With no end in sight to the pandemic, the Scottsdale International Film Festival will follow in the footsteps of other such movie events by partnering with Eventive to host its 20th anniversary fest online Nov. 6-10.
Amy Ettinger, festival executive director, seized on an alternate plan early in the pandemic and recalls that in late February telling her board her concern about an “impending coronavirus invasion of our shores.”
The board didn’t come to a consensus, so the idea was tabled. Weeks later, everything changed.
“It was shocking – the March board meeting – how much had unfolded in 30 short days,” Ettinger said, noting meetings had switched to a virtual format. “There still were no clear options at that moment in the March meeting.”
“Suddenly, we were offered an opportunity with the Film Festival Alliance (FFA), which is a peer group of film festivals that network throughout the United States, to do a streaming event and it was called Film Festival Day,” she said.
“More than dipping our toes in the pond, we really got our feet wet (and) could see that, wow, our audience is really willing to do this. We didn’t think our patrons would ever go along with it.”
“I think word travels fast because suddenly we had various distributors knocking on our door, asking us would we consider ‘this’ or ‘that’ or the other streamer?” she continued. “They were all different price points and all different kinds of content and as time has gone by, we’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work, what people will do, what people won’t do.”
Observing streamed film festivals, Ettinger began researching the idea and having it tested, including hosting streamers on the Scottsdale festival’s website.
It’s now a reality.
“We had garnered a considerable amount of momentum from last year as a film festival,” Ettinger said. “We finally hit our stride and had, gosh, 11 really high-profile premieres. It just would have been a real shame to not do something this season to, A) celebrate the 20th but, B) also acknowledge that we are a force now to be reckoned with.”
The streaming slate has been reduced and duration cut by half to make scheduling more manageable for viewers, Ettinger said. Set for five days, this year’s festival will feature 20 films from around the world.
That includes “Butter,” adapted from a young adult novel by Ahwatukee author Erin Jade Lange and set in Scottsdale. That’s the pen name for Kyrene School District communications director Erin Helm, a long-time local TV journalist.
The film, listed in the festival’s “Whimsical/Humorous” category, is about a lonely, obese teenager nicknamed Butter who plans to eat himself to death live on the internet; but when he begins to receive encouragement and feel popular, he must deal with the potential fallout if he doesn’t go through with it.
Other films include the Dutch dark comedy “Boy Meets Gun,” the Canadian drama “Rustic Oracle,” the Greek drama “Window to the Sea,” and the Israeli documentary “Aulcie.” The documentary is about basketball player Aulcie Perry, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to an upset win in the European Championship.
Other represented countries include Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Most films will be available for the festival’s duration and Ettinger said viewers can “basically build your own festival to watch things in any timeframe that you want.” “Boy Meets Gun” is only available for 48 hours beginning Nov. 7. And all films can only be streamed in Arizona.
Some screenings include prerecorded Q&As with the filmmakers.
The Phoenix Film Critics Society awards will be presented on the first night, Ettinger said, to allow festival attendees to plan their schedules accordingly. Viewers can also vote on the Audience Award for Best Film as the festival progresses.
Single tickets cost $9.99; VIP passes are $170; and multi-ticket discount packages are available in bundles of five or 10 for $45 or $90, respectively. Sales of passes and packages end Nov. 5. Several films are available on a first-come, first-served basis and may sell out.
“We really just consider it a massive victory to still be on our feet,” she said. “There are a lot of festivals this year that didn’t happen. ...And so the celebration for us is we didn’t have to miss our 20th year.”
She feels the pandemic has opened the door to new opportunities that can continue when the festival returns to an in-person format – such as a new balloting system for the audience to vote and an app the festival can continue to use. Ettinger said having an online component allows participation from those who otherwise would miss out.
“We are still taking probably one of the biggest risks we’ve ever taken in mounting this festival, and participating by way of buying a single ticket or a package of five or 10 films or even a VIP pass cannot be more appreciated on our part,” Ettinger said. “We really need everybody in the community on board with us this year so that we can do better than limp into to 2021.”