Moving Movies

Current events have made the AIFF less festive, but more timely

To celebrate the 15th Arizona International Film Festival, held April 20-30, organizer Giulio Scalinger wanted to plan nonstop parties. Unexpectedly for a medium usually associated with fantasy, real life got in the way.

An important component of every festival is Cine sin Fronteras, exploring the complex U.S.-Mexico border, with screenings and panel discussions revolving around international relations and immigration.

Well, right now, we've got grizzled old Minutemen camped out in their RVs trying to turn in illegal border crossers, politicians in Phoenix and Washington issuing proposals and counter-proposals on immigration control with an eye toward re-election rather than social justice, and hundreds of thousands of adults and especially high school students demonstrating in support of the rights of undocumented workers and their families.

All of a sudden, parties seemed beside the point when there were so many films available about current border events.

"The festival is a forum," says Scalinger. "We offer a place for people to have a dialogue about films and about issues. Film is a wonderful medium that can bring people together."

But it's not just for cinegeeks sitting around talking about how Sundance has sold out. The festival's opening-night event will raise funds for the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes.

This year, Cine sin Fronteras will include among its five documentaries two full-length works. Crossing Arizona (directed by Joseph Mathew and Dan DeVivo) looks into the debate surrounding illegal immigration and our failed border policy, and includes interviews with activists, ranchers and Minutemen. This will be the opening-night feature, with appearances by the filmmakers, at 7:30 p.m. April 21 at the Loft. Also, El Inmigrante (John Eckenrode, John Sheedy, David Eckenrode) studies the death of border crosser Eusebio de Haro at the hands of a vigilante Texas ranch owner.

The mainstay of the festival is the Reel Frontier juried film and video competition. "This has grown amazingly since 1998," says Scalinger. "This year, we had 98 finalists from 16 countries, and that means these filmmakers have really embraced us as a place where they can find an audience. The amazing thing is that we don't advertise; a lot of these filmmakers find us by word of mouth.

Those 18 features and 80 shorts will be scattered across various venues during the festival, and the winners in each category (narrative features, dramatic and comedy shorts, documentaries, experimental and animation shorts) will be encored at the Best of the Fest screenings April 29-30. Entries have come from as far as South Korea and Nepal, and range from the mainstream to the fringe; 13 are from Arizona filmmakers.

Another important component of the festival is Cine Chicano, promising boundary-pushing productions from the Chicano film community. This year's drawer full of shorts adds up to about an hour and a quarter, but ranges widely in subject, from a documentary on saving the Lora turtle from extinction to a dramatic short about teens lost in the desert as they attempt to smuggle a man's son across the border.

Other festival attractions include From the Archives, favorites from past festivals; Premiere Showcase, featuring contemporary international cinema; Movies at Midnite, edgy material for the late-night crowd; Indievision, independent works shown on cable to audiences at home; and Serving Independents, workshops and discussions about the nuts and bolts of indie filmmaking.

And let's not forget the Music Café element, which encourages post-screening relaxation mingling filmmakers and filmgoers at such locations as The Hut, Hotel Arizona, Monkey Box, Grill, Enoteca, Sharks and Club Congress.

The screenings themselves are equally widespread. The Screening Room, as always, is the hub of activities; the other sites are the Loft, Crossroads, the Rialto Theatre, the Gallagher Theater at the UA, Oracle View and The Keys. The Rialto event, called "Filmstock," is a mix of five music acts and five independent films with a strong music component. "A lot of good bands are doing the soundtracks for independent films," Scalinger points out. Calexico, for example, provided the music for El Inmigrante.

Notably absent from the list of venues is the newly reopened Fox Theatre. "Their schedule was too tight," says Scalinger. "Maybe next year." He frets, though, that the Fox may be too big for a festival of independent films, where individual screenings tend to draw limited audiences.

One thing Scalinger would definitely like to do next year is maintain his connections with the downtown bars and clubs participating in the current Music Café activities and add events at the few remaining downtown art galleries and artist warehouses. "I'd like this to become a full arts festival, with film, music and visual art," says Scalinger.

Meanwhile, the present looks attractive enough for the Arizona International Film Festival--and local film in general, for that matter. The Arizona cinema scene is finally beginning to revive. Tax incentives passed last year should bring more productions to the state, and there's no shortage of little special-interest festivals besides this one. The Fox, for example, in November will launch its Puro Mexicano Festival, which overlaps thematically with Cine Chicano.

"It's a good thing," says Scalinger, "but my only concern is that Tucson is going festival crazy. Every week is a festival."

Next week, at least, is Scalinger's festival.

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