The 15th Annual Phoenix Film Festival – Special Report

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Ask any movie buff; enjoying a day at a film festival, going from movie to movie, screen to screen, talking to actors, directors and perhaps a producer in the hallway after the showing, plus enjoying conversations between screenings with other ticket holders who are engaged in the same thing is like being a kid in a candy store.  It’s exhilarating.  For someone who considers film their passion, if not their life, there is literally nothing like it.  And that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do for not one but seven days, plus opening day, at the 15th Annual Phoenix Film Festival from Thursday, Match 26th to one week later, Thursday, April 2nd.

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Last year, the week-long festival held at Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theaters on 7000 E. Mayo Boulevard in Scottsdale broke all attendance records.  Over 25,000 visitors came to the valley and enjoyed seven days of feature films, documentaries and shorts, and this year the festival organizers are aiming not only to repeat that number but to surpass it.

This year, the festival kicks off at 6pm on the 26th at the festival’s Party Pavilion, a short walk from the theaters.  If going, you’ll enjoy tastes from some of the best restaurants in town, entertainment, plus specially selected items from the festival’s silent auction.

Then, at 7:30, exit the Party Pavilion and walk over to the theater where the Phoenix Film Festival presents its 2015 Visionary Award.  Some Visionary Award winners of the past include Bob Oldfather from Bookmans, Dan Harkins and Dr. Sydney Shapiro.

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Immediately following the award presentation the festival begins with its opening night film.  This year it’s Danny Collins, a comedy/drama peppered throughout with the music of John Lennon and starring Al Pacino as an aging pop/rock star, Christopher Plummer as his best friend and manager, Bobby Cannavale as the son he never knew, Jennifer Gardner as the daughter-in-law, and the rarely seen but thoroughly delightful Annette Bening as a New Jersey hotel manager who befriends the rock star once he books in to her hotel for an indefinite period.

Written and directed by Dan Fogelman, Danny Collins begins with the words: The following is kind of based on a true story.  The comical tone of the titles sets the scene for what follows as the titular character, a practically over-the-hill pop star, now in his late sixties and pretty much done with the industry, discovers a letter that was sent to him back in ’71 by none other than John Lennon.  The only problem?   For reasons explained in the film, it’s taken forty-four years to arrive.  Once read, Danny Collins reflects back on his life and what might have happened had he received the letter back when it was addressed to him.  “I’m done,” Collins tells his manager.  “I’ll never be forced to sing those songs again,” then sets off on a trip to New Jersey in an attempt to make amends with a son he’s never known.

Danny Collins opens wide at theatres on Friday, March 27th.  Look for a full opening day review in this column.

Monkey picThen on Saturday, families can enjoy Kids’ Day, a terrific way for children of all ages to experience the festival.  There’ll be hands-on activities focusing on several different aspects of film production, including acting in front of a green screen, creating your own movie short, walking the red carpet and having a picture taken by the paparazzi, courtesy of Bookman’s.  Plus, families can enjoy the company of Mr. Jesse from the Phoenix Public Library as he reads stories and talks about books that have been made into movies.  And here’s the best part: It’s all free.

Plus, in addition to the Kids’ Day activites, the Phoenix Film Festival Kids’ Day offers $5 family friendly films to enjoy, including a special 1:40pm showing of Disney’s  Monkey Kingdom, a new Disneynature film set among the ancient ruins of the jungles of South Asia.

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 Also, look out for the Phoenix Film Festival’s special retrospective titled Growing up Baumbach: A Tribute to Noah Baumbach’s 20 Years in Film.  The festival celebrates the work of director Noah Baumbach with special showings of some of his past films, including The Squid and The Whale, Kicking and Screaming, Frances Ha and culminating on the festival’s closing night with a presentation of his new film, While We’re Young, a comedy starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfriend.  While We’re Young opens in theatres Friday, April 3rd.

Tickets and passes for the 15th Annual Phoenix Film Festival are now on sale.  CLICK HERE for the official Phoenix Film Festival website to find out more, then go and be that kid in the cinematic candy store. You’ll have the time of your life, guaranteed.

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