A scene from the thriller Point DefianceEXPAND
A scene from the thriller Point Defiance
Courtesy of Peoria Film Fest

Peoria Film Fest Brings the Arthouse to the Avenues

The inaugural Peoria Film Fest lights up the screens of the Harkins Arrowhead Fountains 18 beginning Friday, October 19.

The Valley has several film festivals for moviegoers to choose from, including the Phoenix Film Festival. Jason Carney, who serves as the director of both events, saw there was a need to bring arthouse films to the Avenues. It's often a challenge for cinephiles on the west side to see a smaller film, because they either have to travel to Scottsdale to see it in limited release or wait weeks until, hopefully, it expands wider.

Soon after the Phoenix Film Festival wrapped up in April, the City of Peoria came to the Phoenix Film Foundation, the non-profit organization that has run the eleven-day extravaganza at Harkins Scottsdale 101, to look for ways for moviegoers to scratch that itch.

“We had a lunch meeting, and the next day the Peoria Film Fest was happening,” recalls Carney.

Planning began in late June, giving the Foundation four months to put things together. According to Carney, it would reasonably take two and a half months to call for and review entries for a film festival like this. Because of the accelerated timeline, that approach was abandoned. Instead, curators found the films for the festival by reaching out to distributors, sales agents, and production companies worldwide.

Despite the hasty programming, local filmmakers will have representation at the festival. A compilation of short films from Arizona will be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 20. Included in the collection will be the film Stop Sign, directed by Joe Stone and produced at the Huntington University Arizona Center for Digital Media Arts, which is located near the festival site. If this year’s event proves successful, there are plans to incorporate more homegrown work into future editions.

Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon in What They Had, which opens the Peoria Film FestEXPAND
Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon in What They Had, which opens the Peoria Film Fest
Courtesy of Peoria Film Fest

Carney says his favorite films in this year’s Peoria Film Fest change from day to day because they are so diverse in their content and style. On the afternoon he spoke with the New Times, Carney sang the praises of the documentary White Tide: The Legend of Culebra, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival and was recently picked up by Netflix. It chronicles one man’s hunt for two million dollars’ worth of cocaine buried on an island.

As far as features go, Carney is excited about the festival’s closing night film To Dust, which also played at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and won the Audience Award there. The charming, dark comedy stars Matthew Broderick as a community college professor who helps a grieving Hasidic cantor (Geza Rohrig) learn about how bodies decompose.

“Generally, [the films were chosen for the festival] are super unique and stand alone,” Carney says.

The Peoria Film Fest will also feature the world premiere of the thriller Point Defiance, with producer Mark Sayre in attendance. Director Eric Billitch will present his film Locating Silver Lake, a dramedy about an aspiring writer who relocates to Los Angeles in search of his passion.

Streaming has played a significant role in the decline of the multiplex, but Carney has not seen any audience drop-off at local film events put on by the Phoenix Film Foundation. He hopes that by bringing the film festival experience to the West side, audiences can feel the communal enjoyment that comes with discovering a film for the first time.

“Everybody is rooting for the film to be great,” describes Carney. “You’re talking about the film in the lobby. It’s really a cool vibe.”

Peoria Film Fest. October 19-21 at the Harkins Arrowhead Fountains 18, 16046 North Arrowhead Fountains Center Drive, Peoria. The opening night screening of the film What They Had starring Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 and feature food, drinks, and a silent auction. VIP passes to see all the films playing are $75. Single tickets are $12. For more information and the full schedule of films, visit peoriafilmfest.com.

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