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Cheap Thrills

Picture purr-fect: Kirsten Dunst stars in The Cat's Meow, the Phoenix Film Festival's exclusive opening-night feature.
Lions Gate Films

Ten-plus years of filmmaking has been a great experience for Chris LaMont. His knowledge was useful in film festival-making last year, when he discovered that he could organize the fledgling Phoenix Film Festival in the same way he makes movies.

Working out of a small space provided by the City of Phoenix, LaMont and his production partner Golan Ramras started the project by coming up with a niche. "We wanted to do something that's indicative of filmmaking in Phoenix," LaMont says. With low budgets and nowhere to buy or develop 35mm film around here, small productions are the Arizona standard.

LaMont noticed that these smaller movies tend to get lost at bigger film festivals and thought Phoenix would be the perfect place to showcase these undiscovered gems. As a result, the Phoenix Film Festival's special entry requirements make the event unique among festivals throughout the world. No feature-length flick in the festival cost more than $1 million to make, and no short was made for more than $50,000.

The inaugural year of the festival taught LaMont a lot about creating buzz. Still, 3,000 people showed up, and the event was deemed a success. But rather than show 20 feature films once each, like last year, the 2002 festival will highlight a "Director's Dozen," with repeat screenings and guest appearances by feature filmmakers -- along the lines of the world-class Sundance Film Festival. Of the 12 features being shown, six will be making their international premières, while five will be Arizona debuts.

Selections include Adam Baratta's Do It for Uncle Manny, a comedy about old college buddies who reunite for a wild night in Hollywood, and the locally made Training Wheels.

Every genre of film will be represented, from foreign entry Angel Exit, a drug-drenched gangster film from the Czech Republic, to the feature documentary Lady Warriors, about Tuba City High School's champion cross-country team. Rounding out the schedule will be short films in a variety of categories, and five free seminars on such topics as "Stretching Your Dollar: Low Budget Secrets" and "Size Doesn't Matter: Making a Short Film."

With at least two other film festivals slated to appear on Arizona screens in the coming weeks, LaMont is especially grateful that he was able to claim the official "Phoenix Film Festival" title; the fact that it was still available, he says, seemed like a sign. "We were supposed to do this," he says. "You take destiny where you can get it."


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