Phoenix Film Festival 2023: An Interview with Jason Carney

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Flickreel speaks with our old friend Jason Carney about the Phoenix Film Festival. This year’s slate includes movies about Michael J. Fox, Judy Blume, and (at long last) Nicolas Cage as a vampire!

Q: The Phoenix Film Festival is kicking off with Somewhere in Queens starring Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf. Both are perhaps best known for their early sitcom roles, but in recent years, they’ve established themselves as some of the best character actors in film, mostly in supporting roles. Do you think this is the starring film vehicle they’ve been waiting for?

A: Yeah, I think so. [Romano’s] just a really great, natural actor… And to see him in this film, and he directed the film as well, he does a great job of just like setting the tone, setting the environment. It’s a really good dramedy and it just works all around.

Q: On the documentary side, you’ll be showing Stephen Curry: Underrated. Some of my favorite documentaries revolve around basketball, especially Hoop Dreams. How do you think this film stacks up?

A: I think it’s quite a bit different because you have that aspect of it being somebody who’s already big. You know what I mean? Curry’s perhaps one of the greatest shooters of all time, and so you’re getting to see his story early on from into where he is today. I think it’s a very different film from those stories where you’re seeing guys early in their careers. And this way, you’ve got somebody who’s gotten there. So, I think it’s a fascinating, different way to see a basketball doc.

Q: You’re also showing STILL: A Michael J Fox Movie. Fox recently received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy. In terms of film appearances, this documentary might be a swan song for Fox, who retired in 2020. Should audiences be prepared to cry?

A: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We all grew up watching Michael J. Fox on the Back to the Future movies or Family Ties back in his teeny days. I think he’s a kind of actor that’s very endearing. He’s just a lovable, likable guy, and so to see where he’s gone and where he’s going, and things like that, there’s gonna be a lot of touching moments in any kind of documentary, especially with somebody dealing with the Parkinson’s.

Q: Judy Blume Forever is another documentary playing. Later this year, we’ll be getting an adaptation of Blume’s book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Would you say that 2023 is going to be the Year of Judy Blume?

A: Man, I hope so cause she deserves it. She is delightful. Watching that documentary, I wasn’t sure if it was because she was great or the documentary was great, but it turns out it was really just both. She’s just a great person, and to see her story over the years and so many little surprises that you didn’t know about her is really great and a nice little treat for somebody who you know and read her books, or even if you didn’t read her books, just to see her impact on the world and society.

Q: The festival will be closing with Renfield starring Nicolas Cage. Almost three decades after Francis Ford Coppola directed a Dracula movie, Cage is finally playing the iconic vampire. It’s such ideal casting. Why do you think it took this long for Cage to play Drac?

A: I know, it’s so weird, right? I’m with you. How does this [not happen] until 2023? Seems like it’s a good fit based on what he’s been doing. The big movie last year that he was in (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent). And so now, he’s got this. This comedy take on it, which I think is great, and it kind of plays right into where he’s at in his sweet spot in his career. He’s finally doing the thing you’ve been wanting him to do in some ways, and maybe you didn’t know it. But here it is.

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Q: Outside of the movies, which special events taking place at this year’s festival are you anticipating the most?

A: Film Prom is always a real cool event. We’ve got DJ MattyRob spinning tunes that night, and it’s really cool just to get dressed up (or not get dressed up) and have a fun time and talk about movies and network, enjoy the music, have a drink, hang out either before you go to a movie or after. Another really cool event we have is a screening event with Ben Proudfoot, who won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary last year. We’re showing a few of his short documentaries over the years, and then we’ll have a discussion with him. He had a documentary that won Best Documentary Feature about eight years ago or so at our festival. And so, it’s nice to have him back at the festival, and having this really cool, special event.

Q: What are some other standout films that you’re especially excited to share with the world?

A: There’s this movie that’s called Nowhere Special. It’s a UK film about a man who’s in his 30s. A window washer, just a kind of a homeworker guy. Has a son, and the mom has left them, and it turns out this man has an illness that he’s going to die from. And so, he’s trying to find a family for his son to go and live with, but also at the same time getting to know his son better so he can do the right thing for him. It’s really, really heart-warming, but also just really hard to watch. The young actor in the move is fantastic. It’s a great little film to see. Also, we got this movie called Spinning Gold, which is about the start of Casablanca Records. It’s really got a great cast. Jeremy Jordan plays the lead, but you have a lot of musicians stepping up to play historical musicians… all these great artists that really busted out in the 70s came through Casablanca Records. So, it’s a fascinating story, and I think we play that Prom Night.

Q: With society starting to get COVID under control, theatrical movies are coming back in a big way. How do you think this will be reflected at this year’s festival?

A: I feel pretty good. People that, in the last couple holdouts who actually had passes they bought in 2020, and we kept letting them defer and defer, they’re coming back. We’ve been holding their passes for them. So, we’re letting them use them this year, and I think that’s the last of them. I think people are back. We’re excited to be back in the movies. You’re seeing it with a great movie like Top Gun last year. Maybe it didn’t need to like be nominated for Oscar, but it’s still a great action film and people came back. Now we need to get to the point where people are seeing other films, smaller films. And we saw it a little bit. I mean Cocaine Bear, it was a smaller film that had success. A Man Called Otto also did pretty well, considering when they released it. As we’ve gone into January, once we got past the holidays, people got a little more comfortable, and I think you’re seeing some of these small, sneaky movies doing pretty well at the box office, and I hope that we’ll have the same effect at the festival.

The Phoenix Film Festival takes place from March 23 to April 2, 2023. For tickets and more details, venture here.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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