The pandemic has not been kind to the film industry this past year, yet Chandler International Film Festival organizers are refusing to let the health crisis prevent its attendees from celebrating the art of cinema.
Starting Jan. 21, the four-day festival returns to Chandler’s theaters for the fifth consecutive year and will offer a slate of diverse films for local moviegoers to enjoy – albeit with a few changes.
Pandemic guidelines will require theater capacity to be reduced to 30 percent and attendees will be expected to wear masks and socially distance.
In response to the lack of theater space, the festival has expanded its services by allowing patrons to watch the festival’s 120 films in one of three locations: a theater, from home or from their car.
Some films will be available to temporarily stream online and a couple movies will be screened in the parking lot of Chandler High School, where up to 100 cars can be in attendance.
“It will be disconnected, yet connected,” said Dave Waltzer, the festival’s treasurer and board member.
While audiences won’t be together under one roof, Waltzer said festival organizers are anticipating a boost in participation due to the added viewing options.
“It’s different this year,” he noted.
“It’s odd a little bit, but we’re actually getting more of the community involved in the festival.”
Some local high school students will be showcasing their short films this year and participating in a symposium with professionals from the film industry.
ICAN and AZCEND, two local nonprofits serving students and low-income families, will be receiving a portion of the profits from the festival’s ticket sales.
It was not immediately obvious whether the festival would return this year since most entertainment venues have mostly sat empty for the last 10 months.
While some theaters have reopened during the pandemic, Hollywood has not been releasing an abundant supply of films and studios have shifted toward relying more on streaming platforms.
Box office receipts have nationally been on the decline and 2020 was the first year in more than a decade that didn’t have a film gross more than $1 billion.
Chandler’s organizers had discussed cancelling this year’s festival or going completely online, Waltzer said, but they felt confident their event could be staged safely and responsibly.
The red carpet and afterparty events during the festival will be scaled down, he added, and audience numbers will be regularly monitored to ensure compliance.
Waltzer said it was important to prove organizers could still put on the festival amid the current circumstances and changes made this year may become a permanent fixture for future festivals.
“It’s always good to think out of the box,” he added
“I think going forward, we may extend that virtual option due to the response it’s getting. It may make sense to continue that.”
Chandler’s lineup of films include a wide variety of documentaries, thrillers, dramas, and familiar favorites.
The movies are made by filmmakers from more than 30 countries and some were shot locally around Arizona.
Mitesh Patel, the festival’s president, said he wanted this year’s lineup to be stronger than in previous years and he hopes they will have a broader reach with local audiences.
“Our goal is to showcase diversity, innovation, and uniqueness through the works of filmmakers from across the world in a local setting,” said Patel. “Our drive-in events and online options this year give us the ability to reach more people.”
“The Unhealer,” a sci-fi film shot in Apache Junction, will be one of the festival’s first features screened on Jan. 21 at Harkins Theater and some of the film’s actors plan to be in attendance.
“Danni and the Vampire,” scheduled to be screened Jan. 23, is a comedic take on old horror tropes about a madcap drifter and her undead friend.
Other films are a timely reflection of the turmoil experienced collectively this past year and delve into subjects recognizable to most audiences.
On Jan. 24, the festival will screen “House of Quarantine,” a thriller about nine people struggling to cope with the pandemic and fear getting sick after one of them contracts the coronavirus.
A deadly contagion has ravaged the world in “The Cove,” a survival tale about two characters seeking sanctuary amidst a pandemic, and will be screened Jan. 22 at Harkins.
“COVID-19 vs. Arizona” is a documentary that will be screened Jan. 24 and features stories from local leaders on how they have navigated the pandemic.
The subject of climate change is examined in “Kiss the Ground,” a documentary screening Jan. 23 that reveals how the world’s ecosystems can be salvaged after decades of damage.
More information on the festival can be found at chandlerfilmfestival.com.