The Loft Film Fest kicks off tonight with Nikolaj Arcel's "A Royal Affair."


Landlocked and nestled in the low desert, Tucson likely will never be mistaken for the French Riviera or Park City, Utah.

But the sun-splashed beaches of Cannes and the snowy slopes that surround Sundance aren't visible from the darkened confines of a movie theater. And that's exactly what the organizers of the Loft Film Fest had in mind when they decided to bring the film festival experience to Southern Arizonans.

"It's always been our dream," said Jeff Yanc, program director for The Loft Cinema. "Three years ago, we were finally able to get our ducks in a row."

The Loft Film Fest has more than doubled in size since its debut in 2010. This year's event - which kicks off tonight with Nikolaj Arcel's "A Royal Affair" and continues through next Thursday - boasts more than 40 features and short-film programs.

This year's festival coincides with a couple of anniversaries and the beginning of a new era for the theater. The Loft is celebrating its 40th year of operation and its 10th as a nonprofit.

The volunteers and employees at the theater are more focused on the future than looking back at the past. They are in the middle of a $2.5 million fundraising effort to both expand the theater and convert it to allow the exhibition of digital films.

"Like it or not, it's on its way," Yanc said of the film industry's move away from traditional film prints and into digital projection. "It's a challenge, a headache and an opportunity, all at the same time."

Yanc said that even after the conversion is complete, the Loft will continue to screen prints and operate as a hybrid theater.

"It won't get phased out completely; it's not going away," he said. "There's a romantic feeling. It's an art form, knowing how to project film. And you don't get that same feeling by pushing a 'play' button."

Friday, the second night of this year's festival, will coincide with the debut of the Loft's new third screen.

"It has added an extra layer of insanity to the process of organizing the event," Yanc said.

The festival will also feature appearances by directors Don Coscarelli ("John Dies in the End"), Judy Chaiken ("The Girls in the Band"), Scott Hamilton Kennedy ("Fame High"), Mike Plante ("Be Like an Ant") and Caveh Zahedi ("The Sheik and I").

And in keeping with the long-standing film-festival tradition of awards ceremonies, The Loft will hand out awards to both Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas and Roger Corman, who has more than 400 films under his belt as a director, producer, writer and actor.

Reygadas will appear at Friday night's screening of his latest film, "Post Tenebras Lux," where he will receive the inaugural Lee Marvin Maverick Award.

"Reygadas doesn't really do mainstream movies at all, and that's one of the reasons we wanted to honor him," Yanc said. "But he's also bringing a lot of positive critical attention to Mexico as a viable film industry community."

Corman, widely regarded as the king of B-movies, will receive the Lofty Achievement Award. The award, in its second year, goes to people in the film industry - both actors and directors - who have a body of work that is worth celebrating, Yanc said.

"We do a lot of brainstorming on who we're passionate about, and then comes the task of seeing if they're available, if they're interested." he said.

"Luckily, Corman was always at the very top of our list, and he was both available and interested."

For Yanc, getting Corman to attend this year was also a chance to meet someone he has admired since childhood.

"He knows how to make movies that don't lose money, and I think everyone would love to know that secret, but he has done it for decades," Yanc said

"Corman has a knack for knowing what people want to see, and that's a real trick and an art."

In addition to the award ceremony, the Loft will be screening "Death Race 2000" (produced by Corman), "Masque of the Red Death (directed by Corman), the documentary "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel" and a Corman film trailer extravaganza.

"His movies are just fun," Yanc said. "I can always tell a Corman film, whether he directed or produced it, because it's got a sense of fun and exuberance.

"I think a lot of exploitation filmmakers that followed him lost that. They became so focused on the violence and the nudity that they forgot about how fun those movies were supposed to be."

And in the end, fun is what Yanc hopes the Loft Film Fest will provide.

"This is a golden opportunity to see a lot of amazing films," he said. "It's always about the films. We're not doing a lot of parties; it's focused on the films and the guests.

"And it's about having that festival experience where you immerse yourself for a weekend, or a whole week if you're really into it, and just getting into a mind-set where you're doing nothing but watching great films."