Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Phoenix film fest draws celebrities, bigger crowds

PHOENIX - Film competition screenings are about to go dark as the Phoenix Film Festival completes this year's event Thursday.

Filmmakers, celebrities and film lovers from throughout Arizona, Hollywood and New York have been participating in the sixth-annual, eight-day movie event at Harkins 101,Scottsdale Road and Loop 101.

There were 850 films submitted this year, 250 features and 600 shorts, 15 percent of which were from Arizona filmmakers.

Program director Greg Hall of Surprise was the final decisionmaker of the festival's 359 feature presentations and 50 shorts. At closing, 200 volunteers will have worked the event, and 20,000 moviegoers will have attended, up by 5,000 from 2005.

The event paid tribute to veteran actor Robert Wagner, who appears in two festival selections, Little Victims and Universal Pictures' Hoot. He received the Copper Wing Award.

Little Victims, which was shot in Phoenix, won the award for Best Arizona Short Film. The eight-minute dark comedy about what lies at the end of the rainbow was produced by local filmmakers, the Ronalds Brothers (Brian and Dean) of Gilbert, and was written by Bruce Dellis of Tempe. It featured Wagner with actress Lori Singer of Los Angeles and Phoenix-area actors Brian Ronalds and Laura Durant.

"I have made several films in Arizona over the years including Broken Lance with Spencer Tracy, Love Among Thieves with Audrey Hepburn and we brought our Hart to Hart show here, too," Wagner said.

"It's wonderful working here," he said. "There is a great film community in Arizona, and I look forward to working with the Ronalds Brothers on their next film here, NetherBeast, in the coming months."

Wagner said he had wanted to be in movies since he was a boy and considered himself very lucky that it happened.

This year's festival was a third bigger than last year in terms of selections, sponsors and programming, according to Chris LaMont, the festival's executive director.

An integral part of the festival is the educational outreach program, according to festival director Jason Carney of El Mirage.

"We had 500 students attending workshops from 20 middle school and high schools throughout Arizona to learn about the business and get experience working with professionals," Carney said.

Workshops are offered in screenwriting, acting, directing, producing, editing, casting and independent filmmaking.

Festival dates have already been set for April 12-19, 2007.

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