By Stephanie Zacharek
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By Calum Marsh
By Amy Nicholson
Although Phoenix-area bigwigs frequently claim that they'd like the Valley to become more of a player in the entertainment industry, the soil here has proved harsh and infertile when it comes to efforts to grow a serious film festival--the mark of most major show-biz towns. Funding here is sparse, sponsors seem to be indifferent and, to a great extent, so does the public. Against these dreary conditions, Arizona Film Society, led by tirelessly upbeat president Durrie Parks, doggedly perseveres. It has managed the not-unimpressive feat of bringing the Saguaro Film Festival, a low-budget affair focusing on independent productions, back for its third year.
Parks insists that Saguaro "tripled in size and attendance from the first to the second year." While even triple the number of filmgoers I saw there three years ago wouldn't amount to a full house in most theatres, it's a promising trend, and I hope it continues. If Saguaro can hang in a few more years, somebody with some real money and clout may decide it's time to give the fest a proper marketing push.
With a little luck, this community, just like Telluride and Sundance, can play host annually to hordes of shallow, slumming celebrities as well as irritating 23-year-olds with dreams of three-picture deals. People of such character would serve as positive, if overambitious, role models for our state and local politicians.
Anyway, back to the present. This year's Saguaro fest runs from Thursday, May 2, through Sunday, May 5. Other than an opening-night reception at Planet Hollywood, the venue for all events is AMC Town & Country 6 theatres. Because of the lean resources, the schedule looks a little skimpy this year--at least one of the films, Dan Bell's dark Hollywood comedy The Shot, is an encore presentation from last year's festival.
Among this year's new features are several that sound at least interesting, including Intimacies, a performance film of the one-man show by Michael Kearns, an actor who stopped getting work when he avowed his status as HIV-positive. Kearns is scheduled to attend the screening, as are filmmakers or actors from Follow the Bitch, a film about a woman sitting in, and winning, a poker game that was previously all-guy; Black Is White, an allegorical drama making its world premiere; I Crave Rock & Roll, a lampoon of the rock-music business; the Arizona-made Black Day Blue Night and Unfair Game; and Red Cherry, China's Academy Award submission this year.
A nice touch: The final day of the festival being Cinco de Mayo, it's celebrated with the Arizona premiere of Morena, a romantic comedy from Mexico.
Tickets are $5 for individual screenings, $10 for panel discussions, and a measly $25 for a festival pass which admits you to everything, including the Planet Hollywood shindig. For tickets call Ticketmaster (784-4444); for more information, call Arizona Film Society at 970-8711.--M. V. Moorhead
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