The Red Rocks of Sedona host the Iconic Sedona International Film Festival

Executive Director Patrick Schweiss Gives us an Exclusive Look Inside SIFF

The Sedona International Film Festival was named the “Fest to Impress” by MovieMaker Magazine. Please tell us how SIFF separates itself from other film festivals.
There are many outstanding film festivals in the country today offering film lovers of every interest fascinating and diverse films.  The first element that sets the Sedona International Film Festival apart is Sedona itself.  There’s not a better place on the planet to spend a week watching films.  The red rocks are iconic, the vortex is legendary and the community completely rallies around the Festival.

For filmmakers, it’s the overall experience that is so compelling, welcoming and warm.  Our audiences understand and appreciate the independent film genre, are engaged by the diverse topics and subjects and truly love being able to interact with filmmakers.  At the same time, the Festival ensures that every filmmaker gets the royal treatment, from the film venues to hotels to incredible restaurant-generated meals every day in the VIP Lounge. We hear over and over from filmmakers that they’ve never experienced anything like the Sedona International Film Festival.  Makes us very proud.

sedona international film festival

What can attendees and filmmakers look forward to during the 2016 festival?
It starts with the opening night concert by the legendary Hall of Fame rock and roll band, Chicago.  What a way to open this year’s event! We also will be premiering the new documentary, “Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago” on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.

What follows will be an incredible week of 160 documentaries, features, shorts, Academy Award nominees and specialty films.  Although the full list of films is still being developed, several highlights this year include:

  • a screening of American Graffiti and a reunion of actors, hosted by Mackenzie Phillips (Carol) and Cindy Williams (Laurie), and featuring Beau Genry (Ants) and Candy Clark (Debbie), among others
  • James Franco’s new film, Memoria with Sam Dillon, Thomas Mann and Franco;
  • Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) in his one-man global-warming themed show, Dr. Keeling’s Curve, introduced by his wife, Shelley Fabares (Coach, The Donna Reed Show);
  • a performance by Roslyn Kind, Barbra Streisand’s younger sister; and
  • Gene Kelly: The Legacy featuring his wife, Patricia Ward Kelly

We’ll also be awarding our Lifetime Achievement Award.  The awardee will be announced in early February.

This is the 22nd Do you have an interesting story that has taken place during a past festival?
There are so many it’s hard to select just one.  What might be best is more a big-picture story.  When I first took over the Festival 10 years ago, it was on the edge of failing.  With a commitment from a very generous donor to ensure a solid financial footing and an understanding that it would take time to build the Festival to where we felt it should be, those first two years were unbelievably challenging.  I was literally on the phone for days, the sedona international film festivalpleading with filmmakers to send us their films, the first year taking almost anything that we could solicit  It was a very difficult time and I wasn’t sure what would happen.  But our board was deeply encouraging and pushed me to keep moving.  Every year it became a little easier.  Now, a decade later and filmmakers are pleading with us to screen their films.

We've experienced the full range of ups and downs, but the Festival’s success speaks volumes about how committed our board, volunteers and supporters are and how important they are to ensuring the Festival remains viable and credible.

Is there something in particular that you look for in submissions? Or are there multiple factors?
Definitely multiple factors.  Because we focus on independent films, the budget needs to be at, near or below $1 million.  In terms of the films themselves, we have three screening committees that coordinate and collaborate to ensure that we select a diverse base of films with compelling stories that entertain, educate and might, in the long run, create change in our country and our world.  Our goal is for filmgoers to leave the theater thinking about what they’ve seen, what it means and to stimulate conversation, debate and discussion.  Oh, and, of course, to be entertained.

Can you share a piece of advice with first time filmmakers who are currently in development their project?
Learn everything you can from as many filmmakers as you can by watching, talking, reading, experimenting and appreciating their work, good or bad.  And, don’t be afraid to fail.  If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that the community of independent filmmakers is incredibly supportive of one another.

How is your festival received locally?
The truth is, without the incredible support of the Sedona community, the Sedona International Film Festival would never have achieved the success we have.  It seems as if the entire community is involved at some level: hotels donate thousands of room nights, restaurant owners provide two meals a day every day, volunteers do whatever we ask and offer great suggestions to improve our product.  The largest percentage of our patrons are from the Sedona region and Phoenix metro area and they absolutely love the films, the filmmakers and the experience.  Every year, we are overwhelmed by the support, the comments and the reviews we receive.

Where do you see or would you like to see your Festival in 5 years?
Interesting question, and one I get quite often.  The fact is, we are limited in terms of capacity during Festival week because Sedona is a small community.  Even so, we still sell between 10,000 and 11,000 tickets over the course of the Festival.

So, we have expanded our touchpoints throughout the year by collaborating with other communities in Northern Arizona to present great independent films and we now offer year-round screenings in our own Mary D. Fisher Theater.  That gives us the chance to stay connected with those we know love the genre and to bring in more people to enjoy and appreciate the experience.  We travel throughout the year to other Festivals to meet with, learn from and share with our colleagues and connect with filmmakers.

Our goal is simple: to maintain and expand the depth, quality and diversity of the films we present, and to continue attracting filmmakers across the spectrum, from first timers to veterans.  At the same time, we rely on and very much appreciate outreach efforts by filmmakers and actors who have been here who have helped us attract film industry icons, leaders, movers and shakers and influencers.