The 23rd Arizona International Film Festival Ignites The Screening Room

April 10, 2014

Academy Award Winner Richard Dreyfus and Tatiana Maslany star in Jason Priestley's Cas & Dylan.

Academy Award-winner Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany star in director Jason Priestley’s Cas & Dylan.

by James J. Jefferies

It’s a trying time to be a true-blue movie fanatic. Television has taken the upper hand, and many would argue that the small screen is now the ideal home for quality storytelling. With the glut of caped wonders at the multiplex and an endless parade of remakes on the horizon, you could be forgiven for being jaded.

However, if you look beyond the big theaters, and are willing to venture off the well-worn path, you will find that the heart of independent cinema beats stronger than ever. The low cost of digital production has emboldened filmmakers from every corner of the globe to deliver unfiltered visions of their dreams, and there are great stories to be seen.

The only things getting bucked in Matt Livadary's Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo, are stereotypes. Yee-haw!

The only things getting bucked in Matt Livadary’s Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo are stereotypes. Yee-haw!



A perfect place to start this epic journey would be the 23rd Arizona International Film Festival. As of press time, there are 135 films scheduled to be screened from 35 countries (including first-time entries from Mongolia and Serbia) over a glorious seventeen-day stretch. Everything from comedy to action to drama, socially-relevant documentaries, animation, and everything in-between in both feature and short format alike. That’s a lot of popcorn, and it happens April 11th-April 27th!

“We have fourteen films from Cuba,” said Mia Schnaibel, Marketing Coordinator for AIFF/The Screening Room. Their deep excursion into Cuban films began last year after a chance encounter with Cuban filmmaker Mayra Maria Garcia, who then acted as AIFF’s own cinema scout, scouring the island nation for excellent films to be shown.

A Boy Scout faces a choice that could lead to his own death after witnessing a murder in Praheme's Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions.

A boy faces a life-or-death choice after witnessing a murder in Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions.

“We’re super excited about this, and it totally inspired our opening night,” said Schnaibel, referring to the theme for their first evening of screenings, Noche Cubana, at which there will be Afro-Cuban music by Ritmo Bacheché and plenty of refreshments. (They kindly remind you, however, no Cuban cigars in the theater, please.) Sponsors for the opening night celebration at Crossroads Theater include Downtown’s own Hydra, Stella Artois, Trader Joe’s, and Refugee Focus.

Highlights from the first week of films include Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions, a thriller taking place on the inner city streets of Richmond, VA, where a young boy faces a choice whether or not to snitch after witnessing a murder (and knowing the killer saw him at the scene), Raising Matty Christian, a documentary focusing on the life of a man born without complete limbs or a tongue, and the determination of his parents to give him every opportunity available, and Glena, a riveting portrait of a single mother who attempts to balance her life amid the demands of becoming a professional MMA fighter.

Square parents and rebellious, lust-crazed youth collide in Alex Italics' Sheltered Love!

Square parents and rebellious, lust-crazed youth collide in Alex Italics’ Sheltered Love.

These are bold stories quite worthy of the medium, and in an intimate setting such as The Screening Room, you stand a very good chance of attending a screening with the filmmaker themselves in attendance. “Filmmakers are coming in from Canada, Ireland, France, all over,” said Schnaibel. By her own rough estimate, at least half of the films being shown should have the filmmaker present, which really gives you a special opportunity to ask questions of these talented artists directly.

The Wednesday of the first week (April 16th) is also Arizona Filmmaker Night, featuring some excellent short films with a spotlight on local filmmakers such as University of Arizona BFA veterans Alex Italics, Alexis Blair Preston, and Rafael Gomez, along with a big afterparty to follow.

Massive is the key word here. With 135 films jammed into seventeen unbelievably packed days, it would be a fool’s errand to try and cover everything going on within The Screening Room’s walls during the Festival here. If you’re passionate about films, and want to put your fingers close to the beating pulse of a cadre of genuinely exciting, up-and-coming filmmakers, this is the place to do it.

Just a quick reminder: opening night Noche Cubana festivities will be held at Crossroads Theater at Grant and Swan, but otherwise the entirety of the AIFF takes place right at The Screening Room, at 127 E. Congress St. near Scott Ave. For more information on the films, surprise AIFF happenings, and daily movie times, please visit the Arizona International Film Festival page here.