Movie magic: Scottsdale International Film Festival offers ten days of films and events

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By Amy Young, November 2019 Issue.

If stimulating your
senses through cinematic experiences puts you in a happy place, a trek to the
Scottsdale International Film Festival should have you awash in a state of

The annual festival launched in 2001. It
runs from November 1-10 in multiple theaters, and true to form, this year’s
schedule is loaded. From centerpiece films and Scottsdale premieres, this
destination event also includes documentaries, children’s animated shorts,
foreign films, and a selection LGBTQ-focused flicks.

Founder Amy Ettinger loves that the
festival has gotten so much bigger over the years but emphasizes that, no
matter the size, selecting quality films is always her team’s number one
mission. “We have definitely grown in terms of audience development,” she tells
Echo, “but quality has always been, and will always be, our mainstay.”

Festival founder Amy Ettinger.

Ettinger has a team of programmers who work
throughout the year to find the movies they want to screen. “We comb the globe
for films,” she says, “we are at festivals and take all avenues to continuously
hunt for movies that we feel are well done.”

For her and the crew, “well done” means
films that aren’t easy to figure out. Talking with her about it, you understand
the team’s collective penchant for showcasing movies that have interesting
angles and don’t lose themselves to staid formulas.

Balloon is
one on this year’s roster that Ettinger refers to as “so thrilling.” The 2018
German film is based on a true story of resistance and takes place during the
Cold War. Her goal is to find movies that “throw you a curve ball,” and this
one seems to have hit her mark.

Another one she is excited to show is Taranta
on the Road
. Salvatore Allocca’s movie is set in the wake of the Arab
Spring uprisings in the early 2010s. In this comedy-drama, two Tunisian
migrants with nothing in common find themselves traveling partners. Ettinger
likes that the movie finds humor and tenderness despite the tragedy.

Special events are part of what make this
yearly happening a must-attend — an opportunity to meet some of the
behind-the-scenes folks involved in these thoughtfully-crafted productions.

Hear firsthand from people like Lindsey
Seavert, who wrote and directed the documentary, Love Them First: Lessons
from Lucy Laney Elementary
, about Minneapolis public school principal Mauri
Friestleben ,who rallied to get her school off a list of “failing” schools.
Beyond that, it offers a look at issues our public school system face.

A scene from Love Them First: Lessons from Lucy; photo courtesy of KARE 11 Originals.

This is another area where Ettinger says
quality is crucial. The festival has seen its share of big names throughout the
years, like actors and directors Mike Leigh and John Sayles, and stars like
Jennifer Tilly, Lesley Ann Warren, and Patrick Warburton.

Ettinger says that it isn’t uncommon to get
feedback from attendees who are looking for the festival to serve them a
heartier diet of famous folks, and she gets that. “We do try,” she says. “We
strive to have a world class event annually, but we aren’t alone. There are a
lot of festivals that happen and often, it can be a matter of scheduling that
makes it hard to acquire specific guests.”

She knows that for true film lovers, all of
the guests are welcome, as they offer very particular insights into the
processes that it takes to bring these films to life. “It’s really terrific,
what we learn from them, and those presentations and interactions resonate with
our attendees.”

“We have an impactful year,” she offers,
“there’s lots of revelatory filmmaking.”

Marriage Story shows at this year’s SIFF; photo courtesy of Netflix/Wilson Webb.

And regarding the future of the event? “I
am very proud of what we’ve done so far,” Ettinger tells us. “We want to
continue in the same direction — creating a destination for film fans. There are
so many amazing stories to tell and we want to show the filmmakers who are
telling those stories.”

For a complete schedule of events, tickets, and all SIFF information, visit

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