Summer escapes to the multiplex are a time-honored tradition in the Valley, but you can add a little more charm this year by actually getting out of town to the Prescott Film Festival starting on Sunday, July 17. Now in its seventh year, the week-long festival runs until Sunday, July 24, and features a number of films from around the world, workshops, and other special events that make a nice cap to a day spent hiking, fishing, or day-drinking your way down Whiskey Row.
Past festivals have seen more than 4,000 tickets sold, and this year is expected to exceed those numbers, says Helen Stephenson, the festival's founder and executive director. During its early years, the festival played at various venues, including one that closed down right after a movie.
"At the end of the screening, we were told, 'Get all your stuff out,'" Stephenson recalls. Luckily, Yavapai College eventually offered the festival a home, and with its 900-seat theater, which was recently renovated and has up-to-date digital technology for today's film medium, the college is a perfect venue.
Screenings rarely sell out given the size of the auditorium, which works in your favor for getting into every movie you want to see. The schedule is also well-planned so you don't have to pick and choose one film over another or skip a workshop in favor of a movie. You really can do it all during the festival, but below are our top five reasons to take the drive up to Prescott, check out a week's worth of movies, and remember what a cool breeze feels like.
Meet the daughter of Orson Welles. The festival opens with "Film Noir and Pinot Noir," a night of wine and the Orson Welles classic The Lady from Shanghai. The movie was a disaster with audiences and critics alike, but as with much of Welles' work, it was ahead of its time and misunderstood by the hoi polloi. Starring Welles and his wife, Rita Hayworth, who horrified studio executives by cutting her luxurious red locks and dying them blond for the part, the film is a double-crossing, bad-girl, love-triangle murder flick set in glamorous ports around the North American continent. The movie was much more popular in Europe, although the Hollywood set found the making of it titillating. Welles' reputation in Tinseltown was going down the toilet, and by the time the film was released in 1948, he and Hayworth were divorced. Prescott Film Festival managed to score a great guest for their opening night showing: Orson's daughter Beatrice Welles, who lives in Sedona. She'll be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Show up having done your homework, and you might get some juicy backstory on why the great director didn't make another Hollywood film until 10 years later (Touch of Evil).
Get a little closer to George Clooney (sort of).
When American films go abroad and Hollywood stars open their mouths, an entirely new artist takes flight: the dubber. Being George Clooney, playing July 20, profiles the 24 men around the world, from Brazil to Italy and India, who are the voice of one of the most famous movie stars of all time. It's a fascinating look into the life of voice actors, who don't always know what's going on in a movie – one artist says she's not sure if the woman in the scene is having sex or giving birth – or are in competition with other voice actors trying to take their gigs. Director Paul Mariano, whose 2011 documentary These Amazing Shadows played Sundance, weaves together personal stories with a behind-the-scenes look at the technicalities of dubbing, plus a little history for good measure (i.e. dubbing grew out of fascism).
Geek out at workshops.
If you're a filmmaker or an aficionado, you'll have plenty to learn during the festival's workshops, which run all week long. Definitely catch the film preservation workshop on July 18. It might not sound thrilling, but the guy who runs it, Bob O'Neil, is sure to have lots of fantastic anecdotes about Hollywood's golden age. He worked at Universal for nearly 40 years restoring classic films, including Rear Window, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Bride of Frankenstein. Horror buffs will want to check out "The Sound of Fear" on July 20, a journey through horror films' aural landscape with sound editor Noah Blough, who worked on The Exorcist, Independence Day (the first crappy one) and Mission Impossible II. For filmmakers, make sure to attend "Micro and Macro Film Financing" on July 19, and "Radio Silence" on July 20. Everyone certainly has artistic integrity, but every artist also needs to pay the bills. Both these workshops promise an insider's insight into the labyrinthine world of film as business. All workshops are free.
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Watch a visually sumptuous and flagrant rip-off of a Cocteau masterpiece.
There's a thin line between homage and outright larceny, and director Christophe Gans leans towards the latter in his adaptation of La Belle et la Bête (The Beauty and the Beast). To be fair, the film is absolutely gorgeous, with incredible art direction, and visual-effects nerds will likely love its host of CGI beasties and enchanted woods. For those who've never seen any version of this classic tale, it's a solid movie that amps up the mythic qualities of love and redemption. Yet if you've even once watched French filmmaker Jean Cocteau's 1946 masterpiece of the same title, you'll wonder how Gans had the Gallic gall to copy Cocteau almost shot-for-shot, as well as the look of everything from the beast's face to the fur throw on Belle's bed. There's something oddly compelling about it, though, likely because it's a re-do of the earlier icon, so check this one out and then watch the original when you're back sweltering in Phoenix.
Relive your fumbling attempts at young love.
If you've only got one day for the festival, go on Saturday, July 23, and see Growing Up Smith. This charming coming-of-age story follows the woeful romantic travails of Smith, a young Indian boy of an immigrant family who has plopped themselves down in America's heartland. Smith, so named by his father because Smith is a popular American name – he didn't understand it was a last name, however – falls in love with the blond, cowboy-boot-wearing girl next door. The performances are a mixture of sweet and nostalgic, with elements of clashing cultures and first-generation Americans throw in for good measure. For anyone who grew up caught between worlds, this film is for you, and if you didn't, go see it, anyway - you're sure to fall for the enchanting performance of Roni Akurati, who plays Smith. Anjul Nigam, who wrote, produced, and played Smith's father in the film, will be present for a post-screening Q&A and after-party.
The Prescott Film Festival shows from July 17 to July 24 at Yavapai College, 1100 East Sheldon Street. Tickets start at $6, and multi-movie passes are available starting at $100. For more information, visit www.prescottfilmfestival.com.