Pick of the Week

Alley Flicks

Psst, hey, buddy, you wanna maybe watch some movies in the alley? For free?

If so, head on down to the Fourth Avenue haunt Bison Witches on Saturday, May 24. You'll have to veer around back to the alley, naturally, where the Back Alley Film Festival (BAFF) will convene for the 10th time.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 filmgoers is expected for the two-hour, noncompetitive festival of independent, experimental, animated and live-action shorts, culled from an international pool of submissions, said co-organizer Josh Dragotta during a recent interview from his home in Los Angeles.

"When it started out, we rented 20 chairs and had a home stereo and video projector. After that, it started to grow, and about 50 people came. This year, we are renting well over 200 chairs. We have a great sound system, and have a really nice high-tech projector," Dragotta said.

The films are projected on a screen--a wall, actually--creating the now-semi-famous Back Alley Cinema.

"In reality, it is nothing more than a huge, white square painted on a large brick wall in an alley. We painted a mural and gave it a title. But when the sun goes down, the images fly. It's that grassroots type of cinema that gives it a great feeling," according to statement on the festival's Web site.

The program for BAFF is never announced ahead of time, but Dragotta did say, "We have films that vary in length from one to 20 minutes. Some of the places they come from are Japan, the U.K., Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Pennsylvania. And they vary in all formats and styles."

Dragotta added that a theme usually seems to emerge during the programming of each festival.

"Every year, through some subconscious action on my part, I end up choosing groups of films that are all similar in some capacity or another. Last year, we had several that dove into romantic themes. This year, I have noticed that some of our films deal with absurdist themes. But I wouldn't go so far to say ... they all share a connected theme, or there is any planned unity."

Dragotta and co-organizer Erik Hulten started the Back Alley Film Festival to raise money to complete the making of Idleheist, a campy crime drama written and directed by Dragotta and released in 2004. Hulten was assistant director and executive producer on the film.

Idleheist eventually was shown in several film festivals, including the Arizona International Film Festival, a popular annual Tucson event.

Dragotta, 33, moved to Los Angeles a few years ago to be closer to the movie industry. Hulten, 35, lives in Tucson and owns Danny's Baboquivari Restaurant and Lounge.

Hosting a free film festival doesn't seem like the best way to raise money, but Hulten and Dragotta solicited donations from the audience, sold T-shirts and used the event as a vehicle to attract sponsors.

Dragotta pointedly mentioned that Tobacco Barn and the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation have been active sponsors for many years, and that the Tucson Weekly has been involved in the past as well.

"One of the things Erik and I have really set out to do is give the people of Tucson a good look at a good representation of independent filmmaking out there; it's a good opportunity for people to come out and witness this stuff. ... We want to stress that it is a noncompetitive festival, and that is strictly about broadening people's horizons in terms of film."

In the beginning, finding films proved challenging, Dragotta said.

"But thanks to Bison Witches and word of mouth, we found them. Each year since, the submissions have increased. Now we really don't even have to ask. I get people from all over the world sending us stuff."

Originally, BAFF was conceived as a twice-yearly event, he said. "Then we worried that the weather was getting a little cold in the late fall to be outdoors. So now we have been doing it pretty consistently for several years on Memorial Day weekend."

While some editions of BAFF extended well into the late-night hours, Dragotta added that this year's festival will be more concise.

"Every year for the past few years, we went for several hours, sometimes past midnight, and people would come and go. But this year, I've limited the total films to about two hours in length. It should pretty packed the whole time."

As an added attraction this year, BAFF will feature a musical opening act. The Phoenix-based Stupors, which Dragotta said is a "socially aware punk-rock band," will play starting at 7 p.m., followed by the film screenings at 8.

The 10th Back Alley Film Festival will begin at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 24, behind Bison Witches Bar and Deli, 326 N. Fourth Ave. Films start at around 8. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Call 488-9739 or visit the festival Web site for more information.

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