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

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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 PhoenixFilmFestival.com 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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Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson save the world in a new ‘Men in Black: International’ trailer

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Men in Black: International
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Sony Pictures has released a new trailer for Men in Black: International, the newest installment in the long-dormant franchise that originally starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, which now finds Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in the lead roles.

MIB: International follows Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent M (Thompson) as they carry out their usual duties of protecting the Earth from the alien scum of the universe. However, things become increasingly more dangerous for the pair when they’re assigned to their biggest mission yet: identifying a mole in the Men in Black organization.

In addition to Hemsworth and Thompson, the reboot also stars Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, and Emma Thompson, who reprises her role from Men in Black 3.

F. Gary Gray, who directed 2015’s Straight Outta Compton and 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, helmed MIB: International using a script written by Art Marcum and Matt Halloway, based on the Malibu Comic by Lowell Cunningham.

Men in Black franchise veterans Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald produced the film, with Steven Spielberg, E. Bennett Walsh, Riyoko Tanaka, David Beaubaire, Edward Cheng, Howard Chen, and Barry Sonnenfeld serving as executive producers.

Men in Black: International will hit theaters on June 14.

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‘Bond 25’ reveals full cast and plot details, but no title, as production begins to get underway

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Bond 25
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In a special live streamed announcement on Thursday, the team behind Bond 25, including producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, revealed a number of key details about the long-awaited next chapter in the classic British spy franchise, stopping just short of the film’s title.

Fukunaga, who signed on to direct Bond 25 following the departure of Danny Boyle last year, confirmed the returning cast which, in addition to Daniel Craig in the titular role, also includes Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright.

As for the newcomers, Ana de Armas is set to join the cast along with Dali Benssalah, David Dencik, Lashana Lynch, Billy Magnussen, and Rami Malek, who confirmed that he will be playing the film’s main villain, adding that he promises to make sure “that Mr. Bond does not have an easy ride in this.”

The film will find Bond having left active service and enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. However, his peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade wrote the screenplay for the movie along with Fukunaga, Scott Z. Burns, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with the latter two having taken the most recent pass at the script.

Production on Bond 25, which will commence on Sunday, April 28, will be based at Pinewood Studios in the UK and on location in London, Italy, Norway, and Jamaica, where today’s announcement took place at GoldenEye, the former home of Bond creator Ian Fleming.

“We’re thrilled to return to Jamaica with Bond 25, Daniel Craig’s fifth installment in the 007 series, where Ian Fleming created the iconic James Bond character and Dr. No and Live And Let Die were filmed,” Wilson and Broccoli said.

Bond 25 is set to be released in the U.K. on April 3, 2020 and April 8, 2020 in the U.S.

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Lili Taylor and Stefania LaVie Owen to star in the coming-of-age indie drama ‘Paper Spiders’

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Paper Spiders
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Lili Taylor and Stefania LaVie Owen have been cast as the leads in Inon Shampanier’s indie drama Paper Spiders, a bittersweet story about coming-of-age in the shadow of mental illness. The film is expected to begin production in Syracuse, New York later this month.

Written by Inon and Natalie Shampanier, Paper Spiders follows Melanie (Owen), a high school senior struggling to help her mother Dawn (Taylor), whose paranoid delusions spiral out of control.

“I am thrilled to work with these incredibly talented actresses,” Inon Shampanier said in a statement. “Lili Taylor and Stefania Owen bring great tenderness and depth to this mother-daughter story.”

Anne Clements is producing Paper Spiders for Idiot Savant Pictures along with Ash Christian for Cranium Entertainment.

Taylor, repped by APA and Untitled Entertainment, was seen most recently in last year’s The Nun, where she reprised her role from the 2013 blockbuster horror hit The Conjuring. She can be seen next in the upcoming indie The Evening Hour.

Owen is repped by McKeon/Myones Entertainment and Paradigm Talent Agency and can currently be seen onscreen starring opposite Matthew McConaughey in Harmony Korine’s stoner comedy The Beach Bum. She’ll appear next in Netflix‘s thriller The Messiah.

Inon and Natalie Shampanier, whose previous credits include 2015’s Beautiful & Twisted and 2012’s The Millionaire Tour, are repped by Chris Sablan of Avenue 220 and attorney Jacob Shapira.

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