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Sedona Film Fest Celebrates 4th Year

Sedona Film Fest Celebrates 4th Year

Sedona Film Fest Celebrates 4th Year

by Paige Brown

Against the backdrop of the famed and much-filmed Sedona red rocks, the
Sedona International Film Festival got underway last Friday with a gala
honoring Ted Danson and Mary Steenbergen at the L’Auberge Hotel before
the sold-out festival got down to the business of screenings. The
two-day program hosted films from Iran, Austria, Italy, Israel and
Belgium, as well as American independent features, documentaries, and

Although there was a general feeling that programming was somewhat
hit-and-miss and audience voting procedures fairly confounding,
directors gave the festival high marks for care and attention to films
and attending filmmakers. Feature, short and documentary directors were
all offered accommodations, the chance to dialogue with their audience
both in post-screening Q&A’s, and on panels, one of which focused on
features and the other, on the short form. The fest was contained at
the Harkins’ multiplex which offered professional screening venues and a
greater opportunity for filmmakers to interact with fest-goers as well
as one another.

Les Landau, whose film, “Archibald The Rainbow Painter” (which
surprisingly took the Audience award for Best Feature), marveled at the
“working, sharing, environment amongst the filmmakers.” Charles
Weinstein, who was winding up the festival circuit with his film about
the homeless, “Under the Bridge” lauded the festival for its “warm,
intimate spirit. The audience here has a genuine love and concern for
the films,” a sentiment echoed by short director Christophe Joly (“10
Seconds”) who marveled at a Q&A “where no one asked the question OEWhat
was your budget?'”

Len Richmond, whose film “Merchants of Venus“, is set in a sex toy
factory, commented on the open-mindedness of the Sedona audience. “It
seems that the more conservative the community, the more positive their
response to the outrageous elements of my film.”

Belgium director Luis Galvao Teles’ “Elles“, the story of five women
turning 40, was a favorite among festival-goers. Also attending were
Paul Chart and Amanda Plummer, director and star of “Amerikan Perfekt”,
a dessert road pix that has been visible on the festival circuit this
year. “Amerikan Perfekt” also stars Robert Forster, Fairuza Balk and
David Thewlis.

The festival’s programming reflected a spirit of diversification, with
subjects that ranged from gang violence (“Disturbing the Peace“),
Salvadoran death squads (“The Best Revenge“) and infertility (“Baby,
It’s You
“). In keeping with that spirit, the fest hosted the premiere
of Cinewomen’s “Women on the Verge” tour, a diverse collection of shorts
by women writer/directors. Filmmakers attending the fest were Caryn
West (“Here Dies Another Day“), Deborah Stennard (“I Do, Don’t I?“), Ann
Ben-Porat (“The Pepper Pot“), Kat Smith (“The Clearing“) and Julie
Janower, who screened three animated shorts and a dance piece, “The
Buzzard Lope
.” West appreciated that “the festival is sensitive to the
need to showcase women’s films, to take a small step in addressing the
gender imbalance in our profession.”

Each year, Sedona also includes a filmmaking workshop on the Friday
before the festival begins. “The Working Relationship of Film Editors
and Directors,” was an all-day panel comprised of some of the most
prestigious editorial talent in the business. Richard Harris
(“Titanic“, “Terminator 2“), Richard Chew (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
“, “Waiting to Exhale“) and John Burnett (“Grease“, “The Way We
“) inspired and amused the full house with insights, advice and
clips from current and past works.

Long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker screened and
discussed the editing of “Raging Bull“. Walter Murch (“English Patient
among others) offered a fascinating review of his current project, the
re-edit of the Orson Welles classic, “Touch of Evil“, comparing clips
from the released version to a re-edit based on a 54-page protest memo
Welles wrote to the studio execs who were recutting his film. Perhaps
the only oversight on an otherwise well-rounded panel was the omission
of editors working in the low-budget indie arena. Harris noted that he
doesn’t “like to go back to the same shot twice,” a luxury afforded only
those in Cameron’s league.

Fest Director Dan Schay, also Executive Director of the Sedona Cultural
Park which founded the festival four years ago as a fundraiser for its
educational programs, was unaware that the festival would soon blossom
into a program in its own right. Schay says, “The festival is seeking
to create a relationship between the heartfelt, personal cinema
represented in the kinds of films we show here and an audience that’s
really searching for the kind of product it doesn’t get from the
commercial cinema. Maybe what sets these films apart is that each of
them wants to be about something other than being a movie.”

Schay, who also programs the festival, sees the young fest’s role model
“as more Telluride than Sundance. There’s an informality about it
that’s really important. We’re not interested in turning it into a
place where the deal is more important than the reel. The world doesn’t
need another marketplace festival.”

Despite its modest ambitions, the festival has doubled in size each of
its four years. According to Chris Sheridan who picked up the Audience
award for his short, “Walk This Way,” which documents his life on
wheels, the fest’s good “vibes” are attributed to Sedona’s other big
attraction, the “energy centers” hailed by new-agers. Summing up what
sets the festival apart, Chris smiles: “One word: vortex.”

[Paige Brown lives in LA, hates “taking meetings,” likes Ben & Jerry’s
Lowfat Cherry Garcia, and avoids real life by writing for indieWIRE.]

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