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Now in its 23rd year, the Sedona International Film Festival has continued to grow in popularity and size. And according to organizers, this year should be no exception.

“Things are coming along really well,” said Patrick Schweiss, who has served as executive director of the festival the last 13 years. “We’re at about 160 films from around the world and we just found out a few have been nominated for Academy Awards, so we’re very excited about that. And just yesterday we signed Robert DiNiro’s film, ‘The Comedian,’ which has an all-star cast.”


In that film is Cloris Leachman, who is this year’s SIFF lifetime achievement award recipient. She will be appearing a few times, including a prefestival retrospective of her 70 years in show business where she will be interviewed by her daughter at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.

This year’s festival begins Saturday, Feb. 18, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 26, with films and events at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, Harkins Theatres Sedona 6 and the SPAC.

Other highlights will include a cabaret concert with Peter Marshall, best known for his 15 years as host of “Hollywood Squares.” One of the headline musical performers is Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein, whose concert celebrates music in the movies. The Best of Broadway will offer a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber and will feature Grammy-winner Terry Barber.

Kicking off the festival will be Bruce Hornsby, who will be performing his biggest hits from the 1980s as well as a wide range of music since then. An interview with Hornsby will appear in the Friday, Feb. 3, edition of the Sedona Red Rock News.

One of the films that came in late and that Schweiss is excited about is “Good Fortune.” It’s a rags-to-riches documentary about billionaire John Paul DeJoria, the founder of Paul Mitchell hair care products and Patron tequila. DeJoria is scheduled to be on hand to introduce the film. Once homeless, he has vowed to give away most of his fortune estimated at $3.3 billion to charities and nonprofits.

Schweiss said prep work for the following year’s festival usually begins in May when they put out a general call to filmmamkers for submissions. Then, from July through December the films are screened. This year they received more than 1,200 films. And contrary to what some may think, Schweiss does not lock himself in a room for months at a time screening each film. He has a group of 25 volunteers from all walks of life who watch and critique the entries based on a variety of criteria. This group is led by Connie Levinson, Keri Oskar and Denise Strubbe.

“The bottom line is, we look at every film individually and on its own merits,” he said. “The committee looks at each film through the general public’s perspective. If you were Joe or Betty average theater-goer, would you like this film and feel it’s worth your $13?”

Schweiss said they do try and change things up a bit in regard the type of films shown. He said last year, while the films were good, many had darker subject matter. So this year expect some more light-hearted ones such as romantic comedies.

When choosing the films, he said some are simple to choose because of the notoriety they bring with them while some are so bad that they are immediately eliminated. He said it’s the ones that fall in the middle that are the hardest to choose.

“With those we choose a theme that may be emerging or a subject matter that we haven’t shown,” he said.

Now that the festival is nearing its quarter-century anniversary, Schweiss said each year they get more submissions as it gains additional exposure and popularity.

“The filmmakers that do come are constantly posting after the festival and sending us messages, raving about how well they were treated at the festival,” he said. “We treat our filmmakers like they are the celebrities for the week. They’re the ones who are pouring out their blood, sweat and tears — and often their bank accounts — into this product. Because of that, we spoil them while they’re here.”

For more information, to purchase tickets or see a list of films, visit sedonafilmfestival.org.

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