By Kevin Reagan

From cult classics to political documentaries, this month’s Chandler International Film Festival promises to deliver a diverse lineup of films for local moviegoers.

The four-day event from January 17 to January 20 will include 120 short and feature films by directors from 35 countries—with visits by some easily recognizable Hollywood movie stars. 

Free filmmaking workshops, red carpet events, an awards ceremony and panel discussions are all on the program for a festival that’s considered one of the fastest-growing in Arizona. 

In addition to local storytellers, the festival will showcase the works of filmmakers from Singapore, Mexico, Canada, Europe and Australia.

“That’s something unique,” says Mitesh Patel, the festival’s founder and president, commenting on the large number of foreign films picked to screen in Chandler. 

When Patel started the festival in 2016, he aimed to cater to a broad, international audience. He wanted to showcase films that not only entertain audiences, but also educate them about the world’s diverse customs.

“It’s important for people to see the other cultures,” Patel explains. 

The 2020 schedule includes tales about a lonely Korean teenager, an undercover Japanese samurai, an Irish romance and an American boy who battles an ancient witch.  

Patel said among the 700 submissions his staff receives each year, he looks for the uplifting stories that end with some sort of inspirational message. 

His staff tries to avoid material that’s too dark or negative, he says, and attempts to find lesser-known films never screened in Arizona before.

Adolpho Navarro is one of the filmmakers selected to present a short film at this year’s festival.

The Arizona native will screen “A Father’s Fury,” a 40-minute action flick he shot around Chandler and Phoenix. Navarro wrote, directed and acted in the film, which tells a story of a father attempting to rescue his kidnapped daughter.

It’s a great story about overcoming adversity, he says, and responding to unexpected obstacles.

Navarro grew up around Globe, making home movies on his dad’s camera and admiring the works of Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis.

After reading a book by director Robert Rodriguez, a young Navarro realized he didn’t need to be in Hollywood or have a huge budget to make movies.

He’s learned to operate as a one-man operation, churning out several short films each year with limited resources. Navarro says he enjoys having the creative freedom to tell whatever stories he wants and never having to stick to one genre of film.

“I just love telling stories,” he says. “I usually don’t stick to the same thing.”

The Chandler festival is a great networking tool, Navarro adds, because it allows filmmakers to learn from each other’s work.   

“As long as there are great venues like this and great festivals, then we can connect,” he adds.

This year’s festival is expected to have a number of actors attend and participate in audience discussions after their respective films.

Michelle Rodriguez, known for her role in the “Fast and Furious” films, will present “Girlfight,” a sports drama the actress starred in 20 years ago.

Robert Davi will have two of his film credits screened during the festival. Audiences can see his starring role in “Mott Haven,” an independent feature about a fallen radio mogul, or his memorable supporting part as a treasure-seeking crook in “The Goonies.”

Other guests include Anna Chazelle, sister to Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle, and actor Brian Sacca, known for his appearances in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Kong: Skull Island.”

Patel started the festival after moving to Chandler a few years ago and noticing there was a lacking film presence in the city.

He had been producing and directing films in Los Angeles before deciding to flee to a city with less traffic and smog.

Chandler is a great place to live, Patel said, but it didn’t have anything for film buffs like him.  

He says he’s proud of the presence his festival has made in the East Valley and the platform it’s created for unknown filmmakers to tell their stories.

“I just want to have people come and enjoy the films,” Patel adds.

Chandler International Film Festival, Harkins Chandler Fashion Center, 3159 W. Chandler Boulevard, 1.866.727.0093,, various showtimes from Friday, January 17, to Monday, January 20, $60-$220.


Featured films

Here are some featured films at the Chandler Film Festival and showtimes at Harkins Chandler Fashion Center.

“Buffaloed,” 7 p.m. January 17

After getting accepted into a prestigious university, a young woman must find the funds to pay for her pricey tuition. She decides to become a debt collector and wages war with her town’s “kingpin” of debt collectors.

“Undeterred,” 10 a.m. January 18

This documentary explores the impacts of an increasing law enforcement presence along the U.S.-Mexico border by interviewing the residents of one small Arizona town.

“Foster Boy,” noon January 18.

An attorney uncovers the corrupt practices of for-profit foster care agencies after he’s assigned to represent young man abused by the system. 

“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band,” 2:15 p.m. January 18

The life of Canadian musician Robbie Robertson is profiled in this rock documentary that traces his journey from a childhood spent in Toronto to his collaborations with Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese.

“Girlfight,” 4:20 p.m. January 18

A troubled teenage girl from Brooklyn channels her aggression toward the boxing ring to become a champion in the male-dominated sport.

“Greed,” 7 p.m. January 18

The inequities of wealth are on display in this satirical comedy about a billionaire fashion mogul and the poor garment workers who stitch his clothing.

“The Nomads,” 7 p.m. January 18

A Philadelphia teacher introduces his high school students to the sport of rugby. 

“Sleeping in Plastic,” 9:10 p.m. January 18

A dark coming-of-age tale about a high school jock who becomes entangled in the lives of a mysterious woman and her psychotic boyfriend.  

“Blood on Her Name,” 9:25 p.m. January 18

A woman’s life spirals out of control after she attempts to cover up an accidental death and ignore the demands of her troubled conscience. 

“Pull Up LA,” 10 a.m. January 19

California’s underground meet-up culture is exposed in this documentary about a community of artists finding ways to spontaneously create things together within a fragmented society. 

“Samurai Marathon 1855,” 12:10 p.m. January 19

A historical epic about a young ninja who goes undercover inside the court of an aging Japanese lord and must find a way to earn his loyalty before the ninja’s true identity is revealed.

“The Goonies,” 2:25 p.m. January 19 

This 1980s cult classic features a group of young misfits who band together to find buried treasure that will save their neighborhood from being bought by rich developers.

“Ordinary Love,” 5:10 p.m. Jan. 19 

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville portray a long-time married couple whose everyday routines are interrupted by a sudden cancer diagnosis.

“Driveways,” 7 p.m. January 19

A lonely boy forms an unexpected friendship with the retiree who lives next door to his dead aunt.

“Swallow,” 8 p.m. January 19

A pregnant woman develops a strange compulsion to consume dangerous objects and must escape her husband’s controlling family to uncover the secret behind her obsession.

“The Wretched,” 9:25 p.m. January 19

A teenage boy, struggling with his parent’s imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand-year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of the woman next door.

“Slay the Dragon,” 10 a.m. January 20

America’s gerrymandering problem is analyzed in this documentary about how the country’s elections have been hijacked by partisan politics for the last decade.

“Premature,” 12:05 p.m. January 20

A young woman falls in love with a mysterious outsider of her Harlem community just as she’s about to leave for college.

“House of Hummingbird,” 2:05 p.m. January 20

A 14-year-old wanders the streets of South Korea looking for love.

“Mott Haven,” 4:50 p.m. January 20

A former radio mogul teams up with a businessman to overthrow a thuggish building superintendent in the South Bronx.