How Phoenix Film Festival 2017 Is Spotlighting Arizona's Filmmaking Potential

Secret Service agent Robert DeProspero helps President Reagan sculpt his guns in The Man Behind The Suit.
Secret Service agent Robert DeProspero helps President Reagan sculpt his guns in The Man Behind The Suit. Courtesy of the Phoenix Film Festival
There has never been a film more Arizonan than writer and director Jeff Kimble’s The Dutchman.

In addition to Kimble's beautiful shots of our state’s rugged exteriors, there are references to our conservative views on firearms, the exploitation of immigrants, and as the title obviously alludes to, the legendary treasure-filled mine hidden deep within the Superstition Mountains.

The Mesa filmmaker’s latest work is one of the local entries in competition at the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival, which continues through Thursday, April 13, at Harkins 101 Scottsdale. Local and national filmmakers are in the running for the Copper Wing Award, which recognizes excellence at Arizona's largest film festival.

Bisbee actor James West plays James Eddy, a defiant college student and “mainstream American refugee” who meets ghost pepper salesman and stoner Cody Waltz (Jason Nohovig, adept in his debut feature) while hitchhiking across the desert.

Waltz spins a yarn about how he came to be in possession of the map containing the location the Lost Dutchman’s gold. In a plot point that requires a huge (but rewarding) leap of faith on the audience’s part, Eddy taps into Waltz’s photographic memory and tricks him into revealing the location of the storied treasure. Six months later, Eddy disappears and his wealthy family sends a private investigator, played by Kimble, to find him. What he discovers is a tragic story about a young man’s failed attempt to escape his past.

Eddy attempts to build his own fortune on the backs of three undocumented immigrants with tragic consequences. The lure of wealth and power results in the discovery of the protagonist’s true self. As with the many movies that came before it (the classic The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre immediately comes to mind, down to the paraphrasing of the film’s famous line about police badges), the characters in The Dutchman reveal the despicable sides of their seemingly well-meaning personalities when fortune starts to shine upon them.

What did Kimble find so interesting about a rich man’s son looking for gold?

In a post-screening Q-and-A session, Kimble explains that he found it poignant that Eddy's first attempt to step out of his father’s shadow results in the son becoming as unscrupulous and unhappy as the parent. Kimble didn’t mention the name of our country’s current leader directly, but as politics tends to inadvertently seep its way into art, one can’t help but wonder if Eddy is meant to be a stand-in for President Donald Trump. The character shows how money corrupts the powerful whose fortunes are made by exploiting those making an honest living.

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Secret Service agent Robert DeProspero helps President Reagan sculpt his guns in The Man Behind The Suit.
Courtesy of the Phoenix Film Festival
Moving from people altered by power to people protecting those in it, The Man Behind The Suit is a documentary about the man tasked with ensuring the safety of the President of the United States by local filmmaker Victor Vargas, which is also in competition this year.

Clint Eastwood succeeded in cementing the image of a Secret Service agent as a haunted soul in the fictional film In The Line Of Fire. Here, Vargas counters Eastwood's depiction by introducing viewers to Scottsdale resident Robert DeProspero, the Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division during President Ronald Reagan’s term. His friends, family, and co-workers paint a picture of a dedicated and unselfish man who managed to balance his career with being a loving husband, committed father, and respected wrestling coach.

Vargas and producer Janett Salas revealed at their post-screening Q-and-A session that this project began when the former agent reached out to them to make a short to share with his family. When the filmmakers visited DeProspero's home and saw the pictures on the walls, they knew there was a bigger story to tell.
The touching (though sometimes overlong) anecdotes and visuals on the screen paint a picture of a man with rich stories to tell.

There is only one problem with the execution: DeProspero is not telling them.

Vargas and Salas said they interviewed their subject for eight hours but decided not to use any of the footage. Hints of a much deeper tale are sprinkled throughout The Man Behind The Suit and the assassination attempts on Ford and Reagan are glossed over. Due to either the secrecy of DeProsero’s former occupation, his humble nature, or the inexperience of Vargas (this is his first full-length film), the story’s surface is barely scratched. Instead, according to the filmmaking duo, he played a hands-on role behind the scenes. For a man who often observed history unfolding next to the man making it, his silence led to a real missed opportunity for what could have been a compelling documentary.

As Arizona continues to establish itself as a destination for the film industry, seeing local filmmakers bring some local flavor to the Phoenix Film Festival in dramatic and diverse ways is exciting to see.

The Dutchman is scheduled to show at the Phoenix Film Festival Tuesday, April 11, at 9:25 pm. The Man Behind The Suit is scheduled to show on Wednesday, April 12, at 9:20 pm. The Phoenix Film Festival is located at Harkins Scottsdale 101, 7000 East Mayo Boulevard.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil