Film Reviews


After a long film-festival drought, the Valley seems to be on the verge of a deluge. Although shaky promotional resources resulted in a disappointing turnout for last fall's First Annual Equinox film festival at Herberger Theater Center, its producers have gamely promised a second annual effort this fall, at a new location. Earlier still, from June 2 to 5, Scottsdale Center for the Arts will host Imagining Indians: A Native American Film and Video Festival.

And earlier still--opening this week, in fact--Arizona Film Society will present the first annual Arizona Film Festival, a nine-day shebang focused on independent cinema. A variety of screenings and events, designed to attract hard-core festival junkies and students, as well as more casual movie buffs, is planned.

Arizona Film Society describes itself as "a charitable, public-spirited organization for anyone interested in film and video related events education and fun." Its president is Durrie Parks, an entertainment-industry veteran whose background includes stints at Warner Bros. Records and A&M Records. The Arizona Film Society board includes such local big shots as house majority leader Brenda Burns, Arizona Cable Television Association executive director Susan Bitter Smith, and local movie maven Dan Harkins. Like the Equinox festival, this is a lean-budget affair. It kicks off, rather defiantly, at 7 p.m. this Friday with the regional premiäre of a new comedy called My Life's in Turnaround, which appropriately concerns the efforts of two novice filmmakers trying to raise money to make a film. It stars its joint writer/producer/directors, Eric Schaeffer and Donal Lardner Ward.

The screening will be followed by a reception at 9 p.m. and then by a real treat for cult-movie nuts: a late-night screening at 11 p.m. of Spider Baby, Jack Hill's bizarre, old-dark-house thriller of 1964. (The film's also known by such lyrical aliases as Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told and The Liver Eaters.) Hill is to attend this, the first of four of his lurid opuses to be shown during the festival's first weekend (the others are Switchblade Sisters, Pit Stop and the Pam Grier prison actioner The Big Bird Cage). The first weekend will also see screenings of two other new low-budget indies. One is Rhinoskin: The Making of a Movie Star, a documentary-style comedy about an actor looking for work, and the other is Public Access, a small-town murder thriller involving a cable-TV demagogue.

Other activities that weekend will include a Sunday-morning brunch, to be attended by all of the visiting filmmakers, including Hill and his notorious distributor Johnny Legend, Schaeffer and Ward, and Todd DePree and Dina Marie Chapman of Rhinoskin.

Monday, May 16, the festival is dark, but the evenings of both Tuesday, May 17, and Wednesday, May 18, are taken up with 7 p.m. screenings of the entries, both local and national, in the festival's film and video competition. Thursday night will be a "Members Night," during which films by Arizona Film Society members will be showcased. Tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, May 20, is a night of black independents, to be presented by the Atlanta African Film Society.

Saturday and Sunday's big event is the society's third annual hosting of the Hollywood Film Institute's two-day film school, but there are screenings, as well. Michael Wadleigh's Oscar-winning performance documentary Woodstock will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21. Then, for all you crazy thrill seekers, the festival will wrap up Sunday with an afternoonlong Don Ameche retrospective.

All screenings are at Harkins Camelview Theatre in Scottsdale. The brunch and reception are at the Holiday Inn, Old Town Scottsdale. The two-day film school will be held at ASU's Memorial Union Cinema. Tickets for the flicks are $2 and $5. Multievent passes are available for $15 and $30, and come with a souvenir poster. For details call the Arizona Film Society at 970-8711, or the festival office at 994-8339. All events are open to the public, and all proceeds benefit AFS programs.

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead