Things may have appeared differently for the 29th Arizona International Film Festival, but with the addition of online, the festival was arguably more international than ever.
For 12 days during the month of April, the festival showcased 99 movies and 10 panels to film lovers with online and minimal outdoor screenings. To maintain safety precautions, masks and social distancing were required, and additionally, tickets were to be reserved in advance to maintain a smaller audience.
The event had been on hold for a great deal of time. Initially scheduled for spring of 2020, the festival had been cancelled due to the pandemic, but was pushed to October of 2020, only to be postponed again to April of 2021. So to say regular attendees and filmmakers were ravenous for this festival to occur would be an understatement.
Mia Schnaible, the director of marketing and development for the festival, was among those who had felt the weight of the delay.
“We have a gang of super fans and a gang of regulars, and not being able to see them for two years … let’s just say it meant a lot to see them this year,” Schnaible said.
According to Schnaible, the outdoor part that did occur had a few sellouts with most being near capacity.
“I was really excited that we were able to have events for people and have them as safe as possible,” Schnaible said.
“Missing in Brooks County” was one of the films showcased with an in-person screening. Lisa Molomot, co-director and producer of the documentary, found the event encouraging in the world’s current climate.
“Everyone is just so happy to be gathering again in some form outside of their little groups. And I think the people that I talked to and saw at my screenings just seemed so happy to be out,” Molomot said.
Some other notable films that were presented by the festival such as “Missing in Brooks County,” included "Marghe and Her Mother," an Italian film about the struggles a young mother faces in modern society and “Let the People Decide,” a documentary about voter suppression in the U.S.
Molomot said she appreciated the festival particularly for its display of local films from the Tucson and Southwest Arizona communities.
“The thing that impressed me about the films was that it was such an eclectic group of films. … I’ve been attending a lot of festivals and have been seeing a lot of good films, but it's always something special to see work that’s created in the place that you’re living and stories that are relevant to where you live,” Molomot said.
Schnaible recounted the story of one of her favorites from this year’s event, a Sudanese film titled “A Handful of Dates,” which felt like a testament to what the festival is — a celebration of stories found in the most unlikely of places.
“One night, I was going between two film festivals one night, and I called for an Uber. So I talk to the Uber driver, and it turns out that he and his friends are working on this film that’s filmed in Sudan. And I told him to get it done and get it to the festival. And not only did ‘A Handful of Dates,’ it won a special jury award for creative achievement,” Schnaible said.
Besides the craft, the need to continue to hold festivals throughout this pandemic had a certain urgency to it as well.
“Filmmakers have a vision they want to share, and particularly with independent film, sometimes those topics need to be discussed in a timely manner. So it's important that you keep the independent vision going, and it doesn't just take a recess because of a worldwide pandemic. We have to keep people aware, injustices are still going on,” Schnaible said.
If you have any interest in watching one of the festival's wonderfully educational panels, they are all still available on the festival’s Facebook at facebook.com/azfilmfest. Additionally on their website, you can keep up to date with announcements and future plans for their 30th festival coming in 2022, which Schnaible said she hopes to be their best yet.
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