What a memorable week it has been! As a harbinger of spring, beautiful Sedona, Arizona rolls out the red carpet to host the Sedona International Film Festival each year. This fabulous gala was founded in 1994 and has been an annual event ever since.
During this festive week, theater goers overdose on a steady flow of films and live interviews. Just pick your genre from classic or newly released, documentary, history or fiction, domestic or international cinematography. Everyday we enjoyed the stars, directors, and producers associated with the films. For thirteen hours per day – six venues host a universe of events featuring films and live interviews. This week was a blast from the past for me as we experienced the films and the principals that made such favorites as American Graffiti, MASH – the film, and the legacy of Gene Kelley come alive once again. I even got to relive one of my favorite bands from college years past. Grab the popcorn, relax in your favorite easy chair and come take a sneak peek with me.
What better place to hear a legendary rock band like Chicago than in Arizona’s Red Rocks? Clocking in at 50 years old next year, this classic band has produced 36 albums and many chart topping hits. The group’s high energy, persona, and engaging rhythm has secured a place for them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring. This is my third live Chicago concert and 4 of the original 9 band members took the stage in Sedona for three harmonious hours. It was like uniting with old friends again. A real bonus to the festival was the world premiere of the documentary film “Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago”. This film showcases the legendary band’s history from fronting for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, as well as through their many classic tunes.
When we first saw the classic movie American Graffiti in 1973, who knew that the film would launch the career of so many new celebrities. This also includes the prolific director and screen writer George Lucas. Yes, as in Star Wars fame. Amid a remix of classic rock and roll hits, Lucas weaves a story of high school sweethearts – Steve and Laurie, the night before he and best friend Curt are to leave for college. What unfolds in this one night are timeless questions that include subplots of teenage love, racing hot cars, police and youth mayhem, while cruising the town and then reuniting at the local burger hang out. You too can channel your past with one or more of the characters in this entertaining film.
Following the film, we were treated to a terrific live interview between four of the female leads in the movie: Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell To Earth, Fat City, The Blob and 21 other films), Lynne Marie Stewart (the most Beautiful Woman in Puppet Land and many television series including MASH and Raising Hope), Mackenzie Philips (daughter of John Phillips of the famed classic rock group The Mamas & Papas, One Day at a Time and other TV series and movies) and noted film critic Jeffrey Lyons (Reel Talk). American Graffiti is one of the most profitable films of all time. It was entirely produced for less than $800,000. One interviewee quipped, “The amount spent wouldn’t be enough to pay a lunch bill for one of today’s movie sets”. During the interview, the four of them shared stories and anecdotes about their other co-stars in the film including Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford, and Suzanne Somers.
Candy Clark (pictured, left) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in American Graffiti. Did I ever think I would embrace a nominee for an Oscar? How cool is this! And the beautiful Cindy Williams (pictured, right)? The song from Laverne and Shirley can’t be easily forgotten; “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight – schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated”. At least not in my mind.
She was so striking. A beautiful lady in black evening wear at the edge of the red carpet stood motioning us towards her. She announced herself so sincerely, “Hi, I am Pat Kelly! Welcome to my show!” It was an unexpected surprise to have such a celebrity for all the theater-goers that night. Her warm and gracious manner played host to a collection of nostalgic film clips and memories about her late husband, Gene Kelly.
Back in the day, circa 1940 – 1950s, musicals were a major draw for movie theaters. The camera focused solidly on the athletic ability of Gene Kelly’s dancing. His goal was to transition American musical films to themes that distinguish the formality of ballrooms that were the prominent setting in European films. Mrs. Kelly provided excerpts and commented on a number of clips from Gene’s movies. Between clips she detailed his relationships with Judy Garland (For Me and My Gal), Frank Sinatra (On the Town), Leslie Caron (An American in Paris), and Debbie Reynolds (Singing in the Rain). Pat’s career as an author led her to meet and work with Gene on his autobiography, followed by courtship and their marriage. After Gene’s death in 1996 at age 83, Pat Kelly took the role as an archivist with the mounds of history in film left by Kelly.
Later as we dined at one of our favorite restaurants in Sedona, Dahl & Di Luca, we were elated to meet up with Rosemary Rodriquez and her husband Nestor. She is a director/writer with multiple credits to her talents. She is currently the director of “The Good Wife” and “Law and Order SVU” series with Nestor as the producer. They gave us a brief, but somewhat personal insight to their careers. What an amazing evening it was.
Closing the film festival was the amazing Elliot Gould who played the role of Trapper John McIntyre in the movie M*A*S*H. The night’s screening of the film brought back memories of the Korean War and the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital setting. In the interview which followed, Mr. Gould reminisced about his fellow actors that starred in this film that received five nominations for Academy Awards in 1970. The satire continued in the long running television series M*A*S*H for eleven years. The final episode held the top viewership up to 2010, which was only surpassed by the Super Bowl.
It is clear that the resort mecca of Sedona knows how to create a magical environment of pure entertainment, relaxation, and natural beauty. The whole town’s participation from the Mayor, hospitality services, restaurants and locals put forth their full energy into making the Film Festival a success. You can count on us being in Sedona and on the red carpet again next year!