festival. Directed by Josh Evans and starring Michael Madsen, the film is based on the story of Ted Binion, an eccentric casino owner struggling with drug addiction, and centers around Kim Davis, the young girlfriend of a casino owner who finds herself in over her head, and Matt Duvall, the man hired to bury millions of dollars’ worth of silver in the Las Vegas desert. Although it is based on a true story, Evans decided to change certain things in the film.

“The essence of the character and the circumstance is the same, but the background and much of the details about him are left open in this new character and this new Vegas,” Evans said. The film interpretation of Binion’s story takes place in the fast-paced, corporate world of present day Las Vegas, breathing new life into an old story.

Evans was first inspired to make the film after seeing the cover of author Cathy Scott’s book, “Death in the Desert: the Ted Binion Homicide Case.”

“I remember looking at it, and I just thought, ‘That looks like a movie,’ ” he said. “Vegas is like a death metal kind of noir — it’s hardcore, but it’s still the same noir. People are going there to escape.”

Produced by E1 Entertainment, “Death in the Desert” will hold its world premiere Friday at 9 p.m. as part of TFOF. After the festival, the movie will likely move toward distribution in January 2016, but Evans believes this will be the only time it will be seen in a festival.

A handful of other feature films will screen throughout TFOF, all of which are the best of their respective fests. All tickets are $8 per screening, besides Tucson Cine Mexico’s free presentation of “GÜEROS.” The full schedule, ticket information and trailers for the showcased films can be found at tucsonfestivaloffilms.com.


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