The 24th annual Arizona International Film Festival runs April 9 to 26 and this year’s lineup includes 33 features and 76 shorts from 20 different countries. We’ve picked out a few gems that should not be missed. By Herb Stratford
1. Many Bones, One Heart
Tucson’s signature cultural event is the subject of an excellent documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes to see how the annual All Souls Procession is created.
Who’s behind it: Director and UA alum Leslie Ann Epperson, who spent several years documenting both the procession and the year-long lead up to the big event, created the film. Supported in part by a crowd funding campaign, the film is a compelling watch.
Why you should see it: Even if you’ve been to the All Souls Procession in the past, this in-depth look is unique and will make it even more special when you experience it yourself.
Did you know: The entire procession is funded by donations. The organizing group, Many Mouths One Stomach, is a non-profit with no employees. It is all volunteer run, and it costs approximately $100,000 every year to stage the procession.
A young girl wrestles with tragedy and family trust issues in this film that delivers nuanced and profound performances from its leads, as they negotiate a budding friendship.
Who’s behind it: Director Frank Hall Green manages to capture a star-making performance from newcomer Ella Purnell and veteran actor Bruce Greenwood.
Why you should see it: Set in the gorgeous Denali National Park in Alaska, it’s the perfect escape from the climbing temperatures outside, and portrays a touching believable relationship that has not been seen on screen in ages.
Did you know: Bruce Greenwood may be most familiar for his recent role as Captain Pike in the rebooted Star Trek films, but he also was the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the animated 2010 film.
3. East Side Sushi
When single mother Juana decides she wants to abandon the family fruit cart business for a career as a sushi chef, she encounters a number of obstacles.
Who’s behind it: Director Anthony Lucero delivers a nuanced debut feature film that expertly captures the clash of cultures and a wide range of emotions as lead Diana Elizabeth Torres chases her dream.
Why you should see it: It’s about sushi, it has a female lead protagonist, and it’s a great character study that resonates on several levels about a struggle that’s rarely seen on screen.
Did you know: The film has been tearing up the festival circuit, winning awards for “best screenplay” and “audience favorite” since debuting late last fall.
- Birds of Neptune
A pair of slightly odd sisters, Mona and Rachel, struggle to find their way following an unusual upbringing and a horrible family accident.
Who’s behind it: Writer/director and producer Steven Richter has assembled a mesmerizing cast that includes Britt Harris and Molly Elizabeth Parker, who are both destined for bigger roles.
Why you should see it: It’s slightly edgy, dark at times and also a beautiful portrait of siblings finding their way despite the odds against them. It also has a character in the film named Thor – seriously.
Did you know: Birds debuted at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City this past January and its screening at the 2015 AZIFF is only the second festival screening.
But wait, there’s more, much more…
Another film to watch out for is Dropkick, from Tucson writer/director Robert Loomis, which follows a group of women rugby players as they fulfill a deceased teammates final wishes. There are also lots of great shorts in the festival this year, like Bis Gleich from Germany that depicts a unique and touching relationship between two neighbors.
* For the full film schedule and individual film descriptions visit FilmFestivalArizona.com.
* Herb Stratford is a Tucson-based film critic and writer.