Running a film festival during a pandemic is a challenge. It was more so last year, when most Americans had not been vaccinated.
The president and director of the Chandler International Film Festival says they still managed to hold a great event in 2020.
“Luckily, nobody got sick,” Mitesh Patel said. “And it was a really good event.”
This year, the festival returns for the sixth time and it won’t have the restrictions it faced a year ago, which included a 33 percent maximum occupancy in theaters and 50 percent at the after-parties.
The festival, Jan. 18-23, is also returning to downtown with showings at the LOOK Dine-In Cinemas. With fewer restrictions and most Americans vaccinated, Patel expects an even better festival.
“It’s a whole one year of work, and we worked so much this year. We thought it was going to be full-on again,” Patel said.
He said that was why they decided to expand the festival from four to six days. What they didn’t know was that the Omicron variant would have the number of COVID-19 cases soaring to record highs just before the festival begins.
“Definitely, it’s challenging, but I’m a filmmaker and I accept challenges.”
Patel said he plans to offer rapid COVID-19 testing at the theater. And like last year, if patrons are uncomfortable coming to the theater, they can buy a digital pass to stream movies at their homes.
About 115 films were selected for this year’s festival. The opening night film is “American Cherry.” It won two jury prizes at the Cannes Film Festival for first-time filmmaker and producer. It was also named the best film of the Berlin Movie Awards.
The story is about a teen-age girl who must deal with family issues, including mental illness and drug abuse. She does that while falling in love the mysterious boy next door. The movie is described as a psychological romance-thriller. It was directed by first-time filmmaker Marcella Cytrynowicz.
The other films include some foreign entries, from about a dozen other countries. They include movies from Argentina, China, Japan, and a number of European countries. Patel said just under a third of the films at this year’s festival would be from outside the U.S.
Patel said at least three celebrities had committed to attending, but he expected more than that would attend.
Sean Young, star of “Stripes” and both “Blade Runner” films, is one of the celebrities who have agreed to attend. Joining her at Pat Finn and Bubba Ganter.
Finn will be instantly recognizable as “Pat” from the Valley Toyota commercials.
Patel said the festival makes it a priority to promote local filmmakers. One of those local filmmakers is John Badalamenti, from Scottsdale. His documentary, Horse Heroes is one of the films at this year’s festival.
“The film was shot completely in Arizona, in Gilbert and Scottsdale,” Badalamenti said.
He said being in a film festival is vital as he looks to secure a distributor. He had to make a choice to make his Arizona debut in Chandler, or Phoenix. He chose Chandler.
“I like their layout, I like their attitude,” Badalamenti said. “I really like that they feature so many diverse filmmakers.”
He said being in a local festival is extremely important.
“What’s nice about Chandler, local people who know about the film, heard about the film, or are in the film, get the opportunity to come see the film in a theater,” he said.
Patel said the Chandler International Film Festival is starting to create its own identity, and it’s one where people know they will have fun.
“This is our sixth year, and we’re still learning what we’re good on,” Patel said. “What I’m learning so far, filmmakers and people who attend the festival are telling me this is one of the coolest film festivals, and the reason is because our movies … are fun. We have every night an after party. We have an opening ceremony, a closing ceremony, red carpet every day.”
If You Go
Chandler Film Festival
When: Jan. 18-23
Where: LOOK Dine-In Cinemas, 1 W. Chandler Blvd.
Tickets: $15 to $10 for individual showings; $50 for a day pass; $220 for all-access pass
Streaming: Films can be streamed for $8 to $10 per show, or $100 for all shows