If it weren't for Chris LaMont's and Golan Ramras' curious desire to spoof Hollywood "it" boys Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, the Phoenix Film Festival might still be a figment of the young filmmakers' imaginations. And movie buffs might still be sifting through "Mike's favorite picks" at their local Blockbluster for quality films.
As the pair worked late one night in 2001, reveling in the recent sale of their Fight Club parody, Film Club, they wondered, "Why isn't there a world-class film festival in Phoenix to show our film?" After remembering that Phoenix has suffered from the large-city-no-culture syndrome for as long as it's been on the map, LaMont concluded, "Maybe we should be the guys to start it."
So they did.
Fade to present: The fourth annual Phoenix Film Festival is expected to draw up to 10,000 filmgoers, celebrities including Peter Fonda, Billy Crystal and John Landis; and a slew of movie debuts during its four-day run starting Thursday, April 1.
"Watching this event grow has been amazing," says LaMont, festival executive director and part-time independent film instructor at Arizona State University. "It's fun watching this grassroots effort with a small budget become a world-class event."
When the festival debuted at the AMC Arizona Center in 2001, it featured 50 out of 200 "poor quality" film submissions. This year, the film count remains at 50, but the number of entries has jumped to nearly 600. In addition, the event boasts a new venue -- the Harkins Scottsdale 101 and Cine Capri Theatres -- and a spiffy new sponsor: the Sundance Channel.
"Sundance was very impressed with what we've done in the past few years," says LaMont, who puts other projects aside each year to work as the festival's premier volunteer. "We've become the old 'oasis in the desert' adage. We've literally created a community for filmmaking."
The festival comes out swinging with a celebrity golf tournament ("As skiing is to Sundance, golfing is to the Phoenix Film Festival," LaMont says). Regular folk can get in on the game for $200 per player, but cheaper stargazing is available at the opening-night gala. The star-studded party begins at 5 p.m. at the Harkins Cine Capri, followed by a 7 p.m. showing of Saved!, starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin.
Other notable premieres include A Slipping Down Life with Guy Pearce and Lili Taylor, Swimming Upstream with Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, and Black Cloud, a directorial effort by former child star Rick Schroeder. The festival also features works by 18 local filmmakers, a fact that makes LaMont particularity proud.
"This isn't Los Angeles. This isn't Hollywood. But there are a lot of talented people in the Valley with a story to tell," he says.