Earlier this year, as COVID-19 shut down events all over the world, Scottsdale International Film Festival Executive Director Amy Ettinger didn't know if they'd be able to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
It might not be the big celebration she was hoping for, but the festival will return in a scaled-back, virtual format from November 6 to 10.
"It’s a gift, honestly, to be able to put our best foot forward in our 20th year," Ettinger says.
Whereas in recent years, the festival lineup was nearing the 80-film mark, this edition will offer just 20 movies — "20 films as the antidote to 2020," she remarks.
Here's how it'll work this year: A single ticket is $9.99 (no taxes, no service charges). All of the movies can be watched at any time during the five days of the festival, except for Boy Meets Gun (which needs to be watched November 7 or 8). Once a film is unlocked, you have 24 hours to start watching. Once you hit play, you have 48 hours to finish it. You can pause and rewind, but each film can only be watched once. Ticket packages are also available; there are pick-five ($45) and pick-10 ($90) options, as well as a $170 VIP pass that gives you access to all the films, plus a bag of popcorn and a commemorative face mask.
Ettinger struggles to pick her favorites of this year's options.
"It’s kind of Sophie’s Choice," she says, noting that because there are fewer films this year, the lineup really is the best of the best, and limited "to the films we thought were really far and away a great balance in terms of regions of the world and in terms of race and ethnicity. We’re really trying to be as diverse as we can without sacrificing quality."
That being said, here are some suggestions from Ettinger on films to check out at this year's Scottsdale International Film Festival. You can get details and tickets at scottsdalefilmfestival.com.
Assassins (2020)Language: English/Indonesian/Malay/Vietnamese with English subtitles
This "can't believe it's true" documentary follows two young women who are on trial for the murder of North Korean royal family member Kim Jong-nam. The film examines whether the defendants are really killers or just political pawns.
"From one minute to the next, there’s so many twists and turns," Ettinger says. "Did they do it? Good question."
Boy Meets Gun (2019)Language: Dutch/English with English subtitles
When a jaded philosophy professor gets robbed and accidentally ends up with the gun used to threaten him, it changes his life.
Ettinger highly recommends Boy Meets Gun. "It's a modern film noir, sort of a blackish comedy," she says. "It made me laugh out loud alone watching it on an iPad, which was surprising. That doesn’t happen very often."
For a film with a local connection, check out Butter, the story of a lonely teenager who achieves a dark popularity when he declares his intention to eat himself to death live on the internet. It's based on a book by Phoenix author Erin Jade Lange, and it's set in Scottsdale.
Though it's technically a teen film, Ettinger says that shouldn't make adult filmgoers pass it by. "I knew when I got done with it that it was too bad it came with a YA moniker, because I don’t want that to put off every adult who might think about whether or not they would watch it. It’s so well done and it’s so meaningful."
In an alternate version of today's world, a man takes on a strange job: carrying cables through miles of forest for a malevolent corporation.
Lapsis is a South by Southwest movie, and it's sci-fi, but not in the traditional sense, Ettinger says. "It doesn't use massive special effects. It's not Star Trek. It's more subtle."
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (2020)
This follow-up to the 2003 documentary The Corporation is a new examination of the devastating power of corporations. The film takes into account current world challenges like COVID-19, racial injustice, and climate change as it looks at both companies and the forces resisting them.
"It’s just an extended and deeper look at the evil of corporate America," Ettinger says. "It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I certainly found it captivating."
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