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The 25th Silver Anniversary Sedona International Film Festival – Part 1 (of 2): Special Report

It’s a special year for the Sedona International Film Festival. This year marks the festival’s 25th Anniversary, one that promises to feature more than 165 films, from Oscar-nominated documentaries to narrative features, narrative short films, documentary short films, and animated shorts, all presented in local theatres set against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains of Sedona, Arizona.

Film screenings will run all day beginning this Saturday, February 23 and will continue until Sunday, March 3. In this first of two special festival reports, Valley Screen & Stage takes a close look at some of the notable short features included in the festival that you can see throughout the coming week.

To find out more regarding times, dates, and tickets for the festival’s Silver Anniversary Celebration, go to https://sedonafilmfestival.com/# 


Half Smile

Charlie (Joe Kessler) needs help. After a separation, there are things that require clearing out. Worse, just at the time when he’s needed the most, Charlie’s brother proves unreliable. As a last minute favor, James (Rod Kasai) steps in and assists Charlie by doing the driving in an eight-minute widescreen short called Half Smile. I gotta admit,” says James. “Helping some guy I’ve never met, moving some junk out of his ex-wife’s garage on a Saturday is not my idea of a good time.

As the journey to the junkyard continues, the two men talk, though it’s Charlie who does most of the talking. He talks of his separation, and he talks of how he doesn’t get to see his son much anymore. As events unfold, we learn more. “Very few people will know that kind of pain,” James assures his new friend in a brief but genuinely touching moment as two men who have never before met suddenly and unexpectedly bond “It’s not your fault.”

Half Smile was written and directed by Owen Royce from a short story by Joe Kessler who plays Charlie. Clearly, Half Smile is a personal project for Kessler. The end credits with a loving memory dedication, including a picture, indicates why.

Half Smile will precede the 87-minute narrative feature The Elephant and the Butterfly

Monday, Feb 25 at 1:15 pm – Harkins 5

Friday, Mar 1 at 10:15 am – Harkins 5


But First…

Erin Brown Thomas directed this well framed, extremely well shot, black and white, widescreen short. Three dancers, Tiffanie Carson, Erin Love, and Sarah Housepan interpret Mike Esperanza’s choreography, incorporating inventive angles of spiral stairs, creative visuals (an opening shot of a dancer appearing as though standing upright against a wall is revealed to be lying on her back as others walk by) and an oversized coffee cup.

Enjoy the end credits. You’ll see some brief, behind-the-scenes shots of how the percussive sounds used throughout the five-minute film were created and recorded. And you may want to grab a quick cup of coffee.

But First… is one of the nine films included in the Shorts Program 4: Lost/Found

Wednesday, Feb 27 at 1:00 pm – Harkins 1

Friday, March 1 at 7:00 pm – Harkins 1


For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Asher Grodman and Amy Shiels play a couple who need to move on with their lives and hopefully with their marriage. But first, they need a yard sale.

If this poignant widescreen short proves anything it’s that a story with a setting, a reveal, and a conclusion with hope for a future can be told in just one minute. The cynic might argue that a television commercial does it all the time, but never as affecting or as moving as directed here by its writer and co-producer, Dmitry Milkin. And here’s the irony: it has probably taken you longer to read this review than it will to watch the film.

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn is one of the nine films included in the Shorts Program 4: Lost/Found

Wednesday, Feb 27 at 1:00 pm – Harkins 1

Friday, March 1 at 7:00 pm – Harkins 1


Dirty Little Secret

Nick Berenger (Daniel Brunnemer Hall), is a commodities dealer with two DUI’s. He’s wealthy and he thinks he’s a ladies man. He’s also in trouble. Serious trouble.

At an eleven o’clock meeting with a psychologist, Dr. Reynolds (Jane Hajduk) Nick thinks he can sweet talk his way out of a legal problem with nothing but his charm. “You’re way out of your league here,” he even tells the woman, believing he’ll be walking free at any moment. But Nick doesn’t realize that while Dr. Reynolds may be court-appointed – something he perceives as less than worthy of his particular style – she deals exclusively with just one kind of issue. And he’s not going to like it.

Dirty Little Secret, written and directed by Dale Griffiths Stamos, takes just fourteen minutes to tell as Nick and the doctor spare across the desk, facing each other. You have to know how it ends.

Dirty Little Secret will precede the ninety-minute documentary feature Every Act of Life

Sunday, Feb 24 at 8 pm – Harkins 1

Tuesday, Feb 26 at 1 pm – Harkins 1


One Day Home

Rebecca Louise Miller plays Frida, and Frida is on a mission. She needs to find the perfect mattress in order to start a new chapter in her life. The problem is, every time she looks around for inspiration to see what kind of mattress others are buying, she can’t help but notice that everyone else in the store comes in twos. They’re all couples. “Shopping for yourself today?” asks a salesman.

Then, Frida meets Adam (Alfredo Narciso), the single guy who also just happens to be in the market for a good mattress. Frida’s divorce might have only been twenty-six days ago, but why let an opportunity, or a good mattress, go by without testing the springs, in a manner of speaking

Directed by Drew Denny and written by its lead, Rebecca Louise Miller who also co-produced with her co-star, Alfredo Narciso, the meet-cute in mattress store heaven is a fun thirteen minute short made all the more pleasing because of a likable turn from its leading lady.

One Day Home is one of seven films included in the Shorts Program 5: Perceptions

Sunday, February 24 at 1:00 pm – Harkins 1

Tuesday, February 26 at 7:00 pm – Harkins 1


The Gospel of Combat

Martial Arts is a feeling,” states Sensei Benedict Kiyaga. “It’s a rhythm.

In his twenty-seven minute short, documentary filmmaker David Hutchinson calls Sensei Ben an evangelist of the Martial Arts, hence the film’s title, and follows the teacher as he instructs others in finding self-confidence and self-esteem through karate and Aikido training while making a living for himself.

Filmed against a backdrop of turmoil in Kenya, while there are riots in the streets, the teacher talks to both the camera and his students of power behind stability, how the body moves, how it relates. and how martial arts helps you think. “Physically, spiritually, mentally, it has helped me grow,” the sensei insists.

The film is in English but because of the thickness of the accents, the whole project is presented with dialog in easy-to-read yellow subtitles. And while the film’s message would be just as effective had the running time been shortened, what Benedict Kiyaga has to say is always worth hearing. Martial arts may look combative, but as the man teaches his students, “It’s about togetherness. There is no winner or loser in Aikido.The Gospel of Combat shows you why.

The Gospel of Combat is one of four films in the Documentary Shorts: REEL 2

Tuesday, Feb 26 at 7:15 pm – Harkins 5

Thursday, Feb 28 at 1:20 pm – Harkins 5


Posted in 2019 Sedona International Film Festival

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