Steve Weiss is definitely a name to know in the Phoenix film scene, but the local indie programmer says he's no film buff.
Instead of seeing films through traditional outlets like theaters, Netflix, or getting them through ubiquitous Red Boxes, Weiss says his job requires him to dig through boxes of VHS, mini DVs, and other archaic formats.
"When you program -- and especially when you program shorts and you don't want to throw anything out -- what ends up happening is you just gather stuff," he says. "It is very hard to take somebody's film and pitch it."
This year, his independent film programming company No Festival Required celebrates its 10-year anniversary with an event he's calling the "Ten-Cennial" -- a play on words from Arizona's centennial -- with screenings starting this month at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA), Phoenix Center for the Arts and Icehouse.
What are you watching?
Right now, I am looking through 10 years' worth of comedy shorts. I just literally today went through five bankers boxes of films on VHS, on DVD, and on mini DV, and every format that has been around, short of reel-to-reel film, to work on a project of a long-form series of comedy shorts. It is work from all over the world. There are certainly a number of local filmmakers involved in it. These are things that, some of them, in the first show I ever did and some of them in the last show I did, of a short show which was at Phoenix Art Museum over a year and a half ago.
Where do you think the best place to watch film is in town?
Easily every place that I show! To say that means that you really have to follow the floating craps game of cinema known as No Festival Required. In the month of June, I'll be screening in three different locations. The first is at SMoCA -- actually the SMoCA Lounge. I really describe it as my home base, and I've been working with them consistently since October 2011. Phoenix Center for the Arts -- I'm doing a screening there June 18. And on June 22, I'll start working at Icehouse. Between the three, SMoCA is the place I am going to show the most fine art experimental kinds of works. The Phoenix Center is maybe a little bit more traditional documentary style work, and Icehouse is going to be all over the planet.
Who is doing something new and different in film in Phoenix?
I am very excited about the fact that I found -- to me -- the perfect film for the period of time that we're in right now and the politics that we are in, the film Two Americans, which we are screening June 18. And it's really the story of two different Americans: Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old girl who is the daughter of undocumented workers whose parents were picked up in a raid from Sheriff Joe Arpaio. So there is the two conflicting, contrasting stories. I was incredibly glad to meet these filmmakers. It is not easy to find locally made films that I am excited about.
I am always hoping that I can find films locally that are of the caliber of the other films that I show because I think it is really important not to dumb down everything for the sake of the locals. I think that local filmmakers need to look at films that are made on a high caliber and step up -- and that is exactly what [directors] Valeria [Fernandez] and Dan [DeVivo] did. I think Valeria and Dan made a film that can compete with any other documentary I've seen. And especially knowing about Sheriff Joe -- and actually knowing the history of how much he craves attention and loves cameras around -- it was great to see that they had gotten past that. And the second thing I believe is that they were very conscious to be objective and I think that was refreshing.
What is different about the Phoenix film scene?
I think that in Phoenix you have three different groups of people. The first group is the people who literally make their living work in film. They are working mainly on commercials, but they are also working on small independent films, large independent films. They are the crew members: the grips, the gaffers, the cameramen and those sorts of folks that work on what comes into town or what someone thinks up to create here. They are professionals.
The second group are people who seem to want to be like Hollywood filmmakers yet never reach that level of quality. And it is because they are making a reach for something that they don't have the skills for. Whether it is scripting or directing or camerawork or subject matter.
And then the third group of people are the people who just make their films because they feel drawn and driven. And, you know, I'm finding less of them. There are some whom you know that have worked out that way. It has been a few years since I've really found as many locally that I'd like to. I think, in a way, Valeria and Dan's film is that kind of film and it's what I am responsive to. I think they saw a story and they wanted to tell it and those are the people that I am excited about.
How many movies do you watch a week?
I have the same idea about watching films that I do about film festivals. I always thought that the horror story of a film festival would be to go to a place and watch five different films in a day. It would just be ridiculous, because if a film doesn't make you think afterwards -- if you can turn off your brain and start a new one right away, a feature-length film -- then something is wrong with the films.
Probably the best example for me of a film that I made the consideration to sit down, with no distractions, and spend the next three days thinking about -- and probably one of the best documentaries I've ever seen -- is Marwencol. It gives me chills just thinking about. That was an amazing film.
Have you ever walked out of a film?
The Jane Fonda film Barbarella. The gal I was with, this was in the '70s, we just like raced out of the theater screaming. We were just like, "Ah! We got to get out of here. It's too much!"
How has No Festival Required changed in the past 10 years?
In the past 10 years what's changed is that it started as a whim -- I thought that there was something missing, that could be missing in the art scene in Downtown Phoenix. Because we had the music scene, we had the fine art scene with galleries, we had theater and performance ,but film wasn't there. So I did it really as a lark and now it is how I support myself and hopefully support other people, too.
Weiss and his No Festival Required will be screening three films this month:
Trimpin; The Sound of Invention
A film by Peter Esmonde and featuring the Kronos Quartet
Thursday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7)
SMoCA Lounge at SMoCA (Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art)
7373 E. 2nd St. (Scottsdale Civic Center)
A film by Dan DeVivo and Valeria Fernandez Monday, June 18, at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30).
Third Street Theater, Phoenix Center for the Arts
1202 N. 3rd St.
Tokyo is Dreaming Peter Chang's black-and-white documentary Thursday, June 22 Icehouse Phoenix 429 W. Jackson St.