I spoke with Jason Carney of the Phoenix Film Festival, now in its 18th year, and asked him a few questions about what fun the festival has in store for us this year. I was also curious about how he thinks his festival, being eleven days long as opposed to the eight it had been, will be perceived. If you don’t know, Jason is the Director of the Phoenix Film Festival and the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. This year it runs from April 5th through April 15th.
If you’ve never gone, you should give it a try. There’s something for everyone to enjoy! There’s a very popular Kid’s Day, Middle and High School Workshops, several different Panels and each of these events are informative, educational and entertaining. I’ll let Jason fill you in on a few things, including the fact that the Harkins theatre it’s held in is even nicer than before, and that’s hard to beat. They added a bar inside which is not a bad idea with as many thirsty festival goers that walk through their doors.
Fred Rogers on the set of his show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood from the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Jim Judkis / Focus Features
Me: What is your favorite movie of the festival this year?
Jason: I think it’s ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’
Me: The film about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? Really?
Jason: Yep. It’s really fantastic.
Me: I’ve heard it’s good. I’ll have to check it out. By the way, I thought the festival films from 2017 were terrific. What was your favorite from last year?
Jason: That was like a year ago, Shari! (Thinks) What did we play? Now I’m going to have to look up a program and see what we played from last year. (We laugh) I’m old. I can’t remember last years festival! I really liked, ‘The Hero’ the Sam Elliot movie we had for opening night. I loved it and I really like Sam Elliot. That was a good movie.
Me: Do you see all of the films that play in your festival… or what would your percentage be each festival season?
Jason: Percentage of movies I see? That is ridiculously low.
Yeah, because of the programmers. I don’t really watch much. We bring in program directors for each category and since they’re watching all the films, you know, I trust them to make the choices. We brought on another programmer to help with some of the films from some of the smaller distributors so, he’s watching a lot of that content. I’ve probably seen maybe a half dozen to a dozen films out of the 120 feature films we’re choosing from so maybe 5 or 10 percent. You know, it’s all about having really strong people to watch the films. There’s just not enough time in my life to watch all of those films.
Me: I’m judging the short films for you this year and I gotta say that I’m enjoying them tremendously.
Jason: Oh, yeah. They’re so good and you see it. Our programmers watch so many and have such a great eye. I trust them to do the right thing. My job isn’t to watch the films and tell them how to program, my job is to choose the right people and put them in the right place and let them do their thing. That’s part of any, like working anywhere, you want to trust people to do their job and stay out of their way. That’s kind of how a film festival should be able to work, as well.
Me: What special things do you have planned for us this year and are you nervous about the added days or looking forward to them?
Jason: The big thing this year is the expansion; going from 175 screenings to 300 is huge. We’re anxious to see how that goes and what it’s like with the theater being remodeled now. There’s also that factor… to see how that features into everything. There are a lot of variables of potential change this year that we just don’t know about. It’s kind of exciting and fun to see how things play out this year. We have different new categories and things like that, that make it exciting and that’s part of what a film festival should be. It’s always changing, always evolving, you know, otherwise, you get stagnate and it becomes the same thing year after year and we don’t want to do that.
Me: What are the new categories?
Jason: There’s this cool thing, it’s called Music in Movies and so we’re showing a few new titles featuring music in film and then we’ve got some older titles that we’re showing. We’ve got this cool documentary that’s called ‘The Godfather of Hardcore.’ It’s about this hardcore punk band called, Agnostic Front and the guys will be here. These guys are, like, legendary. It’s not my style of music but these guys are great characters and even if it’s not your style of music, it’s really a cool documentary; something I might not otherwise have seen. That’s kind of what a film festival is all about.
But we also have some old titles like, ‘Empire Records’ to show the music store thing and we’ve got ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ which is our music bio-pic and ‘That Thing You Do’ and ‘Moulin Rouge.’ So, a lot of cool new things and some old stuff to kind of show how prolific music is in film.
Me: When is this all taking place?
Jason: It’s part of our second weekend.
Me: Speaking of, what brought you to the decision of making the festival eleven days long?
Jason: You know, we’ve been talking about it a couple of years now and it just seemed right. Our contract with Harkins was up for renewal and with it being remodeled and where we were creatively as an organization it felt right. All these things kind of came together. Like, alright, we gotta make a jump eventually so let’s do it this year. I think we’re as ready as we’re gonna be so let’s give it a go.
A lot of festivals are at ten or eleven days and so, eleven days is our magic number. We start on a Thursday and run it through the following Sunday.
Me: Everyone has loved the location in the past. Is Harkins an easy company to work with?
Jason: Harkins was super helpful and super cooperative. Even going back to when they were talking about remodeling the theatre, they wanted to kind of, start earlier but they were super cooperative with working with us on the festival last year. Our festival ended on a Thursday and they started remodel construction the Monday after the festival. They were ready to go to get that remodel done.
They looped us in way in advance, of when they were doing it, so we could start talking about how the theatre remodel was going to impact us; we could talk about expansion. All through the way in the planning stages, they’ve been nothing but a great partner. I can’t say enough things about how good they are.
Me: They better stock up on the alcohol at that new bar, I’m guessing.
Jason: I’ve warned them that filmmakers and film fans will be living it up at the festival. I think they’re going to have extra bartenders on staff so that’ll be great.
Me: Outside of Agnostic Front, are there any other guests coming to the festival?
Jason: We have something really cool on our closing night film Eight Grade. Bo Burnham, he’s a comedian, is going to be here. He directed the film. This was a passion project he had been trying to get made for years so he’ll be here to be a part of our closing night event and have a discussion afterward which will be awesome.
Me: Since you made these changes, how do you expect things to go for the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival to go?
Jason: They’ve always been solid. We’ve added some extra screenings which will be really cool. Before, they had only one theatre on opening weekend. Well, we shifted that on opening weekend where there’s just too many primary (inaudible) but the second weekend, they’ll have two screens running. That’ll be really cool to get more and more out there in terms of content for Horror and Sci-Fi fans.
Me: Do you attend the festival every day or only some of the time?
Jason: Oh, yeah. I’m here, gosh, bright and early and I’m leavin’ late at night. It was previously eight days, so we’ll see how it goes with these extra three days. I actually stay not too far from here at a hotel and that makes my life easier, so I can get some sleep. But it’s important for my psyche to be on site. My brain would go crazy if I wasn’t here during the festival. We spend like 350 days planning it, so I want to make sure I’m here for it. (laughs)
Me: It would be a lot to take. How do you unwind after all of it?
Jason: I watch a lot of T.V. I don’t watch any movies at home. That’s another thing, people are like, ‘You’re watching all the festival movies at home.’ I am not! I’m escaping films at home. If I see something, a new film that’s coming out, I see it at the theatre or I’m probably not going to see it. It’s all about breaking away from the movies at home so I watch a lot of T.V. and stuff like that. I do the baseball card thing, that’s kind of my hobby on the side, as well. Greg Hall, our Feature Film Program Director is also a baseball card guy. So, we’re movie nerds and baseball card nerds all at once.
If you’ve never gone to the Phoenix Film Festival, make this your first year. HERE is a link to help make your festival decisions easier. Have fun and I’ll see you there!