The 2011 Scottsdale International Film Festival will kick off this Friday, September 30, at the Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The festival runs through Tuesday, October 4, and will feature a broad range of independent and foreign films, including several films presented in association with the Celebración Artística de las Américas (CALA Alliance), which encourages cross-cultural understanding and exchanges between people of the Americas. We recently had the opportunity to speak with festival director Amy Ettinger via telephone about what to expect from this year’s event.
NerdRep: First of all, thanks tremendously for taking the time to speak with us about the festival.
Amy Ettinger: Sure.
NerdRep: This is the first year that the festival will NOT be held at Harkins Camelview, and instead will be moving to Harkins Shea 14. What kind of factors influenced the decision to move the festival to a bigger venue?
Ettinger: It wasn’t a very difficult decision at all, because right after last year’s festival ended, I discovered that Harkins had redone their auditoriums at Shea. The inside of the auditoriums was just very inviting, and they had re-seated them – in other words, they had done these high-backed rockers. One of my main complaints about Shea, from a personal aspect and from talking to people who were attendees at Camelview for so many years was the seats they used to have. Those old grey broken down seats were just so uncomfortable that nobody wanted to sit in them. If you come to my festival, generally speaking, you spend hours there. They’re not faint of heart, my festival goers, and they really commit a lot of time, so they needed to be comfortable, and we wanted it to be inviting.
Last year, the last day of the festival happened the same day as that record hail storm, and it killed the walk-up. At Camelview you only have one option if you’re going to stand in line, and that’s to be outside, so if it’s very hot – you know, we’re dealing with climate change, which is an issue we have to think about at all times, not the least of which is the way it affects older people who are standing in line. Anyway, that hail storm was an event killer. So I wanted to go someplace where we could have the lines inside, I wanted to go someplace where the seats were comfortable, and I had to stay in Scottsdale because we are, in fact, the Scottsdale Film Festival. So it was really a matter of one plus two, coming up to three.
NerdRep: Obviously the move to a larger venue enables you to screen more films than you could in previous years. Do you anticipate the festival continuing to grow to the point where even the new venue will not be big enough?
Ettinger: I’ve never thought about it in terms of outgrowing a complex. For awhile, I thought the festival should be longer. In fact, I believe it was the third year, I tried to do a seven-day festival, but the box office receipts were the same as they were for a five-day festival. But the festival has never taken place in a good economy. I can only guess how well we might be doing had the world been different when we launched, or if we had a 30 or 40-year career behind us. Instead, our first festival was only 17 days after 9/11, and that has set the tone for every single festival since. Right now, what happens when you turn on the news? You’re hearing an instant replay of last year when you turned on the news, and the year before that, and the year before that. Every time we get ready to stage out festival, October seems to be a magnet for this economic doom and gloom. It’s become laughable to me, but you’ve gotta roll with the punches.
Right now, our presales are right on track with where they were last year. I want my walk-up to improve, I don’t want any hail storms that last all night – you know, there’s certain things you can’t control. You can’t control the stock market, or your president, or your Congress, or the weather. We’re throwing some new advertising out there that we haven’t tried before during the week before the festival, and during the festival itself, hoping that it drives the walk-up, those people that never made it to advanced sales even though we’ve been promoting for six weeks. There are a lot of people out there who attend Camelview on a regular basis, who like these kind of films, and we haven’t reached them all. There’s still a large number of people out there who don’t know that this festival exists. So we’re working on it. There’s just so many things you wonder about. I was speaking with someone earlier today, and they said “We can’t tell from where we sit right now, on the outside looking in, what the reality is.” We’ve just gotta get some perspective, and it should be interesting. I invite you to call me after the festival, and I’ll tell you how it went, but right now? There’s just no way to know.
NerdRep: A big focus this year is the Spotlight on Latin America, and it looks like a great lineup. Are there any films from that selection that you’ve seen yourself and would recommend to your festival attendees?
Ettinger: I’ve seen all of the films, and I do make recommendations, and on my top five list for this year is one of the CALA Alliance-sponsored films, Hermano, which is from Venezuela. I love Habana Eva, I love Acorazado, and… you know, it’s really hard, I get these questions from interviewers and they try to force me into these choices – [laughs] – but I put films in the festival because I think they’re excellent. For one reason or another, every film I have in the festival, I believe is excellent.
NerdRep: As far as the selection process for the festival, is there a committee that makes those choices?
Ettinger: There are three programmers, myself included, and a rogue, kind of wandering-in-and-out fourth [laughs]. I have final decision, but two or three of the films that are in the festival this year were selected by my programmers, and they convinced me long before I had watched them that I would be putting them in the festival. A couple of them were no-brainers for me, it was “Okay, you want ’em, you got ’em.”
NerdRep: The festival is scheduled to open with Like Crazy, and you’ll have Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones on hand for a Q&A session. How did they come to be involved?
Ettinger: I have a fabulous publicity team in Aaron Marion, my representative for Paramount at Allied Integrated Marketing, and he helped bring that together.
NerdRep: The festival will also be closing with The Way, which I had the opportunity to screen myself a few weeks ago. In terms of the opening and closing films, what criteria do you look for when making those decisions?
Ettinger: Let me start by saying that the arrangement I had with the producer of the film was that we would be having the premiere of The Way, and I was very dismayed to find out that they held a screening here, and he was very upset because that was not his decision. The distributor went around him and didn’t tell him, and I don’t think you should do that to the producer of the film. That was supposed to be a premiere, and that premiere status was stolen from us. Most of the people coming to the festival won’t know the difference, but I do.
The decision-making process, about what goes into selecting an opener and a closer… there are a lot of people out there who want a mass-market sort of experience at this festival. They don’t want to see small films with subtitles, that scares them, and I don’t want to scare people off, I want to attract them, so we use those films as bait. We’re very up front about it. We want to get them there to see something that’s not so threatening, and then we work on them to try one more film that wasn’t on their list of screenings. And most people who we convince – “Just come on and see one more film you weren’t planning on seeing, if it has subtitles, so be it, just see one more film,” – those people are converted so fast. It almost makes your head spin how quickly some of those people decide to become regulars.
NerdRep: Amy, thanks again for taking a few minutes to speak with us. I’ll be attending the festival this year for the first time, and I’m looking forward to it.
Ettinger: Good for you, I hope you have a great time while you’re there. Thanks very much.
We’re looking forward to attending the premiere of Like Crazy, as well as screening several other films throughout the weekend. Tickets for the 2011 Scottsdale Film Festival, as well as the programming schedule and other information, are available at ScottsdaleFilmFestival.com.