Desert Botanical Garden

If the purpose of art is to change one's perspective, the "Electric Desert" light and sound exhibition at Desert Botanical Garden checked all the boxes. The international Klip Collective created seven site-specific installations, setting them in various garden locations to magnificent effect. Through lights conveying a sense of movement, cactus gardens appeared to undulate, leaving viewers feeling they were witnessing a magical underwater dance of coral. Rather than disguising the desert's own natural shapes, patterns, and textures, the collective amplified the organic properties of desert plants while adding new visual layers, with intriguing results. For skeptics who worry that technology is sapping interest in the natural world, the exhibit revealed technology's potential to draw attention back to the environment and its myriad wonders.

If you're looking for a barometer for what wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards, film festivals are not that place (come on, Green Book? Really?). If you're looking for a movie that you'll actually enjoy, then the Phoenix Film Festival has something to scratch your itch. Opening night of this year's festival featured a Q & A session with Joe Berlinger, director of the hit Netflix movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile before it premiered on the streaming service. There are even nights dedicated to nerd and genre films for those repulsed by awards bait. Because the event takes place entirely at Harkins Scottsdale 101, chances are you'll run into the person behind that little documentary you caught earlier in the afternoon at the concession stand. For Valley cinephiles, there is no experience like it.

You don't have to make the six-hour drive to Hollywood to get your independent film made. The Independent Film Project (IFP) here in Phoenix has a vast number of resources. There is the Monthly Movie Meeting (held most months), where filmmakers can showcase their work and receive feedback. Another monthly event is Filmmaker Fusion, where a topic is discussed with special guests and, afterward, attendees are encouraged to network. Two filmmaker challenges are held every year: the Beat the Clock Challenge and the Breakout Challenge. Both events come with the opportunity to have the participants' work seen on the big screen. The monthly meetings are free of charge, but there is a tiered annual membership you can choose to purchase to receive other benefits and discounts. Grab your camera, polish your script, and check out everything you can do right here in town.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

Let's face it, dropping a Hamilton or more to see a movie is a gamble nowadays, especially when you can see practically everything on a streaming service. Local real estate developer Michael Pollack also took a chance when he purchased this discount theater more than 15 years ago. The lobby, drowned in neon pink, is a cross between a museum and a kitschy gift shop you would find along Hollywood Boulevard with an array of video games, animatronics, and wax sculptures of cinema icons from long ago. You wouldn't expect an experience like this when you're only dropping $3.50 to watch a flick you could easily rent on iTunes, but Pollack usually can be found in the lobby on a Friday night to ensure you get a little more than you paid for.

FilmBar

A good movie theater — one with character and a selection of films that someone actually took time to curate — is hard to find. Fortunately, Phoenix has FilmBar, an independent theater that shows the latest indie hits (think Booksmart), cult classics (name another theater that shows Donnie Darko), and foreign, local, or downright different films (such as Loving Vincent, animated in the style of Van Gogh). Just inside FilmBar is a bar with a selection of craft beers, plus popcorn and tamales — try finding those at a commercial theater. Inside the theater, choose between plush, velvet-cushioned seats or a table in the back for a proper place to eat those tamales. FilmBar is a beacon of light in the soulless sea of chain theaters around the Valley, and at about $10 a head, tickets are some of the best-priced in town.

Luxury theaters with reserved seating, fancy food, and bars are becoming de rigueur around town these days, but we still love heading to Camelview for both critically acclaimed indies and long-anticipated blockbusters. The sound and projection rival any other multiplex in town, and the reclining chairs are still well-maintained after cradling the butts of movie fans for nearly four years. After seeing that heady horror flick, you can grab a drink and step out on the scenic patio to discuss what the heck you just saw. The popcorn will always be overpriced, but you can see where those extra dollars in the admission price went.

Burton Barr Central Library

The best libraries lure readers not only with books, but with a profound sense of community. That's exactly what happens at this flagship branch of the Phoenix Public Library. Community members gather for lively discussions of civic issues inside the auditorium; for art exhibits featuring works by emerging and established artists; and for shared experiences in spaces focused on topics ranging from maker culture to workplace skills. Children have their own cheerful space, where books provide solace and a sense of wonder. Teens have an area for self-expression and conversation. For people who love history and literature, the Rare Book Room is a welcoming space. And the annual used-book sale is one of the community's best-loved traditions. Throughout the library, Will Bruder's designs assure that visitors are enveloped in light and soaring architectural elements that reinforce the primacy of learning in the course of human civilization.

Miss the days of your parents giving you $20 before dropping you off to hang out at the mall with your hooligan friends? Imagine if you saved that money — let that thought haunt you before you go to bed tonight. Anyway, the mall used to be the spot: always bustling with families on shopping outings, teens hanging out, everyone with a pretzel in their hands. The days of a busy mall probably are numbered. Though you can still get a buttery pretzel, you'll just be walking around a nearly empty mall. But there's beauty in the emptiness, and Retail Archaeology explores just that. The man behind the camera, Erik Pierson, started documenting dead and dying malls almost three years ago on YouTube. In his videos, Pierson gives life to malls around the Valley, like Fiesta Mall and El Pedregal, by walking around and narrating with facts, architectural observations, and personal anecdotes.

Best Memory for the Way Things Used to Be

Alison King

Alison King planned to be a high school art teacher, but academia's loss is Midcentury Modern architecture's gain. King is the queen of all things built in the Valley before 1980 or so; since 2004, she has documented mid-20th-century buildings and building trends on her Modern Phoenix: The Neighborhood Network site. King grew up in Scottsdale and attended Saguaro High School, where she met her husband, Matthew. The pair went on to create and host an annual Modern Phoenix Week, with tours, talks, and public events aimed at design professionals and midcentury enthusiasts. She's documented modernist influences and helped revive the reputation of architect Ralph Haver, whose distinctive 1950s tract homes lately have become so sought after. King has made a name for herself among the best Phoenix historians.

Spanning over 26 miles across multiple city borders, a ride on the light rail provides a brief window into so many of Phoenix's unique neighborhoods. One guarantee that is included with your light rail pass is the fact that you will be sharing the experience with a wide array of Phoenicians. People-watching is all about variety, and taking a ride on the light rail, you'll get a glimpse into the lives of Phoenix residents from every walk of life. Whether you're on your way to a sporting event or concert downtown, or commuting to work to avoid the nuisance of rush-hour traffic, save for staring down at your phone, there's really not much else to do on the light rail but to observe the people getting on and off at every stop. As usual, Phoenix never disappoints.

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