Thirteen feels like it’s going to be a lucky number for the Sedona International Film Festival & Workshop. Now in its third year under executive director Patrick Schweiss, you get the feeling the annual celebration of independent films, launched in 1994, is coming of age. It’s evident in the new corporate sponsors, cash prizes for filmmakers, closer ties with leading independent film studios in Hollywood, and the films that have found success after screening here displaying the seal of Sedona approval on DVD cases and posters. In another unmistakable sign of growth, this year the festival is adding a fifth full day, starting on Wed., Feb. 28 and running through Sun., March 4.
The festival’s energy derives from the people who’ve made it their passion. Sedona Monthly sat down for a roundtable chat with six of those who’ve helped make the festival what it was, is, and will be: Schweiss; board secretary and co-founder Marion Herrman; board chair Dr. Sheila Jackman; longtime film screener and major donor Connie Levinson; film screening co-chair Sagan Lewis; and operations director Debbie Williams. What follows is an unedited version of our conversation, held Nov. 14, 2006, at Sedona Rouge Resort & Spa (2250 W. Hwy 89A).
Sedona Monthly: Let’s begin at the beginning, and talk about how the Festival began.
Marion Herrman: It started as a fund-raiser for the Sedona Cultural Park. What had happened was I went to a meeting and I had suggested doing a retrospective of Ann Miller’s films, she was living in Sedona at the time, and from there it grew. Somebody said, Oh, I know somebody who’s connected to the Tucson Film Festival, and he goes to Sundance every year, and somebody, I forget now who it was, connected me to this gentleman from Tucson. He gave me some phone number to call, and lo and behold, I got tickets to the Sundance Film Festival. We knew nothing, we knew absolutely nothing [about film festivals].
How many people were involved at this point?
Marion: There were about four of us left who started it. It was Laurie Seymour, Pinky Greenberg, Sherlynn Hiatt who was my companion, and myself. And Sherlynn and I went to Sundance, I think we were the oldest people there.
This is…what year?
Marion: 1994. So what we did was we networked like crazy. We went to all the parties, and we met all these movie stars, and we went to every event and talked to a lot of people, and just got a feel of how it’s done. And even in Sundance, it’s not done – I don’t know how it is now – but it was done all over town, they have their old Egyptian Theatre, which is one of these real old-fashioned movie theatres, and they have it in school auditorium, and a hotel ballroom, and they had a complex of I think three theatres. And that was it, so you had to dash all over town for every film you went to. And each place you’d meet someone new everywhere you’d go. It was fun and we really got a feeling for it.
Laurie Seymour, who was actually in the film industry, she had come from California and she had directed and she had acted, and she had done almost everything there is, so we made her the chairperson. And our first film festival was all over town, there was no Harkins Theatre. It was at Cinedona, Flicker Shack, the Poco Diablo Ballroom, and there was the sort-of theatre in the Sedona Arts Center. And so it was all over town. And poor Pinky Greenberg, who was busy collecting the money, had to make the rounds of all these places. For the two days we did it, actually, maybe it was only one day the first year.