Scottsdale International Film Festival opens tomorrow evening with Alfonso Curaon’s Roma. We had a chance to sit down with festival director, Amy Ettinger to talk about the festival’s expansion, the festival’s mission and other topics.
Phoenix is fortunate in many regards. We have amazing weather year round. We especially like fall though because the temperatures drop enough (relative to summer temps) to enjoy our outdoor spaces.
We’re also very fortunate to be home to two film festivals, which bookend our sizzling summer season. The next few days will see the start of the eighteenth annual Scottsdale International Film Festival, which also expands its slate this year.
Traditionally focusing on independent and international films, the Scottsdale International Film Festival also boasts late year Oscar-season films, many of which have screened at larger festivals.
Electric Bento had the great fortune to sit down with festival director, Amy Ettinger to talk about the festival’s goals, the expansion and Amy’s recommended films.
Electric Bento: Your festival attracts a wide array of award-season films, as well as international films that might not see a theatrical release in Phoenix. Is this the goal of the festival or has that mandate changed over the past 18 years?
Amy Ettinger: The vision of this Festival is to celebrate humanity. Let that be an insight into the programming ethos. The idea, first and foremost, is to feature the finest films from EVERYWHERE, including our own backyard. That said we originally set out to program foreign film exclusively. In our second year, the Toronto Film Festival became a partner and spent four years coaching us on how to build audience and systematically grow to become a world-class festival. We’ve been fairly methodical in following their blueprint. I think we’re right on track and the mandate never changed. So, as you aptly observed, the goal of [the] festival is to attract a wide array of award-season films and films that may not otherwise not be seen locally. We want to appeal to a wide swath of the local audience, and we’re now in the next phase of reaching out on a broader scale to become a destination event.
As an attendee, I can attest to the quality of the film programming and the variety of films. My next question centered on the festival’s expansion. Just as with the spring Phoenix Film Festival, Ms. Ettinger and her team set out to expand the Scottsdale festival. Both are welcome changes as it affords locals and snowbirds (Phoenix can capture last-minute snowbirds before they head home, and Scottsdale captures incoming snowbirds ready to enjoy our temperate winters.)
Expanding a festival though can cause logistical challenges and I wanted to gain an insight on what, if any challenges arose for Amy and her team.
EB: The festival expanded its schedule this year. What kind of logistical challenges did this raise and were you able to attract a different kind of caliber of film because of the expanded schedule?
AE: The great part of expanding the schedule is that now there’s more air. We are giving the attendees a chance to absorb and talk about what they’ve just seen, take a break to grab a bite, and come back for rounds two through 22. I’m actually not aware of any logistical challenges. If anything, planning for this year of expansion felt more organic in every aspect of the process. In terms of the caliber of film, we’ve always had a lot of pride in the quality of our film and firmly believe that quality only improves year-over-year. Certainly, it didn’t hurt for the studios and distributors to see expansion. Our lineup of centerpiece films is admittedly more robust than it’s ever been. Those distributors and studios were definitely more willing to share their award-season films with us this year.
Something new to Arizona festivals is Netflix. As their film slate grows, the desire is to get acclaimed films in front of audiences on the largest screen possible. Nothing says that better than being able to host the Arizona premiere of Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. I was curious about Ms. Ettinger’s experience working with Netflix.
EB: Cuaron’s Roma a Netflix film opens your festival this year, which is the quite the achievement. What has your experience been like working with Netflix?
AE: The request was made to Netflix to premiere ROMA in our opening night slot. After weighing the case that we had made, they agreed that our Festival fits nicely with their roll out plans leading up to the OSCARS (c). Once the decision was firm for our Arizona premiere, they made things streamlined and simple. Netflix is a well-oiled machine and they know what they’re doing in every regard.
EB: I had a similar experience with them at SXSW earlier this year.
AE: I will say that waiting for their decision felt like an eternity. We were only in limbo for about three weeks, which in the scheme of things is a drop in the bucket. And, I’m not too proud to admit that I lost about three weeks of sleep. I wanted this film almost more than I have ever wanted anything for our Festival. The ramifications run deep. Arizona is a border state, we are in a very polarized political climate, immigration is the headline in every news cycle. Alfonso Cuarón is a world-renowned director from Mexico. He embodies the contribution that people from around the world make daily to add beauty to our challenging planet. His film lends an element of grace and hopefulness to an otherwise complicated moment in history.
EB: We’re excited to see it!
Speaking of “hopefulness” and adding “beauty to our challenging planet,” I next turned our focus on to the LGBTQ community and films that share diverse stories. SIFF has had a nice slate of films in this category over the years. Phoenix Film Festival has also been a big supporter of LGBTQ films. We’re even lucky to have the Desperado Film Festival, which is dedicating to global films featuring LGBTQ stories.
EB: You’ve also managed to expand your selection of LGBTQ films this year, which is impressive. Is this something that you’re hoping to continue to explore in future years? Do you or your team have any favorites in this category?
AE: Our LGBTQ programming track is far from new so adding to the lineup was very easy. I’ve had films by – and for – the community since the Festival’s inception. Much of our audience comes from the OUT FAR! Lesbian & Gay Film Festival which I founded in 1997. When I started the Scottsdale International Film Festival, the OUT FAR! attendees followed. They have remained very loyal and we will continue to program plentifully for our LGBTQ audience into the foreseeable future. As for a favorite, I highly recommend everyone see RAFIKI.
EB: We’ve heard great things about Rafiki and we’ll have to check that one out!
The Harkins Scottsdale Shea Theater at Shea Blvd and Scottsdale Rd has been the Scottsdale Film Festival’s home for as long as we can remember. Screenings can fill up fast, especially with the growing attendance each year. We next asked Amy if there were any screenings that had already sold out and what options festival goers had to obtain tickets.
EB: Can audiences still get tickets to screenings or have some shows already sold out?
AE: As of this interview, we are close to selling out for both screenings of SHOPLIFTERS and the one screening of THE CHAPERONE. However, our practice is to hold back tickets for sale at the box office during the Festival. Essentially what I’m saying is, we will likely sell those two films out during pre-sales, but everyone who wants to get in will probably be able to see what they want. People will just need to come to the box office on the day of the film and wait in a rush line.
EB: Will festivalgoers be able to purchase tickets at the Harkins Scottsdale Shea to individual movies?
AE: Yes, sales at the Harkins Shea 14 box office start Saturday morning November 3 and run through Sunday, November 11. Pre-sales are still going on via our website at SCOTTSDALEFILMFESTIVAL.COM until November 1st at 5:00 PM. Once online sales end, ROMA tickets can be purchased at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts box office starting November 2 at 10a.m.
EB: Thank you for your time today, Amy. We’re excited about the line-up and the push you’re doing to bring more films to the Valley of the Sun.
I do have one last question that I’ve asked other festival directors in the past.
Do you have a list of five recommended films from your festival line-up, something that audiences must not miss?
AE: I sure do, and those films are categorized as DIRECTOR’S CUTS and reside at this link:
On behalf of Electric Bento, we’d like to thank you for your time, Amy. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone at this year’s festival.