Amy Ettinger works for months to put together the Scottsdale International Film Festival’s five-day schedule. As the event’s executive director, she has one goal in mind when organizing each year’s lineup: Surprise the viewer.
“Artistically, it is our goal that we can find the best of what is available and put it in this particular festival," Ettinger says. "There are a lot of things to balance, but we are firmly fixed every year on the highest quality of film.”
Ettinger begins the search for films in January at other festivals in the U.S. and abroad. She starts actively pursuing films in March. At the same time, five to seven programmers from different walks of life review the submissions, sending Ettinger critiques to let her know if she should consider an entry for programming.
“They make sure that anything with high production values, a good plotline, or an unusual story told well is considered,” she says. “[The submissions] are not the typical Hollywood ending sort of films, but they never leave you wanting. By July, we pretty much have everything locked in.”
The 2017 edition of the festival counts the Weinstein Company and Amazon Studios among its sponsors. The companies, which also have films featured on the festival’s schedule, have come under fire following alleged sexual misconduct by studio heads who have since left the respective companies.
Harvey Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company. And Roy Price resigned from Amazon Studios.
Concerned moviegoers have been debating whether they should support films from these studios.
Even as more people come forward to share stories of harassment and abuse, and executives have distanced themselves from Weinstein and Price, Ettinger is not removing the studios' logos from the festival’s website — nor the films The Upside and Last Flag Flying from the festival's lineup.
“I’m one of the #metoo people,” she says. “I don’t think that if you are a woman who grew up between the dawn of civilization and just recently that you have not encountered some uncomfortable situation, at the very least, either verbally or otherwise.
"We cannot eradicate overnight the humiliations and [other actions] these men perpetrated on women. There are other people who work at these companies, so I am not going to join the bandwagon and strip the logos off of our website or our ads because I think it does a disservice to those who still need to make a living.”
When asked if this controversy could affect next year’s schedule, Ettinger says she suspects The Weinstein Company will not exist in its current form when preparations for the 2018 festival begin.
This year’s title sponsor for the festival is the City of Scottsdale. That's a point of pride for Ettinger as the event enters its 17th year. To her, it says a lot about the quality and importance of the festival to the Phoenix suburb that they are willing to support it with their grant dollars.
“I’m thrilled with the way our community is starting to explode with artistic offerings,” Ettinger says.
A Western called The Ballad of Lefty Brown will open the 2017 edition of the festival on Thursday, November 2.
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The one movie Ettinger really wants attendees to see is the Arabic-language film In Syria. It revolves around a mother in Damascus who uses her apartment to protect her family and friends from the violence taking place outside.
“I cannot stress how much I adored this film,” Ettinger says. “The acting is superb. The storyline is current and timely. It’s a confusing world right now. This film doesn’t do anything to undo the confusion, but it reminds you that the human condition requires a major overhaul.”
The Scottsdale International Film Festival is scheduled for Thursday, November 2, through Monday, November 6, at the Harkins Shea 14 Theatre, 7354 East Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale. Opening night tickets, which include a reception, are $25. Individual screening tickets are $12 each. There are various discount ticket packages available, but those must be purchased before 5 p.m. on November 1. For more information, visit the festival's website.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version to clarify that Ettinger said she does not think the Weinstein Company will exist in its current form in 2018.