Photo courtesy Netflix/Wilson Webb

By Connor Dziawura

Amy Ettinger sees a problem with film audiences today: Indie gems aren’t as popular as they perhaps should be.

“I wish I could say that the smaller, undiscovered films were as attractive to new audiences as they should be, but people are a little bit myopic or tunnel vision,” explains Ettinger, the executive director of the Scottsdale International Film Festival.

“It’s not meant to be a slam, but there are whole demos out there who are perfectly willing to sit in a movie theater and text and write emails while they’re watching a film, which drives us crazy, but then say they can’t read subtitles on a film.”

Perhaps the SIFF is the answer—at least in the Valley.

For this year’s festival, set from November 1 to November 10, its programming team has tapped a diverse selection of more than 55 films from around the world, ranging from comedies to dramas, documentaries, thrillers and more.

When considering films, Ettinger says the 19-year festival keeps an eye on notable films and sends scouts to various esteemed festivals, like Venice, Sundance, Telluride and Toronto. And all the films selected must ultimately have a purpose, she says.

“There’s a lot of great film out there, but it has to be great film that will make an impact on the Scottsdale landscape,” Ettinger says.

Though she calls this year’s line-up a more accessible bunch than in previous years, with more humorous fare added due to audience feedback, serious audiences will get their share, too. The SIFF will kick off with Noah Baumbach’s highly anticipated divorce drama “Marriage Story,” starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, at 8 p.m. Friday, November 1, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Prior to the screening the SIFF will host a catered dessert reception with live entertainment from the Scottsdale Philharmonic at 7 p.m. Opening-night tickets cost $25 online in advance, and increase to $28 at the door.

“A lot of what we do is try to meld our interest in satisfying a very large and loyal base of patrons who have been following us for years—thousands and thousands of people—as well as luring new people to the festival,” Ettinger says. “‘Marriage Story’ was the top of our list for what we thought would be straddling the fence perfectly with satisfying our built-in audience and bringing new people to the festival.”

After “Marriage Story” at the arts center, the SIFF will move to Harkins Shea 14 on November 2 and November 3, then Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square from November 4 through November 7. The festival will wrap back at Harkins Shea 14 from November 8 through November 10.

During that timeframe, centerpiece films will include “Honey Boy,” a semi-autobiographical film starring Shia LaBeouf and Lucas Hedges as fictionalized versions of LaBeouf’s father and LaBeouf, respectively; Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” a whodunit with an ensemble cast; “The Report,” a post-9/11 drama starring Driver and Annette Bening; Cannes Award winner “Portrait of a Lady on Fire;” Sundance Award winner “Waves;” “Clemency,” starring Alfre Woodard; “The Song of Names,” starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen; “The Two Popes,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce; and “The Truth,” starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche.

The festival will close with “Ford v Ferrari,” starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale.

Unlike other film festivals, awards will be presented on the SIFF’s opening night, to allow audiences to customize their watch lists based on results. Winners—of categories like Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Documentary, Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Leading Role—are determined by the Phoenix Film Critics Society, Ettinger says. And she adds that moviegoers will determine an Audience Award via ballots.

“It’s funny, they oftentimes are pretty close to prognosticating the Oscars, because we usually have some of the films that are up for various categories in the February award season,” Ettinger says.

Though Ettinger says the SIFF’s focus is screening “the best film we can find for every given season,” the impact of those films is necessary, too. Because some films warrant discussion, she says the festival will host guests like directors and ASU professors.

“The festival’s job is not only to entertain or to educate, but to reveal. And, many of our films are just as staggering in their narrative fiction way that this is in its documentary way. We are absolutely committed to peeling back the layers and finding just the most stimulating content for our program as available,” Ettinger says.

For more information about the festival, featured screenings and tickets, visit scottsdalefilmfestival.com.