Well, I said I would be doing more posts about this, and here you go! This is the official start to a series of posts covering the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival. All posts will also be cross-posted to rickyleepotts.com, so feel free to go pay him a visit too and see what other kind of stuff he’s got going on over there.
I had the opportunity to interview Jason Carney, Festival Director as well as Executive Director of the Phoenix Film Foundation, the non-profit organization behind the festival. Here’s what Jason had to say.
How did you become the “guy in charge”?
I came on board the first year of the festival as a volunteer. A buddy of mine from high school, Greg Hall, was the Program Director (and still is) and he asked me to come help out. I jumped in full throttle and ended up managing the theatre auditoriums. In subsequent years, I became part of the leadership team and took on additional roles of managing judging, screen introductions, short film programming, etc. Then in 2005, I became the Festival Director and shortly after I took a leap of faith by quitting my job and becoming the Phoenix Film Foundation’s Executive Director. And nine years later, we’re still doing great things.
What’s the best part of working with the festival?
The best part is that feeling at the festival is the reaction of the filmmakers when their film screens at the festival. It’s a long and sometimes arduous process in the planning and execution of the festival. We have to process over 1,000 films and narrow it down to 150 that we actually screen. Those films become “our” films and we want them to be successful and the filmmakers to be happy about their experience with us. So there’s a tremendous amount of pride when all that comes together and the filmmakers and audiences love the event.
What do you do to decompress after the festival is over?
Unfortunately it takes nearly a month for life to get back to normal. For about three straight months my brain is going 150 miles per hour, the emails are out of control and the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Then it all stops. At that point my brain takes some time to adjust and it’s tricky to catch up on two months of sleep. The ultimate cure is about a month of not going to the movies, catching up on TV and eating meals at home with my wife. Basically, normal stuff is awesome at that point.
Is there an actor or actress you would like to meet that you haven’t had the opportunity to yet?
That’s one of those things that’s kind of cool but my goal is to get us great films and whatever happens after that, is a bonus. Of course, we have “dream” guests that we’d love to have. In the super huge star category, I would say George Clooney. In the under appreciated actor category, it would be Stanley Tucci.
What is your favorite movie?
I can narrow it down to two for you. “Almost Famous” and “Animal House”. Don’t ask me to choose one of them. It will break my heart.
Do you have a movie genre that you like more than others?
I typically lean towards comedies because great ones are hard to find. It’s a challenge at any budget or level to produce a great comedy that has all of the elements including strong screenplay, great characters and the right actors.
What is the biggest challenge involved in putting on the festival?
There are so many elements involved and I think that juggling all of those pieces is the biggest challenge. If we were just screening films, it would be a whole different thing. However, there’s so many other pieces for our festival. There’s the element of bringing in filmmakers from around the world which means managing their travel, accommodations, passes and Q&A sessions. Plus we have to plan all of our special events including parties, workshops and filmmaker events. Add that to the big beast of marketing all of the films and events and that’s a bunch of things to manage.
Have you had the opportunity to screen many of the movies at this year’s festival yet? If so, what is one you would highly recommend?
I’ve watched a good chunk of the films and I’m really impressed by the quality of films we have at this year’s festival. I’m also super intrigued by the films I haven’t seen yet. On Friday night we’ve got a film called “Trust Me” which is directed by Clark Gregg and has tons of star power. Then on Closing Night is Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Boyhood” which they shot over 8 years to capture a boy growing up.
How would you like to see the festival grow in the coming years?
I think the key to our growth is all about the programming. Over the years our films have continued to improve and because of that we’re able to secure higher profile films. This will increase the festival’s profile and ability to grow into more theatres and more screenings.
What’s your favorite movie quote?
I’ve been trying to come up with one that doesn’t involve swearing and it’s harder than you think. I’m going to go with with Matthew McConaughey in “Dazed and Confused” with…. “It’d be a lot cooler if you did”
Check back soon for more interviews and coverage of the festival! There are some great things in store.
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