“Platform” (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Film Festival)

By Connor Dziawura | September 8, 2021

Peoria Film Festival Executive Director Jason Carney sees film festivals as fostering their own little community.

“There’s just that sense of comradery from film lovers,” Carney describes. “It’s not your casual filmgoer, so everybody’s just got this sense of belonging and really wanting to discover the next great film.”

Perhaps that “next great film” will be screening at this year’s Peoria Film Festival, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to put it on pause last year. This year’s event will run from Friday, September 17, to Sunday, September 19, at Harkins Arrowhead 18, hosting a variety of short and feature-length films, as well as Q&As with filmmaker participation.

An opening-night cocktail party at Headquarters will kick the weekend off, benefiting parent organization Phoenix Film Foundation’s education programs. Then, the screenings will formally begin at Harkins with director Maria Schrader’s “I’m Your Man,” about a scientist living with a humanoid robot designed as her perfect partner for three weeks as part of a study.

On the closing night, the festival will screen director Franz Kranz’s “Mass,” in which two sets of parents attempt to overcome a tragedy together. Additionally, winners for Best Feature Film and Best Short Film will be announced.

Common throughout the festival, Carney says, are lighter themes about overcoming obstacles. Tying in with current events, for one, is the Kristine Harrington-directed documentary “Empty Seats, Full Hearts.”

“It’s about a teacher working through COVID guidelines and COVID rules when she’s trying to educate her students,” Carney summarizes. “This documentary was made by a local television station, and so we’re going to be showcasing a longer version of it.”

More “Rocky-esque,” according to Carney, is “Platform,” or “a great documentary about three Iranian sisters competing to become international champions of a martial art (Wushu).”

Then there are narrative features like Jarrett Bryant’s “Maxie,” about two unalike but drug-addicted teens (Miles Dixon and Liv Tavernier) who “form a bond as they try to get clean over a weekend,” Carney says.

As for Tim Dahlseid’s music-based drama “Sold Out,” Carney previewed it as telling the story of “a talent scout who takes an unknown under her wing and tries to help mold him and be successful.”

In addition to a variety of newly selected films — and free screenings of family films — award winners from the Phoenix Film Festival, the Peoria festival’s sibling event, will offer an extra chance to catch up on recent releases viewers may have previously missed.

“Because that way, if folks might’ve missed our Best Picture (‘Trees of Peace’) or a couple other award winners, they can catch them at Peoria and get a chance to see them there,” Carney says.

Programs under the Phoenix Film Foundation, the Peoria and Phoenix film festivals were postponed when the pandemic hit last year. The usual spring Phoenix Film Festival was impacted first, and as summer rolled on, Carney says, it became clear the fall Peoria festival would be halted as well.

“It just didn’t make sense for us to try to put on the Peoria Film Festival when there really weren’t any other community events going on in Peoria at the time,” he explains.

After the Phoenix Film Festival was ultimately rescheduled for last November — and turned out to be “a really small shell of what it normally would be,” Carney admits — this year’s event was held last month. With vaccines now widely administered, it was more of a success, something organizers hope to parlay into the fast-approaching Peoria event.

And it will also be a scaled-down event, mindful of coronavirus concerns. Reserved seating will reduce lines, Carney says, and health guidelines will be in place.

“I think, you know, that really helped us in executing the festival,” Carney explains of holding this year’s Phoenix festival in August as opposed to the original spring plans.

“While it wasn’t, you know, crowds the size of pre-pandemic, they felt really, really excited about the crowds that came out and they were really, you know, just happy to be in the theater again, along with the filmmakers.

“And so I think that really sets us up to be successful continued in Peoria coming up in just a few weeks.”

Peoria Film Festival

When: Friday, September 17, to Sunday, September 19

Where: Harkins Arrowhead 18, 16046 N. Arrowhead Fountains Center Drive, Peoria

Cost: $12 single tickets, $60 festival pass, $30 opening-night event; discounts available for Peoria residents

Info: peoriafilmfest.com