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With paperwork and database record in order, the submitted films, almost all on DVD, hit a shelf, all in plain sleeves so screeners focus on the film, not any slick packaging. They can grab as many as they can watch and return in 48-72 hours. After recording what they’ve taken on a paper sheet, which Debbie tracks, they go home to grade each film in eight categories, including acting, direction, and maybe most important and trickiest to put their finger on, Suitability to the Festival on a scale of 0 (No!) to 5 (Great!). A remarks field lets them flesh out the numbers, and a quick scan of sheets shows they have lots to say.
When at least three screeners have seen a film, indicated by dots on the case, Debbie sends the grade sheets and the films to Dr. Sheila Jackman, chair of the Screening Committee, who tallies scores and comments, and puts the title in question in the Yes, No, or Maybe pile. Unanimous thumbs-up or -down are easy; when opinions diverge widely, she decides where it goes next – back for more screenings, or for Pat Schweiss’s view. She’s also careful to see there’s a diversity of opinion – asking for a male perspective if scores are from three women, or ensuring at least one younger screener weighs in. Films stay on the bubble until weeks before Festival weekend, when acceptances go out and programming begins.
“By early January,” Pat explains, “we have a great basis of comparison; we know what is definitely in, we know the quality level. Suddenly, some of what we liked in September may not stack up to what’s come in since. Or, we see a film on the fence is in a genre absent from the Festival that we should have – at the end we can take a step back and see those holes. By the time we’ve rejected 600 films, we have a pretty good idea of what works.”
“Animation Evolutions” is the theme of the 2006 Frank Warner Workshops at the Sedona Film Festival, with a panel discussion at Red Rock H.S. on Fri., Feb. 24, and hands-on breakout sessions at the Zaki Gordon Institute on Sat., Feb 25. Confirmed participants at press time included distinguished animation historian, filmmaker and director of the Animation Studies program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts John Canemaker; Disney animators Jeff Blyth, Doug Bennett (Chicken Little) and Mike Blum (Toy Story 3), and representatives to be confirmed from Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky/Fox, and Out-of-Our Minds Animation Studios. Filmmaker and visual effects artist Harrison Ellenshaw, who moderated last year’s directors’ panel, returns to guide this year’s session.
In addition, Festival audiences will see Canemaker’s own animated film, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, which explores a troubled father/son relationship, based on his own life. Festival Director Pat Schweiss calls it “28 of the best minutes you’ll ever see in film. I saw it at a full-house screening at the Telluride Festival, and people wouldn’t move after the film, they just stayed there because it was so powerful.”
The Sedona International Film Festival & Workshop takes place Feb. 23-26, with Premiere Night sneak peeks on Feb. 22. For tickets and updates, see www.sedonafilmfestival.org.