One of the greatest things about a film festival is its ability to transport you to different places in space and time without you ever leaving the comfort of your theater seat.
One minute, you’re traversing canyons by horse, on the hunt for your latest archaeological dig site. The next, you are in deep space, gingerly navigating your way through a treacherous minefield of your own making.
With more than 36 indoor and 13 outdoor screenings planned, and 130 films in all, this year’s Arizona International Film Festival is ready to send you to the edge of the cosmos and back with an eclectic selection of cinematic works. Several of the scheduled films were made right here in Arizona.
Here are 10 reasons why this year’s festival, taking place Wednesday, April 20-May 1, is worth your attention.
There is a reason it’s called the Arizona International Film Festival and not the Tucson International Film Festival.
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When Giulio Scalinger, director of the festival since its inception, and his board held the first film festival in 1990, at the newly renovated and reopened Temple of Music and Art, “there was nothing,” Scalinger said. “There were a couple of smaller events, but we basically were the first festival in the state.”
Today, the festival count in Arizona “is like Starbucks,” Scalinger said. “There is one on every corner.”
Yet the Arizona International Film Festival continues to thrive as one of the largest and most expansive film festivals in the city.
“We get submissions from all over the world,” Scalinger said. “We thought there might be fewer submissions this year, but we had more than ever.”
2. ‘Canyon del Muerto’
Festival organizers are kicking off this year’s screenings with a full-length feature, filmed about seven hours north of Tucson on the Navajo Nation.
“Canyon del Muerto” follows the career of Ann Axtell Morris, a pioneering female archeologist, who, along with her husband, Earl Halstead Morris, excavated several sites, including Canyon del Muerto, in what is now Canyon de Chelly National Monument, on the Navajo Nation in the 1930s.
Scenes from the film, directed by Colorado native Coerte Voorhees, were shot on location at Canyon de Chelly, a feat in a part of the country where permission to film commercially is rarely given.
Scalinger said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who has a cameo in the film, will be attending the screening.
“Canyon del Muerto” begins at 7:30 p.m. on April 20 and tickets are $13.64 through foxtucson.com.
3. Your choice of venues
In addition to the Fox, 17 W. Congress St., the Arizona International Film Festival will be screening features and shorts all over town, including at Main Gate Plaza, 943 E. University Blvd.; The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway; and the Hotel Congress Plaza, 311 E. Congress.
See the immigration story through the eyes of young Mexicans, working their way from the strawberry fields of Oxnard, California, to better lives in “Mariposas del Campo,” at the Screening Room, 127 E. Congress, at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 30.
Watch a suspected madman play mind games with strangers atop Mount Lemmon in the psychological thriller, “8000 Ft Up,” at the Mercado Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento, at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 25.
Or check out a documentary on the quirky, transient community that makes up the town of Quartzsite, Arizona, during its peak season in the “One Road to Quartzsite,” screening at Cactus Carpool Cinema, 6201 S. Wilmot Road, at 8 p.m., Sunday, May 1.
Admission costs vary. Visit filmfestivalarizona.com for more information.
4. Mescal movie set tour
Take a break from watching movies to walk among the Old West buildings of cinema’s past on a film festival bus tour of the Mescal Movie Set in Benson on Saturday, April 30.
Long known as the sister site to Old Tucson Studio, the Mescal Movie Set was home to more than 80 Westerns over the course of several decades, including the popular ’90s titles, “Tombstone” and “The Quick and the Dead.”
The set was purchased in 2021 after falling into disrepair. Its new owners have since been utilizing a small army of volunteers to restore it to its former glory.
A bus will depart from Tucson at 8 a.m. and return at 1 p.m. Admission is $30 per person through tucne.ws/1k8j.
Scalinger said they plan to include more elements of film tourism at future festivals.
“People like to go to places where things were shot,” he said. “Mescal is definitely one of those places, but a lot of films were made right here in Tucson.”
5. Lots of shorts
If you are looking for a little variety in your film festival schedule, you can opt to attend one of its many movie short film screenings.
There is an animation shorts night at The Screening Room on April 22 and an experimental shorts program at the same theater on April 25.
Other shorts screenings include a night for Arizona shorts, global shorts and dramatic shorts, including the 19-minute film “Hurricane,” about a young girl abandoned by her mom and the friendship she develops with a mother who is grieving the loss of her son.
“It is a delight watching shorts,” Scalinger said. “You are telling a story in 20 minutes. You have to be very creative.”
6. Cine Sonora
Among the shorts sessions slated for this year’s festival is Cine Sonora, a celebration of short films from Sonora, Mexico, to be held at the Mercado Annex starting at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 22.
Five films will be featured, including “El Pozo,” about a young girl who falls into an enchanted well in war-torn Mexico, and “La Poeta del Ring,” about a female boxer ready for the match of a lifetime in Las Vegas.
The shorts join full-length features and documentaries about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living on both sides of the border, and one documentary, “American Wall” about the communities that reside along the wall that divides the two countries (screening at the Mercado Annex at 7:30 on Tuesday, April 26.)
Scalinger said the board plans to expand its partnership with festivals held in Mexico in the future, and hopes to make Spanish-language cinema a more expansive theme in 2023.
7. Zoom panels
The Arizona International Film Festival canceled all of its activities in 2020 and moved many of them online in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very difficult,” Scalinger said. “When screening films, the numbers weren’t as high as we thought they could be. It just wasn’t us.”
What did work were the panels and discussions with filmmakers and cinema experts that were held over Zoom.
“We had as many as 400 people logged in at times,” Scalinger said. “Our in-person panels at previous festivals were always much smaller. It was pretty exciting.”
It’s why the festival board decided to keep the Zoom format when holding panels in 2022.
Turn the app that you use to hold meetings with your coworkers into a tool for learning by attending festival panels ranging from Mexican cinema to Panavision camera equipment to British filmmakers.
Scalinger said the details were still being worked out as of press time, but that all Zoom panels would be listed on filmfestivalarizona.com and free to attend.
8. ‘Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl’
Among the films of local interest is the documentary about Derrick and Amy Ross, the husband-and-wife musical duo from Bisbee known as Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl, who died in 2013 under tragic circumstances.
Derrick and Amy were much loved in Bisbee and Tucson and played regularly at venues like Plush and Delectables on North Fourth Avenue.
“We expect that will be our biggest film of the festival, beyond opening night,” Scalinger said.
The film screens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, at the Mercado Annex. Tickets are $10.
9. Filmmakers in attendance
Browse the schedule of films being screened this year at the film festival and you’ll notice a good number of them come with the line, “filmmaker in attendance” attached.
Scalinger estimates more than 60 directors will be flying to Tucson to attend this year’s event.
“I have a filmmaker coming from South Korea,” Scalinger said. “His film is only 10 minutes long, but this is his first festival. He wants to be here.”
Scalinger said the essence of any good festival, especially the Arizona International film festival, is having filmmakers on-site. Audience members get to ask questions about what they’ve just seen and filmmakers get to network with one another.
“They interact a lot,” he said. “It is amazing how many filmmakers who attend the festival end up working on projects together.”
10. Last film festival before summer
With summer fast approaching and all of the other major Tucson-area film festivals over and done until the fall, this will be your last chance to experience such a wide range of cinematic works in such a short amount of time.
“We tell people that this is a unique opportunity to see films from around the world,” Scalinger said. “I believe there is a film for each person at the festival. You just have to find it.”