Originally Published: July 28, 2014 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT - When Helen Stephenson first began working up the idea for a Prescott Film Festival, her friends said, "Oh, yeah, look out Sundance."
But, she said, the sensibility that makes the Prescott event different from the Sundance Film Festival has made it popular here.
"Sundance is known for it's dark and dreary (films)," Stephenson said. "I wanted to prove that independent film can be uplifting and inspiring."
That attitude has worked. Stephenson, the festival's executive director, said attendance this fifth time around has been "the best ever. We've got record-breaking attendance, (and) it's just amazing."
She said the ball began rolling with the Ed Asner and Mark Rydell live stage performance of "Oxymorons" and built from there.
The festival programs movies tailored to Prescott.
"We need to serve certain parts of our market," she said. "This year, we had "American Nurse," and the nursing community came out in force to see that documentary that celebrated their career."
Another movie, "American Mustang," was the first-ever sold-out show at this film festival. "We had two screenings of that film, and both screenings sold out," she said.
Diane McIntyre, coordinator of special projects for the festival, credits the cooperation between the festival and numerous other events around town for keeping the festival top-of-mind for the public.
"I didn't want to sell them an ad, and then turn around and have them sell me an ad," she said. "So, for example, with Prescott Center for the Arts, we get a full-page ad in their book, and we put up on (our) screen, throughout the year" - during the festival's monthly film series - "a changing set of slides, advertising their theater productions."
McIntyre said that 226 local businesses are now helping to support the festival, and it, in turn, supports them.
Sunday night, the festival held its awards ceremony. The winner for Best Director was
Dan Hartley for "Lad: A Yorkshire Story," which also won for Best Narrative Feature.
The winner for Best Arizona Film was "Unsound," a dramatic comedy produced by Arizona filmmaker Darious Britt.
Stephenson said the usual demographic for film festival audience members is "55-plus, college educated... and that's what Prescott is."
She added that the festival will continue to focus on targeting films to the audience, looking, for example, for films with environmental or western themes.
"We're not a cut-and-paste of any other film festival," she said. "We're bringing in our audience and looking at what works for our people."
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