On October 4-8, 2013, the Scottsdale International Film Festival will be screening films from around the world for the thirteenth year running. We caught up with founder Amy Ettinger, who started the event back in 2001, who shared some of her favorite festival moments and the SFF’s “new vision.”
1. What first inspired you to mount the film festival in 2001?
Having produced another film festival in the Valley for 10 years, I finally decided to focus on foreign film, which is my passion. The writing may have been on the wall at an early age though. My parents took us to see challenging films as children, and we would discuss them afterward. I love foreign film. No one was doing a festival with the sort of films I wanted to see in this market, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and create the festival I wanted for myself. Fortunately there are thousands of people who want the same thing from their film-going experience.
After 10 years and all sorts of technology and world changes, we decided to reassess what we have to offer and reflect those offerings in our mission and vision statements. Our own metropolitan area has gone through its own transformation too, so we want to make certain that we remain in step with the times. The team working on the two statements came up with declarations for what the Scottsdale International Film Festival (Festival) does:
Mission Statement: The Scottsdale International Film Festival is a destination event and a catalyst for connecting diverse filmmakers from around the world with film lovers in a fresh, thought-provoking, and enduring community of support.
Vision Statement: The Festival unites Arizona with the world through the expression of film.
We still have quite a way to go before I can commit to how we stack up against previous seasons, but every year the patrons tell us that we have done better with our selection than the previous year. I will say that we have committed ourselves to offering an opportunity for children to see world film this year. I personally have a stake in wanting to offer kids some imagery and story lines they will not encounter on network TV, cable TV, or from rentals. Selfishly, I feel that catching them early in the formative years might bring them back to this Festival when they are older. Maybe we will also snag their parents in the process. The quality of the two programs, one with animation and one with live action, is exceptional. We believe that the kids will be entertained, exposed to different cultures, and educated. If we succeed with just those two programs by filling the room and stirring up some new conversations, I will be pleased.
4. Of the films that you know are going to be screened, are there any that those considering attending should be particularly excited about?
We’re still finalizing this year’s selection; however, in 2012 we had 38 films with numerous artistic gems which vied closely for the Audience Award for Best Film. We are optimistic that 2013 will be no different. Meanwhile, the best way to stay in the loop is to subscribe to our listserv on our website, follow us on Twitter and join our Facebook Fan Page.
5. When you’re considering what films to screen, what are some of the most pressing concerns?
We are interested in striking a balance, when possible, with approximately 50 films over five days. Sometimes we’re better at finding equal representation between dark and light, between comedies and dramas, between smaller more rarefied films and the more mainstream studio releases. Ostensibly, the viewer should feel that they have taken a tour around the globe and had a peak into one or more countries, religions or ethnicities to gain some new insights and knowledge. Quite often I hear that the Festival has prompted someone to travel to a place they saw on our screen. And that is 100 percent in line with our vision.
6. For those that have never attended, what are some of the most special moments from previous festivals? What about your favorite moments?
We turned a corner in 2002 when the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) agreed to mentor our Festival. Our TIFF liaison visited four years running and coached us on programming and development. TIFF also brought us Canadian films and associated talent on their own dime. There are plenty of stories about the Festival’s guests and big victories we’ve had landing great films over the years. But, when it comes right down to it, we had a handshake agreement with the largest and most influential film festival in North America. They taught us an immense amount about the business because we reminded them of their early days and because they are wonderful people. Without their time and attention I’m not sure how things would have transpired. Then, several years ago a couple with a foundation approached us and offered a substantial amount of support over a six year period. The infusion of funding from the Century Arts Foundation took this Festival to the next level and positioned us for greater things in the future. Certainly it is no small thing to have the hosted the appearances of such notable actors as Jennifer Tilly, Lesley Ann Warren, Anton Yelchin, and Felicity Jones who all visited with our audience after their films for stimulating discussions. We were also so honored to have hosted award winning directors like John Sayles, Mike Leigh and Fred Schepisi who also brought their immense reputations to our post-film discussions. As for my favorite moment, it has to be landing the US Premiere of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest as our opener on the 10th anniversary at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts along with the huge party which followed. Epic!
7. Why do you find it important to bring films from all over the world, rather than just focus on local directors?
There is definitely a place for a local focus in all cities and another festival here handles that mandate quite well.
8. Is the film collection tailored to a specific audience, or can filmgoers of diverse tastes enjoy the festival?
What was it Abe Lincoln said about pleasing all the people? Hey, we honestly try our best to bring every single solitary area resident to the Festival. Can we offer something for everyone? I do my darnedest every year to heed that challenging clarion call. Anyone who knows me understands that I frequently find a way to pull off something that is supposedly impossible.