June 2024
Movies that Move You
Prescott Film Festival coming to Yavapai College July 17-20

For over a decade the Prescott Film Festival has been a celebration of storytelling through film, offering a platform for filmmakers from around the world to share their visions with audiences hungry for diverse narratives. But what truly makes this festival remarkable is the dedication of its volunteer organizers, who pour their time, energy, and passion into making each year a success.

The festival was born from a combination of conversations and could not have gone forward without the support of other festival directors and community leaders. Festival founder and Director Helen Stephenson relates, “The festival started with a simple idea. In 1996 I discovered the Sedona Film Festival and have been going almost every year since. In 2007 a friend and I were walking around the Square and somehow started talking about how a film festival would work in Prescott. After that we were sitting at my kitchen table and my husband Don passed by. I casually say, ‘Honey, we are going to start a film festival.’”

With the support of the Sedona festival’s director, Patrick Schweis, Jason Carney of the Phoenix film fest and the late Prescott historian Elizabeth Ruffner, the nonprofit was established. With a steep learning curve and a few out-of-state trips, the festival began with a monthly series of movies shown in donated space at the Frontier Village Cine 10, but the theater went out of business just a few months after the showings began. With other films already selected and scheduled, some with out-of-town filmmakers planning to attend, another location was needed quickly.

“This is where the generosity of our community comes into play,” says Stephenson. “We called Garry Chartier and he let us come to the Yavapai College Performance Hall for a couple of screenings. We held a screening at Prescott College, and then started to screen in Hendrix Auditorium at Prescott Mile-High Middle School.” Volunteers Ron and Debbie Hammer, Don Stephenson, Jared Haxton, Shawn Van Hecke, Ellen Harp, Dave Shoemaker and Mike Simonyi are at the core of the festival’s success. In March Ron Hammer passed away, and next year’s festival will be dedicated to him.

Additional volunteers are critical in selecting films for exhibit. Says Stephenson, “Films come into the festival three ways. First is Filmfreeway.com, a platform for filmmakers where they pay a fee to submit a film to the fest. Second is by what we call ‘curation’ — Simonyi goes to many festivals, including some international ones, looking for films. The third way is through festival alumni who contact me directly.” From there trained volunteers grade the submissions, then the programming team members view, debate and select the films to be shown. The goal is to find a selection of “movies that move you.”

In addition to the jury awards there is an audience-choice award in each category. As patrons leave they score the film they just saw, those scores are compiled and the winner announced on the final night. There are four main film categories — narrative feature, narrative short, documentary feature, and documentary short — and additional categories if needed. The jury awards are selected by a subcommittee of the programming committee.

More than just a series of film screenings, the festival is a community celebration that brings people together to share their love of cinema and connect with like-minded fans. In panel discussions, workshops and networking events scheduled through the long weekend attendees can engage with filmmakers, industry professionals and fellow enthusiasts in discussion about the art and craft of filmmaking.

The festival begins with an opening-night party, and there is an after-party at the end. There are also free workshops sponsored by the Yavapai College Film and Media Arts Programs, including How to Stage and Film a Fight Scene, Making The Survival Show with Cody Lundin, Scene Study and Improvisation, and Show Don’t Tell: a Screenwriting Workshop.

Patrons may buy tickets through the Jim and Linda Lee Performing Arts Center box office. A platinum pass includes all movies and meals (provided by Barry Barbe), there’s also an all-movies pass and individual tickets for each screening. Featured will be the screening of Robert Shields: My Life as a Robot, with Robert Shields of the legendary Shields and Yarnell comedy team scheduled to attend, along with the filmmakers, PFF alumni Mark Bonn and Christine Bonn.

As the countdown to the 14th annual festival begins, film lovers eagerly await the opportunity to immerse themselves in a week of cinematic exploration and discovery. With its commitment to diversity, creativity, and community, the festival promises unforgettable experiences that will have lasting effects on all who attend.

The 14th Prescott Film Festival will take place at Jim and Linda Lee Performing Arts Center on the campus of Yavapai College July 17–20. For tickets visit ycpac.org, and for additional information or to volunteer write helen@prescottfilmfestival.com.

Lizabeth Rogers covers the local-theatre beat.

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