The Reel World

On Oscar night, do you ever wonder why you've rarely heard of, much less seen, any of the nominees for Best Foreign Film? Let's be frank. Phoenix is not a hotbed of international cinema. But this weekend, the first Scottsdale International Film Festival provides an opportunity to catch up with filmgoers in the nation's cultural hot spots.

You can thank Amy Ettinger, the festival's director, for the windfall. "There is so much out there that is so good and so thought-provoking. Why not have it here?" wondered Ettinger. So after informal polling of friends and those standing near her in movie lines, she approached Harkins Theatres and plunged into the process of bringing the best of foreign cinema to the Valley. Her criteria: The films had to be award-winning recent releases that had not yet hit Phoenix theaters, video or cable.

The resulting festival offers a mix of 11 well-established films from around the globe. They range from a romantic Italian charmer to a Filipino tale of faith in crisis to a passionate French film noir. Even those of you troubled by subtitles -- we know you're out there -- will find English-language fare from the U.K. and elsewhere.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., some are concerned that Americans will become increasingly isolationist. Ettinger and other organizers hope instead that the festival will provide a place where "individuals can learn about the common connections humans share and can begin to thwart ignorance and fear, on which terrorism and terrorist activities thrive." For a thoughtful look at the Middle East, for instance, consider the work of groundbreaking Iranian director Jafar Panahi. First brought to the attention of American audiences with his sparse but eloquent debut film, The White Balloon (1995), Panahi's entry at the Scottsdale festival, The Circle, is a daring examination of women's lives in modern Iran.

Because Ettinger had a hand in choosing each of the films programmed for the festival, getting her to choose favorites was difficult. But two did stand out. The first, Lumumba, unleashes newly uncovered details of the 1961 assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Emery Lumumba. Cure, a meditative, forceful Japanese crime thriller, delivers a surprising ending. "That's the kind of film I love," acknowledges Ettinger. "I want to still be thinking about it days and weeks and months later."