The opening of the 24th annual Phoenix Film Festival is right around the corner (literally, it starts this Thursday, April 4th, and runs through April 14th at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 14!).

I know from experience the Phoenix Film Festival runs on a combination of aspects that continually drive its success. It isn’t just one piece that fits perfectly into place. Months of planning go into the event. Staff and volunteers make the entire affair run smoothly (and with reserved seating, waiting in line is a thing of the past). It could be the Opening Night party or the auction. It could be the uber-cool International Horror and Sci-Fi Festival that runs at night and concurrently with the Phoenix Film Festival. It could also be the filmmakers and actors who come to provide insight into their films. The Scottsdale 101 venue is the prime place to hold the festival (all the events, films and ticketing are within a stone’s throw of one another, where other festivals are spread out). And, if you need to step out of the darkened theater to get your grub on, there are plenty of dining opportunities within the complex.

After 24 years, though, the festival is nothing without its audience wanting their fill of popcorn and movies over 10 glorious days.

With that in mind, we just had to talk shop with the festival’s executive director, Jason Carney, to get the scoop on what makes the fest a springtime institution.

This is year 24 for the Phoenix Film Festival with a lot of great films to look forward to. If you had to pick one movie to see at the festival, what would you recommend?

“Sing Sing” is amazing. Colman Domingo is playing on a whole other level. The movie is powerful, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I’m going to cheat and throw in the film “Babes” because it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in some time. 

“Sing Sing” is the festival’s Opening Night film this Thursday, April 4th.” Babes” plays Friday, April 5th at 7 pm.

Phoenix Film Festival

Sing Sing

The Opening Night festivities and film (hosted in the Harkins’ Cine Capri) are a gala affair. Opening Night is not a black & white formal event, mind you (who’d want to get gussied up in the desert heat?!). Food vendors bring in their special treats for festival goers to sample, conversations abound about films from the past year, Jason and the team officially open the festival and the film magic digitally unspools – it is a unique experience.

That’s not all of the festival, though. Horror and Science Fiction fans are treated to a bevy of jump cuts and fantastical stories told around the glow of the blazing campfire replacement called the screen during the International Horror & Sci-Fi Festival, with later evening happenings starting on Friday, April 5th.

A point of pride for the festival is the International Horror & Sci-Fi Festival running concurrently with the PFF. Are there any special events or showcase features for horror or sci-fi aficionados?

“What You Wish For” and “Handling the Undead” are a couple of standout films from this group. The programmers for the IHSFF know the genres inside and out and it shows in the programming. Monte Yazzie has a great team, and they know their stuff.

“What You Wish For” plays on Friday, April 5th at 7:35 pm and Saturday, April 11th at 6:45 pm. “Handling the Undead” plays on Saturday, April 13th at 9:40 pm and Sunday, April 14th at 5:15 pm.

Phoenix Film Festival

What You Wish For

A film festival is not a festival if the creative talents in front of and behind the camera aren’t able to give audiences a glimpse into their thought process. The majority of the films are independently financed, a strength of the Phoenix Film Festival.

The festival is geared toward filmmakers interacting with audiences. Are there any specific films with their filmmakers that audiences are not going to want to miss? 

I’ll also throw in a film that had me thinking the most about it later on. It’s “Good One.” It’s a quiet film with a breakthrough performance by the young lead actress. And I can’t wait to hear the director, India Donaldson, talk about it.

You can hear Ms. Donaldson give her insight when “Good One” screens on Monday, April 8th at 7 pm.

Phoenix Film Festival

Good One

The business of the festival isn’t solely focused on films. Educational programs are an inherent part of the opportunities on offer. The festival also offers filmgoers, filmmakers and staff the chance to unwind.

Events are also a cornerstone in the Phoenix Film Festival line-up. Are there events both weekends and, more specifically, are there family-friendly events that filmgoers should target if their time is limited?  

Revelers dance the night away at the Phoenix Film Festival Opening Weekend Prom (c. Jennifer Mullins)

Opening Weekend, we’ve got the Industry Night Party and Film Prom and on the second weekend, we’ll be holding our parties at the piano bar, Duelies. And for the little ones, we’ve got Kids’ Day, a free event that’s held on Saturday, April 6th from 10 am to 3 pm. It’s a great way for kids to learn about filmmaking with fun activities and it’s absolutely free.

All of these opportunities to engage with other filmgoers, who are as passionate about supporting the independent voice of cinema, the Phoenix Film Foundation which supports the festival and, of course the amazing staff and management at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 14 who serve up that delicious popcorn or your favorite adult beverage (responsibly, of course) are limited.

Finally, are there any films where tickets are limited, and festival goers should not delay in getting their ticket?

We’re still fairly early in the process but Opening Night and Closing Night are events that sell out along with many of the Centerpiece Films.

While the Opening and Closing Night films, along with the always impressive Centerpiece films do sell out, don’t forget to visit the festival’s website for the schedule, film synopses and general information about the happenings.

2025 is the Phoenix Film Festival’s Silver Jubilee. Before we can get to that, though, the sun has to eclipse, more films have to be experienced and popcorn eaten. The festival can’t do it without filmgoers such as yourself and the awesome and passionate staff and volunteers with the festival and the tireless management and staff at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 14 theater, who help usher what could, potentially be your next favorite movie.

The Cinema Files thanks Jason Carney for his time.