“Belfast” (Photo courtesy of Scottsdale International Film Festival)

By Connor Dziawura | October 23, 2021

After a surprise success adapting amidst the pandemic last year, the annual Scottsdale International Film Festival is returning as a hybrid event this November.

Despite going virtual and halving the length of last year’s event, festival director Amy Ettinger says it was as successful as the year prior. Festival planners complemented it with the 2nd Look Streaming Cinema event this past spring.

“It was really a good year for us,” festival director Amy Ettinger recalls. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen with this given festival at the moment — all bets are off until it’s over and you can look at your numbers – but surprisingly we did better with the combination of the virtual festival that we did last November and then we went on, many months later, and made kind of a reprise of 20 of our top-rated films over the last 20 years. And so that was just like icing on the cake.

“The festival itself last season did just as well as the 10-day festival had done the year before,” she continued. “It was very startling. … The 20-year reprise was a more modest success, but it was a success nonetheless.”

This November, organizers are changing things up again. Rather than returning to one long event, and instead of choosing between solely in-person or virtual screenings, Ettinger describes it as a “festival in two parts.”

Now in its 21st year, the Scottsdale International Film Festival will screen 22 films at Harkins Theatres’ Shea 14 and Camelview at Scottsdale Fashion Square locations from Friday, November 5, to Tuesday, November 9. Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination is required to attend; negative tests will not be accepted.

Then, after the in-person portion concludes, 16 of the films will become available online from Wednesday, November 10, to Friday, November 12. The festival is once again partnering with the virtual platform Eventive, and digital ticket buyers will get 48 hours to finish a film once started.

Films vary throughout the duration of the festival, from comedies, dramas and thrillers to documentaries. And their perspectives are many, ranging from those produced in the United States to international projects from the likes of Belgium, France, Iran, Italy, Kosovo and the Netherlands, to name a few.

Among the slated films are the Julia Child documentary “Julia,” which opens the festival November 5 at Shea 14 location, and Kenneth Branagh’s coming-of-age drama “Belfast,” which marks the end of the in-person screenings on November 9 at Camelview.

The centerpiece is director Eva Husson’s “Mothering Sunday,” an adaptation of a Graham Swift novel that Ettinger says has a “phenomenal cast” of Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman. It screens at Shea 14 November 6.

“It’s the kind of thing that appeals to the masterpiece PBS lovers,” Ettinger emphasizes. “It’s one of those Brit period pieces and based on a best-selling novel.”

The Phoenix Film Critics Society will once again vote on awards to be announced on the opening night, helping audiences to decide which films are most recommended. Moviegoers can then vote on the Audience Award via ballots throughout the festival.

Otherwise, this year’s event is a simple, reduced affair. Only one post-film Q&A is slated, for first-time filmmaker Jack Paulson’s film “Peeky.” Other creators decided it best not to travel, according to Ettinger.

The reduction in programming isn’t necessarily a new idea, however. Prior to the pandemic, the festival had been surveying audiences, who Ettinger says didn’t seem interested in things such as opening night receptions or discussions anyway.

“I think that’s probably going to take some time for that to come back,” Ettinger speculates of the receptions, adding, “And we got the sense that they probably wouldn’t stick around much for too many Q&As. They just wanted to kind of tiptoe back in, put their toes back in the water, to watch some films. …

“Everybody wants it a little calmer. We’re not going to have rope lines. Every seat is reserved. That’s a new thing for us, but it’s also a Harkins requirement, which is perfect for us this year. We didn’t want to have throngs of people standing on top of each other, breathing down each other’s necks, and rope lines. So it’s a simple thing to show up, come to the concierge table, show us your proof of COVID-19 full vaccination — meaning two of the Moderna, two of the Pfizer or one of the J&J — and get your wristband and go to your reserved seat.”

Scottsdale International Film Festival

When: In person Friday, November 5, through Tuesday, November 9; online Wednesday, November 10, through Friday, November 12

Where: In person screenings are at Harkins Theatres Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Boulevard, and Harkins Theatres Camelview at Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback Road; virtual screenings are online via Eventive

Cost: $15-$279

Info: scottsdalefilmfestival.com