The 2018 Sedona International Film Festival – Special Opening Weekend Report

It’s hard to believe that this weekend marks the beginning of the 24th anniversary of the Sedona International Film Festival, yet here it is. What began as a two and a half day festival has grown way beyond what was originally envisioned. As the festival’s Executive Director, Patrick Schwiess remarked, “It’s been a wonderful growth spurt since 2004.”

This year will see a diverse selection of documentary, short, animated, foreign, and full-length films, totaling more than a 150 features, with performances beginning Saturday, February 24 and concluding Sunday, March 4. And, as always, during the 24th anniversary event, the screenings will run all day at both the Sedona Harkins 6 Theatres, and the comfortable and intimate Mary D. Fisher Theater, plus select screenings and special presentations at the Sedona Performing Arts Center at Sedona Red Rock High School.

As Keri Oskar, who chaired the feature films selection committee, said, “There are so many great films in this year’s festival, I wish there were more hours in the day to see them.” Clearly it would be impossible to enjoy all of the films screened, but by looking over this year’s schedule and taking note of the many repeat performances listed, with careful planning and a certain amount of time juggling, you can easily maximize your viewings.

Plus, in addition to all the special events planned for the week, followers of the film industry will no doubt be aware that on Sunday March 4, the festival’s final day, there’s another big night for the movies occurring. It’s Oscar night, but even here the Sedona International Film Festival has planned events with the movie-buff in mind. “The Oscars are on our closing night,” Executive Director Patrick Schwiess explained, “So we’re showing it in two of our venues, one at Harkins and one in our very own Mary D. Fisher Theatre, and then we also have some closing night films, so if you’re not into the Oscars, you can still catch a film. We’ve got everybody covered.

Among the several documentaries on the schedule, look for the special Saturday, March 3, evening screening of Poisoning Paradise. This compelling, 61 minute film explores what may seem like the idyllic world of Native Hawaiians, yet experimental test sites for genetically engineered seed corn and pesticides sprayed upwind are now a major concern for their homes, schools, hospitals, and shorelines. Poisoning Paradise is directed by journalist, author, television host and correspondent, plus environmental activist Keely Shaye Smith, also known as Keely Shaye Brosnan, wife to actor Pierce Brosnan. Both the Brosnans will be in Sedona for the screening of the film, and both will participate in a not-to-be-missed post-screening Q&A.

Author, actor, four-time Academy Award nominee, and former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander will be on hand to receive the festival’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award. Interestingly, while attending college in Bronxville, New York, in addition to studying theater, Alexander also studied mathematics with an emphasis to computer programming, just in case the acting career didn’t work out. During the festival, you can enjoy the screening of three of her films, Testament (1983) co-starring William Devane, The Great White Hope (1970) with James Earl Jones, and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep.

Also, no stranger to the Sedona International Film Festival, is Oscar and Golden Globe winner, Richard Dreyfuss, who this year will be attending the festival to celebrate the 40th anniversary screenings of two of his major films, The Big Fix, where Dreyfuss played Moses Wine, once a sixties radical who now pays the bills working as a private eye, and the wonderful Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The ability to see director Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science-fiction thriller back where it belongs, on the big screen, is one thing, but to see a screening hosted by its star, Richard Dreyfuss is something else. Director Spielberg wrote the film when he was young and single with no children of his own, and has admitted that now, at a considerably older age surrounded by a family, he might have approached the part of Roy Neary (Dreyfuss) a little different. Because of a UFO obsession, the character abandons his wife and children in search of answers to something he can’t understand, though Spielberg has repeatedly said that now, with his own understanding of what it means to be a family man, today, maybe Neary’s story would be approached from a different angle.

For those who have never seen Close Encounters, you may want to stop reading at this point as there’ll be spoilers ahead. But if you really are among those who have yet to see the film, I have to ask, seriously? To those who consider the film a masterpiece, one that the director refers to as not so much science-fiction but science-speculation, here are 5 fun facts about the film to further enhance your Sunday evening, February 25 repeat viewing on the large screen at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.

1) Actor Dreyfuss lobbied constantly for his role of Roy Neary while filming Jaws, having heard director Spielberg talk so much about the oncoming project. Actors being considered at the time included Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, but Dreyfuss’ nagging persistence paid off. As Spielberg stated, “Dreyfuss talked me into casting him.

2) Observe that early scene where Roy Neary’s truck has its first encounter with a UFO by the country lane crossroads. If you’re wondering how the effect of all those floating objects from the glove compartment and the dashboard were achieved, this is how it was done. The truck and the camera was grounded to a turntable that slowly rotated in a complete circle. Gravity did all the work.

3) Look closely at the light design under the gigantic mother ship once it slowly descends by Devils Tower in Wyoming. It’s actually footage of San Francisco and how the twinkling city streets look at night.

4) Those little aliens that emerge from the Mother Ship were all young girls between the ages of eight and twelve. Spielberg chose girls stating that girls move more gracefully than boys.

5) And finally, little Gary Guffey, who played the three year-old child abducted by the aliens, was really crying at the end of the film when he says “Bye” as the Mother Ship begins to ascend. Spielberg told him to think that all of his friends and everyone he ever knew were leaving forever.


Coming up during the next few days, look for four special reports highlighting must-see films on the festival’s packed schedule. As mentioned above, it would be impossible to see every individual screening, but with a four-part report, Valley Screen & Stage will take a closer look at films that should not be missed.  Keep it here for full reviews.

For links to the 2018 Sedona Internationl Film Festival schedule with trailers, CLICK HERE

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