Each year, the Scottsdale Film Festival at Harkins Shea 14 gives Valley audiences a smorgasbord of films they would not likely see anywhere else – many of which go on to strike awards-season gold. This weekend’s lineup is no different, with an eclectic mix of documentaries, foreign dramas, star-studded comedies and everything in between.
While notable crowd-pleasers like the Chris Colfer-penned “Struck By Lightning” or the Geoffrey Rush-starring “The Eye of the Storm” are destined to be sold-out in no time, there are a number of poignant, humorous and unique films that may be off your radar but are well-worth watching. Here are my picks for the five festival films you should check out this weekend (when you’re not off seeing the other impressive fare they have to offer).
Craft (Riscado): From Brazilian director Gustavo Pizzi, “Craft” tells the story of a young actress who performs as female movie icons for private functions, but is in constant search of her big break. Set against the vivacious and exotic backdrop of Rio de Janeiro, this Portuguese/French-language drama sheds a light on the struggles of the everyday working actor. Karine Teles, Pizzi’s wife, co-wrote the film in which she also stars, and won a best actress award at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival for her tour-de-force performance. With its delicate use of a hand-held camera, Pizzi’s directorial debut gives an intimate look at an unkind industry and the immense dedication that may be devoted to one’s craft. (Showing at 1:55 p.m., both Saturday and Sunday). Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTByxrQJubs
In The Family: When a director is called one of the great, new American filmmakers by the likes of Roger Ebert and “The Hollywood Reporter,” it’s probably wise to take notice. “In The Family”, the directorial debut of actor-writer Patrick Wang, follows a Tennessee man (portrayed by Wang) who struggles to regain custody of his 6-year-old son after his partner dies in a car accident. Clocking in at over three hours, this LGBT drama has been praised for its fleshed-out, relatable characters that defy stereotypes, its strong performances and the fairness it gives to each and every one of its players. Despite his difficulties finding a distributor, Wang has slowly been releasing “Family” over the past year and has won a slew of awards at multiple film festivals for his work. (Showing at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday). Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_wUKachuhs
Grey Matter (Matiere Grise): “Grey Matter” is a landmark picture, as it is the first feature-length movie made in Rwanda by a native Rwandan filmmaker. Director Kivu Ruhorahoza tells the story of a filmmaker who tries raising money for his movie, but is constantly rejected by government agencies due to the project’s grave subject matter. The film-within-a-film, entitled “The Cycle of the Cockroach”, is a heartbreaking account of two siblings as they grapple with the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. This monumental Kinyarwanda/French-language film offers gripping insight into the nature of art and tragedy, and received Best Actor and Special Jury Mention awards at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. (Showing at 7:55 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday). Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK1mSaSdFQo
Quartet: Fresh off her “Downton Abbey” Emmy-win, Maggie Smith stars alongside Bill Connolly and Tom Courtenay as retired opera singers in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. Like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” earlier this year (also featuring Smith), “Quartet” is sure to be a hit amongst older audiences, with its comical, optimistic yet heart-wrenching look at aging. Based off screenwriter Ronald Harwood’s 1999 West End play and filmed at the Hedsor House in Buckinghamshire, the film is not be confused with “A Late Quartet”, which is also showing at the festival and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken. “Quartet” has received mostly positive notices leading up to its late-December release, with publications like New York Magazine already crying Oscar buzz. (Showing at 7:20 p.m. on Monday). Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceETtahrwrI
The Sessions: If you’re able to score a ticket for this closing-night presentation, “The Sessions” is easily the film to see at this weekend’s festival. Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and John C. Macy, “The Sessions” is based on the true story of journalist Mark O’Brien, a paraplegic who hired a sex surrogate in order to lose his virginity at age 38. The film has been showered with praise ever since it was met with standing ovations at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. Legions of critics and film columnists have already predicted Oscar-nominations for Hawkes and Hunt, and believe it has a strong chance for a Best Picture nomination, as well. Although some may be turned off by the film’s sexual subject matter, “The Sessions” is a lighthearted, poignant dramedy that, I personally believe, is well-worth seeing a month before it hits Valley theaters. (Showing at 8:05 p.m. on Tuesday). Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy2y7UIpgP4
The 12th annual Scottsdale International Film Festival is Oct. 5-9 at Harkins Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Blvd. For more information, visit http://www.scottsdalefilmfestival.com