Phoenix Film Festival 2017: Don't Miss These 10 Must-See Movies

A still from Gold Star, a grassroots indie film originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
A still from Gold Star, a grassroots indie film originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Photo Courtesy of Victoria Negri
There are so many reasons to love the Phoenix Film Festival: the diverse selection of films, the inclusion of Arizona directors, and the fact that you can see absolutely everything in one place. For one full week, from April 6 to 13, the festival takes over the Harkins Scottsdale 101. If the idea of SXSW overwhelms you with its hugeness, rest assured that you can watch every movie in the festival without leaving the building.

You'll find all kinds of cinematic stories, from quiet relationship dramas to noirish thrillers. You can see films about estranged daughters, deranged clowns, and Australian serial killers. If you walk out in a daze, eager to discuss the images you've just seen, you have your pick of 25,000 other festival-goers.

If you've been dying to see just one featured film, you can pick up an individual ticket for $13. With a $40 flex pass, you'll get admitted to any four festival films of your choice. And for $120, the festival pass gives you access to any screening – except for the opening night gala. (See details on that below.) There are also VIP passes and discounts for students and seniors.

In total, there are 175 films to take in, and most of them should bring a satisfying number of smiles, shivers, or tears. Here are some standouts that caught our eye and might very well catch yours. See you at the movies.

The Hero
April 6

An over-the-hill actor (Sam Elliott) is content to sit around and smoke weed all day. But when he faces a serious diagnosis, the old man decides he's got some business to attend to. In the same tradition of Crazy Heart and The Wrestler, Bretty Haley's The Hero is a character study about fame, mortality, and mending family ties. The Hero kicks off the festival during a special première event on April 6 at 7:30 p.m. See the Phoenix Film Festival website for details.

Brave New Jersey
April 7 to 9
It's one of the great urban legends: When Orson Welles aired his radio drama War of the Worlds in 1938, many of his listeners mistook the science fiction mockumentary for a real newscast. Unlike a lot of urban legends, the calamity that followed happens to be true, including panic attacks, people locking themselves in their basements, and attempted suicides. Jody Lambert's dark comedy brings those events to life. Brave New Jersey screens at 9:20 a.m. on April 7, at 5:55 p.m. on April 8, and at 1:55 p.m. on April 9. Visit the festival listing for more about Brave New Jersey.

The Lost City of Z
April 8
In the 1920s, British adventurer Percy Fawcett was convinced that an ancient city was concealed within the Amazon, and he ventured into the world's largest rainforest in order to find it. Instead of returning with photographic evidence, Fawcett disappeared without a trace. James Grey's The Lost City of Z is both biopic and historical thriller, largely based on the bestselling book by David Grann. Was Fawcett a visionary explorer with bad luck, or was he a New Age-y fantasist with delusions of grandeur? Find out on April 8 at 7 p.m. Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website for more about The Lost City of Z.

Arizona Shorts
April 8 and 9
The Phoenix Film Festival has a number of short film compilations, including horror flicks, science-fiction shorts, and even showcase of black and Native American directors. But locals should get a particular kick out of Arizona Shorts, brief dramas and documentaries by area filmmakers. As plucky Arizonans are always trying to prove, you don't have to emigrate to Los Angeles to make moving pictures. One particular standout is Just Like Us, the documentary about an Arizona camp for people with special needs. The first round of shorts screens April 8 at 9:05 a.m., and the second April 9 at 4:30 p.m. See the Phoenix Film Festival website for a list of other short films.

Quaker Oaths
April 7 to 9
Three fun facts about Quakers: 1. They abstain from violence. 2. They hold "meetings," where congregants sit in silence until someone decides to say something. 3. When Quakers get married, their friends and family all sign an ornate marriage contract, approving of the union. But what happens when Quakers divorce? Quaker Oaths is the lighthearted story of a couple trying to break their commitment, with the help of everyone they care about. But will they second-guess their decision? Director Louisiana Kreutz explores the gentle world of modern Quakerism. Quaker Oaths plays April 7 at 5:50 p.m., April 8 at 9:15 a.m., and April 9 at 4:20 p.m. If the spirit moves you, see more details about Quaker Oaths.

Read on for more of the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival's top-notch offerings.
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Robert Isenberg