Screen time: Prescott Film Festival returns for eighth run

Jun 2, 17 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

By James Dungeon

Has it really been eight years since Helen Stephenson launched the Prescott Film Festival? (Hint: Yes, it has.)

This year’s event is June 9-17 — a longer, leaner week bolstered by two jam-packed weekends, plus an assortment of special events, workshops, and student films. You can find screen times and purchase tickets at PrescottFilmFestival.Com, but if you’re reading this you’re either looking for more info or want some context. So, here goes. …

Everyone loves big, dumb blockbusters. They’re fun. And exciting. But small independent films have heart and soul. And, hey, some of them are fun and exciting, too. (Some of them are also big and dumb, but that’s neither here nor there.) Heart-warming or heart-wrenching, cerebral or emotive, an indie film has the power to move you. It can broaden your horizons or provide a refuge of escapism. It can challenge your world view or suggest a new facet of perspective.

See all of those aphorisms? Films are so varied and effective that you can string all those trite expressions in a row and they still retain currency. That’s the power of film.

But don’t take my word for it. Here, for your consideration, are some musings on the Prescott Film Festival from the reviewers and programmers who watched dozens and dozens of films in anticipation of the annual event to help cull the proverbial herd and provide you with the best viewing experience possible. There’s also an interview with Stephenson, too, if you’re looking for an overview and more details.

And, if you’re just looking for some recommendations, there are some of those here, too, with descriptions and superlatives from Prescott Film Festival reviewers.

It’s time to go from reel to real.



Mike Simonyi

I’ve been a film reviewer for the Prescott Film Festival for two years. I have a lady friend who has a sister up in Prescott, so I started attending when they invited me up. I actually do this for another film festival, too, so it made sense. When you think about it, most people come home and sit down and watch TV or movies anyway; the only difference is that I’m doing it for a purpose. It’s an adventure not knowing what you’re getting. Normally, when you see a movie, you at least know what type of movie it is and who’s in it. As a film reviewer, though, you never know what you’re going to see. I normally do narrative films — everything but documentaries. I’ve always been a film fan since I was a kid. My parents were into foreign films, so I’ve always loved them.

Audrey Mae

I’ve been watching films for the Prescott Film Festival for seven or eight years. When you watch so many films, you don’t have instant recall, but if you keep paper notes it helps. I watched all the docs, all the narrative features, and all the shorts. I have a passion for it. Film brings people together and gets them talking. You can get together with friends before a film, you can talk to people while you’re waiting to see a film and see what piqued other people’s interest, and you can get together after a film to talk about what you saw and how it affected you. That’s the joy of film. … Because this is the eighth year of the festival, the submissions are such a very high caliber, which makes for tough decisions when it comes to screenings.

Shelley Bartolomeo

I’ve been a big movie buff all my life, actually. Once I started going to the Prescott Film Festival, I thought it’d be a great way to enjoy films and be involved in films. I’ve done it for quite a few years now. It’s great because I’m the kind of person who’ll call movie theaters to see if they’re going to get smaller, independent films, and if they’re not, drive to other cities to see them. The films we get have just gotten better and better every year. My strength is documentary features, and I can say it’s harder and harder to narrow down selections. … I’m really excited about spreading things out this year, having a big opening weekend, then spreading the films out until a big closing weekend. Sitting in a movie theater all day for three or four days isn’t for everyone, and I think people will appreciate that change.

Shawn Van Hecke

I got started with the Prescott Film Festival in basically it’s first year. I think I went to their second screening and I signed up to be a film reviewer. I slowly became more involved and now I’m the director of the review team and on the Prescott Film Festival board. I just like film. I found out I like working behind the scenes and being involved with the community. Reviewing films changed the way I watch movies a bit. I notice little things more than I did before — details, little things like cuts and use of light. … I like all different kinds of movies, but especially things that make me think. Recently, I’ve been leaning more toward documentaries, but even narrative films can do that when they shift your perspective or twist the way you think. I know other people have said this, too, but the level of films that are submitted are getting better and better. It’s getting tougher to make selections as we get deeper into this festival.




Alive and Kicking”

6:30 p.m. Friday, June 9

It’s this wonderful documentary about swing and Lindy hop. It shows that it’s a craze all over the world right now, and it’s very entertaining. With all these dancing reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance?” and “Dancing with the Stars” a lot of people will really get a kick out of it. The dance group and live music we have afterword — that’s going to be amazing. ~Shelley Bartolomeo

It’s no surprise there’s dancing paired with this one. It’s going to be great. ~Mike Simonyi

That Day We Sang”

6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 10

It’s a British musical and it’s an awful lot of fun, another feel-good one. ~Mike Simonyi


3 p.m. Sunday, June 11

Score” is a documentary about the scores to films. When I say “Superman,” or “Star Wars,” or “Indiana Jones,” or even “Lord of the Rings,” you can hum the music. And when you hear that music, even just three notes, you know exactly what movie it goes to. You get some nostalgia for the films, themselves, but you’re also learning about what goes into those scores, how they do what they do, and how they get tweaked for effect. ~Shawn Van Hecke

Burn Your Maps”

6:30 p.m. Monday, June 12

It’s a fun, quirky one about a kid who decides he’s from another culture. Everyone’s trying to save this poor kid, if you know what I mean, and it’s a lot of fun. You won’t come out of it saying you’ve seen anything like it before, that’s for sure. ~Mike Simonyi

It’s another coming of age story, full of learning, but what really caught my attention was the way it was shot. There are really amazing vistas, shot on-site. ~Shawn Van Hecke

Lost in Paris”

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14

Another good one. If you like Wes Anderson or that kind of comedy, you’ll love it. ~Mike Simonyi

We all need to laugh, especially now when there are so many serious challenges and there’s not a lot to laugh about. “Lost in Paris” will lighten everyone up. I think it’s my favorite of all the films this year. It’s so colorful. It’s about a woman and her escapades in Paris. I mean, OMG. It will be loved by all. ~Audrey Mae

Big Sonia”

6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 15

It’s a film about a woman who survived the Holocaust and uses her creativity and greatness as a tailor at a shopping mall. People used to hold on to clothes, gained and lost weight, and needed adjustments. All the stores left the mall and one of the guards, in the morning, escorts her to her shop and people still come and go. Then … well, I’m not going to reveal the end of the story, but it’s so worth watching. We have a population of retirees here who it’s especially relevant for, but it’s really a family film for all ages. Anyone can appreciate a gifted and talented “seasoned learner.” That’s not my term. That’s from someone at a butter museum in Cork, Ireland — he used it instead of the word “senior,” and I’m going to keep using it. Anyway, it was one of my favorites. ~Audrey Mae

Prison Dogs”

12:15 p.m. Friday, June 16

It gives all of us hope. It’s about prisoners who really have to show an effort to get in this program where they’re given a puppy that’s 6-weeks-old and they spend all their time and sleep with it and train it to be a service dog. The woman who’s training all of the prisoners to train the dogs is tough. The movie follows one man and his dog … well, it’ll bring tears. ~Audrey Mae

It’s very moving the way the prisoners are so affected by this program. It’s hard work. It also shows how they match the dogs and veterans up, getting the personalities just right. It’s just really well done and really good. ~Shelley Bartolomeo

The Beautiful Fantastic”

6:30 p.m. Friday, June 16

It’s a British, kind of fantasy story. It’ll have you going home feeling good. ~Mike Simonyi

It’s kind of a coming of age story in England about this girl who works in a library but is otherwise kind of a shut in. Her landlord makes her clean up her backyard and she interacts with her neighbor, this old crotchety man who gives her grief, and they kind of become friends. He learns a little. She learns a little. It’s probably my favorite narrative film this year. ~Shawn Van Hecke

High School 9-1-1”

10 a.m. Saturday, June 17

This one lifts everyone’s expectations for youth today. These are some very fine youth who care, who learn, who have empathy, and put their skills to good use. It’s a documentary about a small community that doesn’t have the capabilities for emergency services, so highly tested high school students are trained and on call while they’re in class, responding to emergencies. Bring a gang with you, because you’re all going to love it. ~Audrey Mae

Dyna Does Dressage”

3 p.m. Saturday, June 17 (double screening w/“Sonic Sea”)

If you have any knowledge of horses and dressage, you know horses’ necks slope up. Mules’ necks slope down, so the idea of training one for dressage is really amusing to horse people. And that’s what happens in this documentary. ~Audrey Mae

Sonic Sea”

3 p.m. Saturday, June 17 (double screening w/“Dyna Does Dressage”)

I’m an environmentalist, and I didn’t even know about this topic — the effect of military, commercial, and industrial noise on marine life. One thing I like is that it ends with positive solutions and hope and what we can do to make a difference for a quieter ocean. It’s a different kind of environmental film about a topic people might not be aware of. ~Shelley Bartolomeo

The Tiger Hunter”

6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 17

It’s a cross-cultural kind of film about an Eastern Indian who comes to work in the USA. It’s set in the 1970s before a lot of folks came over to work in the engineering field. It’s very funny and inspirational. ~Mike Simonyi

It couldn’t be more wonderful and beautiful. It’s a film with fantastic writing and acting. I can’t say anything else about it, though. You’ll have to see for yourself. ~Audrey Mae

PFF 2017 Schedule


An interview with Helen Stephenson, founder and director of the Prescott Film Festival.

What’s new or different at the 2017 Prescott Film Festival?

This year, we’re listening to what our audience has been telling us for the last few years, which is that they didn’t want to have to chose between films and workshops. This year, for the eighth Prescott Film Festival, we’re spreading out the festival from Friday night until the next Saturday, June 9-17. The workshops will be before the films, themselves. The weekend days will include several films in a row, but the other films will be spread out across the week. This year, all the films will be at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center. People love that space. It’s comfortable and you can get a glass of wine and popcorn and snacks. It’s a better overall film experience.

The audience we have here in Prescott isn’t, I don’t think, the typical film festival audience. I’m more typical of someone who will sit in the movie theater from 9 a.m. in the morning to 10 p.m. at night, get up the next day, and do that again. But that’s not for everyone. We’re opening up our audience based on the surveys we get back every year. … I also think a lot of our audience is local, which is why we’re really reaching out this year to Phoenix to hopefully get some people to come up out of the heat on either weekend. In terms of the workshops, we’ve got some really great, gifted people, some flying in from L.A. And those workshops are a highlight for a lot of people.

What kind of special events surround this year’s screenings?

This year we added a gourmet dinner from Senses, a couple of chefs who’ve kind of taken Prescott by storm with their amazing pop-up dinners. We’ve paired their dinner with the screening of “That Day We Song,” a lovely musical from England about a couple who meets as adults after knowing each other in childhood. It’s a lovely film and there’ll be lovely food.

Our opening night film is “Alive and Kicking,” a documentary about swing dance, and, I tell you, when you watch it, you feel like you need to move your feet by the end. We’ll have live music afterword and swing dance on stage and around the theater from the Northern Arizona University Swing Jacks and someone from Prescott’s Flying Nest Movement Arts, and afterword it’ll be opened up to everyone.

Friday, we have a wine tasting with the movie “Que Syrah, Syrah,” during which Michael Pierce from the Yavapai College wine program will talk about syrah.

I think the word’s getting out that a horse film does really well in Prescott. We had several films about horses that were submitted this year. We’re not the all-horse festival, but we did find a couple to include. There’s “Floating Horses,” which is about Casey Tibbs, who basically founded what we know as rodeo today. I actually found out about that film a couple of years ago and kept bugging the film maker to let us see it. By the time it plays here, it will have only been at four other festivals. The filmmaker and several people who are interviewed in the film will be here in Prescott.

For “Getting Grace,” we’ll have Daniel Roebuck as a special guest. He’s probably the most famous person whose name you don’t know. He has something like 227 Internet Movie Database credits. He’s a huge character actor who was on “Lost” and played Jay Leno in “The Late Shift.” He wrote, directed, stared in, and produced this film, so it’s a passion project for him and he’s very excited about it.

Closing night, we have the film “The Tiger Hunter,” a fantastic drama/comedy, and we have two of the actors coming from the film who’ll be at the cabaret party. That party has food furnished by El Gato Azul.


The Prescott Film Festival is June 9-17. Screenings are $12 apiece, $6 for students. Specials/blocks of tickets are available. Workshops and student film screenings are free. Find out more at PrescottFilmFestival.Com.

James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com


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