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Loft Cinema Foundation Executive Director Peggy Johnson talks about highlights at this weekend's Loft Film Fest

More than two dozen feature-length films and a couple dozen fun short movies will be on the screen this weekend at the fifth annual Loft Film Fest. The festival launches Thursday, Oct. 16, and continues through Sunday, Oct. 19. We caught up via email with Loft Cinema Foundation Executive Director Peggy Johnson, whose endless energy has powered the Loft since she took over the theater in 2002, to talk about some of the festival's highlights. A pass to all the films is $125, $100 for Loft members. Tickets for individual films are also available. For more information on the festival and a complete list of showtimes, visit loftcinema.com.

What keeps you excited about the film fest?

First of all, I love the energy and sense of discovery of film festivals. To be able to create a festival in Tucson that every year becomes more exciting is incredible—hearing people talk about how many years they have been coming to the Loft Film Fest, what films they have seen, who they have met. It's just a lot of fun (as well as a lot of work). As the film industry changes with new technologies and more diverse distribution plans, film festivals are becoming one of the only venues for many films.

Larry McMurtry is going to get the Lofty Lifetime Achievement Award this year and he'll be on hand for a screening of "The Last Picture Show." He's had a remarkable career both as a novelist and a screenwriter.

I have a very personal affection for Larry McMurtry's films. Growing up in a tiny rural town in southeast Colorado, and going to every movie that came to town, I never saw anyone on the screen who was like me, who lived in a small town with tumbleweeds, cowboys, ranchers and regular people like me who were trying to figure out how they were going to fit in with the rest of the world once we left home. "Hud" and "The Last Picture Show" were both revelations for me—someone thought the kind of life I was living was interesting! True, there was no Paul Newman or Jeff Bridges—or Cybill Shepherd—in my hometown, but the homes and streets, the language and the people were familiar.

 You've also got Bruce Dern and Stacy Keach, and you're showing Nebraska, which featured both of them. Bruce Dern is getting the Lee Marvin Maverick Award, and Stacy Keach is getting the Bob Shelton award. These guys had a lot of groundbreaking performances, they've been in so many movies—how excited are you to have them together to close out the festival?

It's incredible—I think we're all still pinching ourselves. To have them both in our house at the same time, to talk about their careers and their experiences, will be amazing. We are so honored. It's been great revisiting some of their work, like Stacy Keach's breakout performance in "Fat City." And of course, "Nebraska," with Dern's incredible career-defining performance. I know they both have a lot of affection for Tucson and I expect that having them here will be a lot of fun, and a lot of good stories about Bob Shelton and Lee Marvin.

I've talked to some folks who are very excited about "Fort Tilden," which was a big winner at the SXSW film fest earlier this year. There's also a local angle on that one: It stars Clare McNulty, the daughter of local attorneys Michael and Linda McNulty and the granddaughter of former Congressman Jim McNulty. I understand that Clare herself will be on hand for the screening. What can you tell me about the film?

This film is just plain smart. It has such a solid script and the actors, especially Clare, get everything right. Every character they encounter on their hilarious misguided daytrip to the beach is spot on. This is one of the funniest, most enjoyable films I've seen in a while. I find myself remembering little moments in it and smiling, and that's a quality I very much admire in film and it's very hard to accomplish.

The Zellner Bros. will be on hand for the Arizona premiere of "Kumiko the Treasure Hunter," which did well at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Tell me about them and this film they've made.

 

The Zellner Bros. are among our (the folks at the Loft) favorite filmmakers. I am sure we have shown several of their short films and their two previous features "Golaith" and "Kid Thing," both of which are gems. The Zellners (who are on our industry board) are fascinating. They are outrageously funny while being true intellectuals, and their films reflect their sensibilities. "Kumiko" was my favorite film—and a favorite of critics—at Sundance this year, and it went on to great success at Berlin. When you read the description of the film ("loosely based on a true story"), you will know the structure of the film, but Kumiko transcends the "facts" to become something more closely resembling a contemporary fairytale. Brilliant!

 It's the 10th anniversary of "A Day without a Mexican" and you're bringing director Sergio Arau and Yareli Arizmendi to town for a screening. How do you think this film has held up over the last decade?

I think it's a very interesting question. I'm sure that when Sergio and Yareli made the film 10 years ago, they had no idea that in 2014 the immigration situation in the U.S. would be what it is today and that their film would be as relevant—or even more relevant. Sergio and Yareli are dynamic and multi-talented artists and they are also well-informed activists. We're excited to have them back at The Loft.

 

What are some gems we've overlooked here?

I have to mention "Strange Little Cat," but with a caveat: it is for those who can appreciate that film can be an abstract art. If you need a strong plot or character development, and if you can't handle ambiguity, skip this one. But if you get excited like I do when you see film used in new and unexpected ways, this is the film for you. It's definitely a conversation-starter! I found it exhilarating.

I'm also excited about two films I haven't seen. Both won major awards at Cannes this year: Jean Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language 3-D" and "The Tribe," a Ukrainian film without dialogue or subtitles, with all communication in sign language. We were proud to be able to include them in the festival.

More by Jim Nintzel

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