The director and executive producer of a short film being made for film festivals across the country found a wealth of talent in Ahwatukee Foothills. Nine kids from Ahwatukee were chosen to be part of the film.

“The Last Dance,” written by independent filmmaker Marcus Stricklin, is a film about an aging couple who at the beginning of the film are seen celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. As the couple shares one last dance together at the end of the night they begin to reminisce about their years together and the film follows them through their lives. The story focuses on commitment and lifelong love and was written as a tribute to Stricklin’s mother.

Sandy Kim, executive producer and casting director of the film, said casting always begins with a good hard look at the script. In this case the film called for an elderly couple and many kids and young adults that would be believable as younger versions of that couple. They began by finding their couple and then sent out casting notices and worked their way backwards to find younger kids.

Nine-year-old Ahwatukee resident Jessie Finch was chosen to play an 8-year-old version of the lead character, Rita, and when her mom, Kelly, found out the crew was looking for more kids to play other roles she mobilized and helped find kids from Ahwatukee to fill the parts.

“The kids at Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre are kind of like family,” Kelly Finch said. “She (Jessie) does so much there, she practically lives there. We’re there Monday through Thursday so we know the kids really well and we know some of them are trying to break into film as well. We knew the physical characteristics they were looking for and we just knew the perfect kids to fill the look.”

Kim said she was grateful for the Finch’s help. Sometimes filling the smaller roles can be a challenge, because everyone wants to be a star and not all parents are dedicated enough. In Ahwatukee they were able to find many kids who had experience through Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre (ACT), a good work ethic and who were excited to get involved. Ahwatukee kids included in the cast are Jessie Finch, Kiarra Goldberg, Olivia and Madeline Smith, Collin Bridge, Jack Walton, Noah Lanouette, Joey Ianittelli, and Cade Hortline.

Stricklin plans to enter the film into more than 40 film festivals once it is complete, including the Sundance Film Festival. He estimates that after about 45 hours of filming the production will be 22 minutes long.

Stricklin said he hopes to enter the film into a local festival in Tempe later in the summer, which would give the local community a chance to see it. After the film festival circuit they will seek commercial distribution. For more information on the film, visit

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