Lens flare: A look at (and behind) the 2016 Prescott Film Festival

By Helen Stephenson

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. …

David Bowie’s 1971 song “Changes” is pretty much the unofficial theme for the behind-the-scenes organization and running of the Prescott Film Festival this year. And change is definitely good.

When the Prescott Film Festival started with a monthly series in 2009, high quality digital projection didn’t exist in Prescott. And that was bad news for an indie film fest. However, the fest was given the use of the old Frontier Village 10 Cine, a space to store equipment, and voila — Digital projection in Prescott! And look where we are now, in the midst of a land of digital plenty. Before digital came along, festivals had to order prints of films to screen (you know, those heavy metal movie cases) and pay shipping both ways. If the film broke, there was no back up.

Exhibition format is only one change to the film industry. Digital distribution direct to consumers has been taking off like a rock the last few years (err, like rockets used to take off before NASA’s space shuttle program got the ax). That’s great for filmmakers, who have more opportunities for monetizing their creations, as well as for viewers, who have a wider range of film choices. However, one of the negative side effects of this change is that the window for film festivals is quickly narrowing.

For the Prescott Film Festival, programming, which starts with viewing and rating films, used to begin in January. Last year, the fest discovered that many of the films the volunteer movie reviewers had watched, scored, and chosen for the fest were no longer available. This is wonderful news for filmmakers. The digital world is now starving for content, and with lower production costs filmmakers are stepping up to create more. However, this means that filmmakers are more apt to shorten their festival runs and instead opt for an early VOD (Video on Demand) sale to, say, Netflix or Amazon. (Heard of them? Thought so.) This meant a shorter programming window for the Prescott Film Festival

The proverbial Bottom Line: For high quality films, it’s a seller’s market. (Emphasis goes on high quality films.)

So, what does the Prescott Film Festival look for in a high quality film? First, focus on story. At a recent talk at the Peregrine Book Company in Prescott, screenwriter/author Jeb Rosebrook said he approaches writing with three steps: inspiration, character, and story. Inspiration is what sparks the idea of a story. Character is the person, i.e. your link to the story. Story is what draws you in, what keeps you interested. Ideally, you become a part of the world the writers and filmmakers created. If the movie doesn’t “move you” in some way, it’s not going to make it into the fest. And by “move you” the festival means emotionally and intentionally.

Films, (done right) are a powerful form of communication. If films don’t take audience members on some sort of emotional ride they are struck down by what I call the “So what?” factor. Programming stories that are important, entertaining and have a good core are very important to the fest.

When people attend a film festival they expect the unexpected and aren’t as likely to be passive audience members. They experience a film in a festival setting. Ted Hope, from Hope for Film, has said something insightful on that topic:

Movies create a shared emotional response amongst strangers. Good cinema compels us to discuss it afterwards. A movie can create empathy amongst folks who have only previously felt differences. How incredibly powerful is that?”

The Prescott fest has a slate of films lined up for this year — actually, as of this story, not all films are confirmed — that are funny, inspiring, quirky, eye-opening, and fascinating.


Here’s a sneak peak of some of the likely titles you can see. …

Growing Up Smith” (aka “Good Ol’ Boy”)

In 1979, an Indian family moves to America with hopes of living the American Dream. While their 10-year-old boy Smith falls head-over-heels for the girl next door, his desire to become a “good ol’ boy” propels him further away from his family’s ideals than ever before.

Lives Well Lived” (sneak peek)

What is the definition of a “life well lived”? These filmmakers asked 40 people ages 75- through 100-years-old with a collective life experience of 3,000 years who shared their secrets, wit, and wisdom. … The Lives Well Lived project captures the images, ideas and ideals of those who are proving that aging is something to cherish, not dread. That retirement doesn’t mean you retire from life. And that growing older doesn’t mean growing silent.

A Light Beneath Their Feet”

A high school senior must choose between enrolling in the college of her dreams and remaining at home to take care of her bipolar mother.

The Surgery Ship”

A team of volunteer doctors and nurses are on board a unique ship. Crammed with medical supplies and volunteer medics, this floating hospital sails to the poorest nations on earth. This year they sail for Guinea on the West African Coast. On arrival they will face the most severe of medical issues, not seen in other parts of the world. But the medical challenges are only half of the story. They will confront ethical decisions as they decide who will be helped and who will not. This is a searing, complex journey for the volunteer medics, as they deal with life and death cases and balance the fates of these patients in their hands.


Fanarchy uncovers a subculture of die-hard fans who risk life, limb, and financial bankruptcy in their quest to pay homage to the films and stories they love.

Being George Clooney”

A documentary that delves into the creative, often humorous world of audio dubbing a Hollywood motion picture for the international market.

Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia”

From the top of the world to the end of the line, this film follows the life and climbs of legendary alpinist Jeff Lowe, through his visionary ascents around the world up to his current dance with a terminal disease. Metanoia: A fundamental change of thinking; a transformative change of heart. Jeff’s “unimaginable” new route, Metanoia, up the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland, changed his life forever and prepared him for the greatest adventure he’s ever been on — the climb of his life as he slowly loses all of his physical abilities and faces his own mortality.


Plus, there are amazing short films. This year we’ll continue our student film presentation, sponsored in part by Arizona Humanities and the Yavapai College Film and Media Arts Program. Come out to support these young filmmakers.


The Yavapai College Film and Media Arts Program are also sponsoring more free workshops this year. Here are a few presenters and topics. …

Bob O’Neil

The Retired Universal executive talks about film preservation.

Colin Glenn

RED Warrior” for RED Cinema Camera presents the RED camera.

Jeff Wood

FMA Screenwriting Instructor presents “Planting the Seed of your Film: Writing an Effective Log Line.”

Noah Blough

Retired studio sound and sound editor (“Independence Day,” “The Exorcist,” and “Mission Impossible 2,” to name a few) presents “The Sound of Fear.”

Radio Silence Productions

Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella (half of Radio Silence Productions, “V/H/S,” “Southbound”) discussion.

Philip Sedgwick

Screenwriting: I’ve Written a Script, Now What?” presentation. Without being a Hollywood insider,‎ what can you do to get your script in circulation and consideration? Be ready to take heaps of notes and enter to win a download of Movie Magic Screenwriter.

Kim Kapin

Yavapia College marketing director presents “Using your Filmmaker Skills in the Real World.”

Larry Sakin

Being George Clooney” as the launching pad for a film finance discussion.


LADYFROMSHANGHAI-quad-emailableThe Prescott Film Festival closes with a special event, “Film Noir and Pinot Noir.” It’s a screening of the Orson Welles noir classic, “The Lady from Shanghi.” The screening is hosted by Yavapai College humanities professor Dr. Suzanne (Suki) Waldenberger.


Ticket and pass prices vary. Visit PrescottFilmFestival.Com for more.


Helen Stephenson is the director of the Yavapai College Film and Media Arts Program and executive director and founder of the Prescott Film Festival, where her thirst for independent cinema is quenched.

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