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Behind The Scenes At
The Phoenix Film Festival

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Long Time Festival Director Jason Carney Gives Us The Inside Scoop On The 16th Annual Phoenix Film Festival, Including Special Performances And His Favorite Movies From This Year’s Event

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

April 7, 2016 — The Phoenix Film Festival is in it’s 16th year, and it has grown to become the largest film festival in Arizona by far. The eight day festival is once again set for its takeover of the Harkins Scottsdale 101 and though there is a huge team of people that make this event possible every year, there is one man who much like Steven Spielberg directs a film, directs the festival. That man is Jason Carney, and we recently got to chat with him about his years with the festival and what the sweet 16 edition has in store for movie lovers.

Modern Times Magazine: You have been working with the festival for a long time and have been the director since 2005. What has changed over your 11 years as director of the festival?
Jason Carney: Kind of the overall perception of the festival. Filmmakers and audiences of the industry and our ability to really connect with filmmakers and put them together with our audiences. We’re just such a filmmaker-centric festival. There’s festivals that are really focused on celebrities and that’s great and all, but our goal is to take writers, actors, directors and shine a light on them, because they’re the ones who are really getting it done. So I think the filmmakers appreciate that. Our festival is built to be very inclusive so that filmmakers and audiences not only connect at the screenings but also at the parties and other special events. I think that’s where we’ve really kind of grown over the years.

MTM: Clearly one doesn’t just head up a film festival on a whim, so where did the passion for film start with you?
JC: Growing up, film was kind of just something that was always around. We went to the movies quite a bit when I was younger. My parents probably didn’t do the best job of shielding me from films. I grew up seeing [films] like Animal House and Caddyshack. All of those R-rated comedies that a 7 or 8 year old should be nowhere near, but I handled it well and I think it really impressed upon me. My grandma too you know; every couple of Saturdays we were going to see a movie and that really stuck and that memory of certain times can always be pointed to by movies. You factor in that I had a good background working with theater in high school and that kind of influenced me wanting to still be involved in art. But I was also able to use my administrative skill set to help make a cool festival.

MTM: The “film” aspect of Phoenix Film Festival is pretty obvious to anyone going, but can you speak to the “festival” aspect of it a bit?
JC: Our goal is to get as many filmmakers out to the festival to represent the films as possible. It's not 100 percent, but we do as many as we can. Having the filmmaker there to talk about the film right after it is helpful. Even if you don’t want to ask a question, everyone else there does so you get a great insight on how that film was made and what went into it. A filmmaker's passion. I think that’s what separates a film festival from just going to the movies. And you’re there with like minded people. The people that are there are all there because they love film.

MTM: That was one of the things that really stood out from my experience last year.
JC: It’s the weirdest thing to say but one of the coolest things about the festival is the lines, because you’re talking to other people about what you’ve seen and what you’re about to see. So there’s this community that kind of builds in that little process while you’re waiting to see your movie. It’s one of those sneaky, cool things.

MTM: Are there any films you sort of championed to get into the festival this year?
JC: The first one is Sing Street. That’s the lastest movie from director John Carney. If you haven’t seen the trailer, it's really cool. You should check it out. The other film I’m very excited about, which is also oddly music related, is the documentary Colin Hay - Waiting For My Real Life, which is a documentary about Colin Hay, the lead singer of Men At Work. I’m a big fan of Colin Hay, and they have all of the music, so it’s a really fun time.

MTM: Ok, so it is really tough to get people to want to go out and do things these days. Can you make your case for people who may not already be planning on going to get them to go?
JC: I think it’s stuff like getting to hear from a filmmaker, how that film was made and getting to interact with other movie lovers. Then there’s the party element. Hanging out and socializing. So you get to kind of do two different things. You get to celebrate and have a good time at the party, but you also get to see some really cool films. It’s that community feel and it’s kind of the thing that you’ve got to experience it. We get that from so many people, you know, “Oh I didn’t know what a film festival was all about.” Then they come out and they’re hooked.

MTM: Is it kind of refreshing to feature some more grounded films at the festival at a time when Hollywood is so focused on massive blockbusters and expensive tentpole films?
JC: Yeah. I think it’s great. That’s the cool thing about independent and arthouse films is that you can’t fake story. You don’t have a ton of money to make your movie, so your story had better be good and that’s what I love about these films. They have a story to tell and for the most part they do a phenomenal job at telling those stories and that’s what makes independent film kind of great.

MTM: Anything else you would like to add?
JC: Something really cool is happening in our party pavilion this year that we haven’t done before. It’s on Saturday night. We have this modern dance company, Scorpius Dance. They’re coming out, and they’re bringing their show called Catwalk, which I saw and it was so amazing. We’re running that whole show on Saturday night in our party pavilion and it’s free. That’s something really cool. I never thought I would be at the point in my life where I would say “Man, that dance show is badass!” But it is.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the website at www.phoenixfilmfestival.com.
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