Interview: Jason Carney on the 17th year of the Phoenix Film Festival, state of independent film - Silver Screen Beat
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Interview: Jason Carney on the 17th year of the Phoenix Film Festival, state of independent film



Film enthusiasts from around the nation will gather at Harkins Scottsdale 101 beginning tomorrow for a week of non-stop movie excitement for the 17th annual Phoenix Film Festival, which saw over 25,000 attendees at last year’s groundbreaking event. With indie hits such as The Lost City of Z, Patti Cake$, and Dean, set to make waves around the valley throughout the duration of the festival, we sat down with the man behind it all, Jason Carney, to ask what we should be expecting from the 17-year-old event, as well as get his take on the current state of the independent movie scene. Check out our complete conversation below.

There’s a really impressive lineup for this year’s Phoenix Film Festival. What are some of the movies you’re looking forward to the most?

From year to year, we’re always cultivating our relationships with the studios to pick up those showcase, non-composition films like Patti Cake$ and The Lost City of Z, or even our closing night film Tommy’s Honour from Roadside Attractions, and it’s just about building relationships from year to year and us having really great audiences and great attendance. I think all of those factor into them providing us with these types of films. They really give us such a diverse lineup, and I can’t really recall a year where we’ve had such a wide variety of genres and types of films that we were lucky enough to have this year.

With indie studios such as Fox Searchlight and A24 truly beginning to evolve, do you hope to work with them more in the near future? 

We’ve been working with Fox Searchlight for so many years and A24 we started working with as soon as they came onto the scene awhile back. We immediately started booking films, and I think we might’ve done something one way or another through our Phoenix Film Society or one of our showcases. We’ve probably done half of their films and we just have a really great relationship. I think we only have one film from this weekend, a film called Menashe, which is set in Brooklyn and is in all Yiddish, about a Hasidic Jewish father and son and their relationship. It’s a really, really great film, and, A24, they really know what they’re doing. We love working with them! Also, hey, they had Moonlight that won the Best Picture this year. They take chances, pick-up really good stuff, and they’re great people to work with. As far as Fox Searchlight goes, we have a guy there that we’ve been working with for a long time and I think those relationships really do pay off in terms of getting us quality films, and we trust each of them.

We see films such as Moonlight produced on a budget of no more than $2 million winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Do think the indie scene is going in the right direction, at the moment? 

I think so. People are always looking for good stories and films that have the ability to stick with them. I was just talking to my mother-in-law who lives in North Dakota where there’s no arthouse, but they come out for the festival to volunteer and they see a ton of movies and she’s like “What I like about the festival movies is that they stick with you. They have great stories and I remember them versus all of the other movies that I see in theaters that are just forgettable.” So, that’s what is good about independent film. They count, they have to rely on their stories because they don’t have a bunch of money throw at effects and that kind of stuff. They’ve got to rely on their screenplays that are always so awesome and have been worked on for years. It really shows on-screen and I think that’s where indie film has an advantage over the big blockbusters. I mean, the blockbusters aren’t going anywhere but I think the indie films are in a really great place right now.

Are there any indie filmmakers that you have your eye on at the moment? Anyone that you see breaking through in the near future? 

Gosh. I’m terrible with names. The guy who did Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a couple years ago, we showed that film, and I thought it was a bit underrated and didn’t really work out timing-wise in terms of its release. But I think he’s a really talented director, and I was even able to talk with him for a bit and he’s just got a great vision and a great attitude. He’s really strong, and another guy who kind of broke out is a director by the name of James Ponsoldt who did The Spectacular Now a few years ago, as well as another one called Smashed that actually did really well at the Independent Spirit Awards. He’s done a little TV but has lots of bigger projects coming, including The Circle starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, and I truly believe he’s going to make his big break very soon.

One of the films that stuck with me the most from last year’s edition of the Phoenix Film Festival was Sing Street, which didn’t really start making waves up until just fairly recently. 

Sing Street was such a phenomenal movie. I think went out of town over the summer and decided to buy it on iTunes and watched it while I was on my trip and thought, “Man. We had this movie at our festival! That’s awesome!” I think it was probably my third favorite movie of the year last year just because it was so great. And John Carney, that guy directing Once and Begin Again. I mean, he’s great. I love him.

What do you think helps to set apart the Phoenix Film Festival from some of the larger ones such as Sundance and South by Southwest? 

Those festivals are beasts. They’re national, big festivals. The Phoenix Film Festival is a really good-sized, regional festival. What kind of sets us apart from them and some of the other festivals of our size is that our ability to just create a great environment is good. Our festival takes place all in one location because a lot of times you go to some of the larger, and even some of the smaller, events and you often have to travel venue to venue. There might be one venue here, and then the next is five miles away at a totally different theater. I think that kind of hurts the vibe of the festival. With our festival, you’re seeing the same faces all week long. As a moviegoer, you might be standing in line with a filmmaker whose movie you just saw because you guys are going to see the same movie in the next slot. Our festival is super inclusive, and we just try to make it really accessible.

For people interested in learning more about the festival, what’s the best resource available to them? Where can they buy tickets?

You can go to and if you click on the festival tab, you can check out the schedule, buy tickets, and read about the movies. Also, on the ticket page, we have the hours of our ticketing center. All of those details are available online along with tons of other information on the website.


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The development is a rather surprising one considering Akira — which has been in development at Warner Bros. ever since the studio acquired the rights to the popular Japanese manga in 2002 — was as close as it ever was to getting made.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, pre-production on Akira had been moving along smoothly — despite some concerns with the script that were later resolved — and Waititi had been meeting with and testing young Japanese actors for roles in the film as part of a worldwide search for talent.

But now that the project has experienced yet another major setback, execs can only hope that Waititi will pick up where he left off once he completes Thor 4, which will once again see Chris Hemsworth reprise his role as the titular God of Thunder.

Waititi is currently prepping to hop on the fall festival circuit with his World War II-era satire Jojo Rabbit, which he wrote, directed, and stars in alongside Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, and Sam Rockwell. Fox Searchlight will release the film on October 18.

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As Greta Gerwig prepares to debut her sophomore effort Little Women on the fall festival circuit in the coming months, the Oscar-nominee has been tapped to co-write and possibly direct Warner Bros.’ live-action Barbie movie.

Gerwig will pen the script for Barbie along with Noah Baumbach, while Gerwig is also likely to helm the high-profile project, though negotiations are still underway and no deals have been finalized as of yet.

Margot Robbie, who is on board to star as the iconic Mattel toy, will also serve as a producer on the film along with Tom Ackerly for LuckyChap Entertainment and Robbie Brenner of Mattel Films. Josey McNamara and Ynon Kreiz are also producing.

Gerwig is currently in post-production on her star-studded Little Women adaptation for Columbia. The film, which is expected to be a strong contender in the forthcoming awards season race, stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep.

Baumbach, who last directed The Meyerowitz Stories, is also in post-production on his untitled dramedy for Netflix starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple who are getting divorced. The cast also includes Dern, Merritt Wever, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, and Azhy Robertson.

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Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning writer-director of the 2016 musical La La Land, has begun shopping around the script for his next project titled Babylon, which is yet another story set in Los Angeles that will this time focus on the film industry in the 1920s.

While multiple studios have shown interest in the project — including Paramount and Netflix — Chazelle is most likely to bring Babylon to Lionsgate, the same studio that distributed La La Land and ran its extensive awards season campaign that earned the film a whopping 14 Oscar nominations.

Although specific plot details are being kept tightly under wraps for the time being, the film is said to be a drama set during the Roaring Twenties that examines Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies and will feature characters both fictional and not.

Emma Stone, who an Oscar for performance opposite Ryan Gosling in La La Land, is circling the lead role in the film — which is rumored to be iconic Hollywood “It” girl Clara Bow — though talks are still preliminary and any type of formal negotiations have yet to get underway.

Despite the attention that Babylon has caught, though, studios are hesitant to move on the project given its rather lengthy 180-page-long script and estimated $80 million to $100 million production budget, which some execs feel might be too big of a risky investment for their studios.

Chazelle, who last directed the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man starring Gosling, is currently working on two other projects in addition to Babylon, including the musical drama series The Eddy for Netflix and an untitled drama series for Apple’s forthcoming service service.

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