Scottsdale International Film Festival Founder Amy Ettinger on the Best Advice Ever

Meet Amy Ettinger, founder of Scottsdale International Film Festival.EXPAND
Meet Amy Ettinger, founder of Scottsdale International Film Festival.
Elaine Kessler Photography

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 58. Amy Ettinger.

Amy Ettinger wants you to watch more movies. 

More specifically, the Scottsdale International Film Festival founder wants you to experience cinema with other people. "In a time when most people seem to consume images and information in a weird sort of group isolation, I provide the opportunity to have a collective encounter with the moving image on the big screen," the 58-year-old says. "Art can be challenging, so I bring the community together to experience films which will rarely be seen in the Valley."

It's no small feat. Ettinger scours the globe to to find films to feature at the annual festival, which returns in October. "I curate the event with a specific outcome in mind," she says, "and then I wait to see if the result matches the intent."

Much like the slate of movies she curates, Ettinger's career didn't come together by accident. 

During a bout of insomnia, Ettinger watched and re-watched Bill Moyers' interviews with Joseph Campbell in the 1990s about the Power of Myth. "Eventually the insomnia ebbed, but the will to do what I truly wanted was revealed," she says. "The corporate jobs I had held for years were not satisfying, and I wanted to be creating something artful as my life’s work."

She started as a community organizer, which led to her producing the 1997 LGBT film festival Out Far! The festival ran for 10 years. "I believed that the LGBT community, which now includes QAI, deserved to have the chance to participate in an activity which transcended the usual bar scene and ongoing discrimination," Ettinger says. Eventually, she expanded her vision for the project and went on to found Scottsdale International Film Festival in 2001. 

As of 2015, Ettinger has teamed up with Scottsdale Cultural Council and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts to produce the festival. And their collaborative efforts have since expanded. In April 2016, Ettinger and the Center launched Scottsdale Cinematheque, which showcases new indie, foreign, and art films on a monthly basis. This summer's selection is centered on French films to coincide with the Center's current programming. 

Now entering its 16th season, Ettinger says that cultivating, sustaining, and expanding the festival is her greatest work. She says she's "pleased to possess the discipline required to withstand the ongoing adversity in a state where the arts mortally vie with professional sports, politics, and the heat for time and money."

But at a close second is the fact that she and the Center's Kelli Fawcett have worked together to bring elementary schoolers to the festival for free. "My fondest aspiration these days is to help form an upcoming generation of film-lovers," Ettinger says. "Ya gotta share the wealth."

Papa Cloudy's Orchestra will be part of the Children’s Program in the upcoming Scottsdale Film Festival from October 6 through 10.EXPAND
Papa Cloudy's Orchestra will be part of the Children’s Program in the upcoming Scottsdale Film Festival from October 6 through 10.
Courtesy of Akiko McQuerrey

I came to Phoenix with a rare 1968, natural finish, acoustic Gibson Hummingbird guitar (well-loved and well-played); a 1974, Cherry burst, electric Ibanez Les Paul Custom copy (not so well-played); a Pignose guitar amp; a silver Turin 10-speed racing bicycle; six feet of vinyl albums; a red and a white dashiki; two pairs of blue jeans in tatters; a pair of white jeans; T-shirts; a bikini; and a pair of platform shoes.

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I make art because there’s no choice because it’s in my family's DNA pool. My maternal grandmother was a self-taught, skilled and prolific painter and violinist who used all forms of paint media including charcoal, pencil, ink, watercolor, acrylic, pastels, and oils. I grew up lying beneath my mother’s baby grand piano listening to her play classical music. My maternal grandfather played brass coronet as a kid in Benny Goodman’s first band. And, my schools provided a comprehensive arts education. I was in the choir, the theater, took drama class, guitar lessons, and had an art class every week. Our annual spring musical and fundraiser were budgeted annually for $10,000 in the '70s! Growing up in Chicago, creative arts were everywhere, from home to school to the streets. Our public school days were an embarrassment of riches for the arts.

I'm most productive when I don’t eat. Seriously. I can go like a machine on any given project until I eat lunch. Once I do that, then all bets are off and I run out of steam. Whenever there’s a big deadline, I try not to eat a meal before 2 p.m. That being said, I also received epic advice from my dad on the phone in college when I was daunted by a colossal assignment which was to be 100 percent of my grade. He said, “Just hang up right now and type the first page.” So, I hung up and typed one page and then I was able to keep going. The advice stuck, and it became a simple, self-propelling approach for everything I want to accomplish.

My inspiration wall is full of a mix of album covers, film festival posters, and cultural references from my youth, like pictures of musical heroes. I also look at my ticket stubs dating back to the days when concerts cost about $7.50 to $9 to see Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Electric Light Orchestra, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, and on and on. These days I’m lucky to have two offices. One contains the more current images and the other displays the blasts from my past. A change of venue from day to day tends to be inspirational. I think about what was and what will be.

I've learned most from a combination of life-altering moments and a couple of key mentors. As a teen, I was fortunate to spend two summers in the mountains of Colorado at a survival camp, which permanently added self-confidence to my toolbox. We once unexpectedly found ourselves in the midst of a whiteout blizzard, dealing with 12 feet of snow in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. It helped to have an enterprising attitude and a few friends to help build an igloo for the night. I suppose we could have panicked and frozen to death, but it wasn’t even a thought and certainly wasn’t as fun as the igloo idea. The following day, we realized that it had been a close call, but it was already in the past and became this great live-to-tell story. Another time, the camp’s owner pulled me aside and gave me some life-changing advice, as did my rabbi when I was confirmed at 16. Their guidance stuck with me, as did a self-empowerment workshop I attended in the '90s. My modern-day perseverance and desire to build something from nothing stem from those seminal conversations and experiences.

Good work should always be acknowledged from within, regardless of any public reception. At the end of my day, the rewards ultimately reveal themselves through an internal dialogue. Also, I’m very cognizant of sharing the limelight with coworkers. I make a practice of bringing them into the frame when they have contributed to any good work. That doesn’t mean I’m immune to the allure of the occasional feature interview in a longstanding, weekly publication. It’s gratifying to be recognized by one’s peers or the community. However, external praise and accolades are few, so I regularly look outward to recognize others and inwardly to recognize my own good work.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more more…

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth

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