Chandler International Film Festival

Reimagined film festival brings both online and in-person opportunities to local and global film fans

The year 2020 has been unforgettable for most people and for a variety of reasons. For the Chandler International Film Festival, it has been a year of growth, opportunity and shifting gears to address the challenges presented by a global pandemic. To its credit, the board of directors for the Chandler International Film Festival have made changes that ultimately bring even more participation to the fifth annual film festival taking place January 21-24, 2021 online, at Harkins Chandler Fashion 20 and drive-in style movie screenings at Chandler High School.

The board of directors is comprised of festival founder and board president Mitesh Patel, vice president Betty Ramirez, secretary Denise Phillips, treasurer Dave Waltzer, board members Rene Lopez, Bill Tirone, Bernard Johnsen, Christine Wenger and Doug Rosepapa, and associate board members Lynette Carrington and Melody King. Together, they worked to maintain the excitement, fun and industry engagement for the 2021 event while still maintaining safety protocols.

This year, films will be screened indoors at Harkins Chandler Fashion 20 with rigorous social distancing and safety and cleanliness measures firmly in place. “Due to COVID, we have less occupancy at the theater,” explains Patel. “We added virtual viewing of some films online, and a drive-in venue which will be better for us as we continue to make everyone safe while attending the festival.”

Keeping that positive mindset, Patel is looking forward to welcoming residents from around Arizona and the world. He says, “We are using social distancing and still having fun for the physical setting for the film festival. We will be safe, but still have a much better experience with theater, drive-in, and virtual viewing, giving many more people the chance to enjoy our films.”

Gilbert resident and associate board member Carrington explains, “I am proud of how the board has sought out inventive ways to solve tricky issues as it relates to our festival. Our board includes a cohesive group of professionals from various industries and every person brings spectacular talent to the table.”

A nonprofit film festival, Chandler International Film Festival celebrates filmmaker diversity of every kind, particularly women filmmakers. The festival likes to showcase films made by those who sometimes feel they don’t have opportunities. Chandler Film Festival welcomes them all. Waltzer, who is a Gilbert resident explains, “This festival brings people from all over the world to Chandler. It also helps to foster worldwide relationships and collaboration within the film industry.”

This year, special guests will include actors Lee Arenberg and Martin Klebba, main pirate character actors from several of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and they will participate in a special screening of the “Pirate of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” with a question-and-answer session that will take place Saturday, January 23.

Patel says, “I am excited to see the movies ‘Tombstone,’ screening Friday, January 22 and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.’ We also have the feature film, ‘The Unhealer,’ partially filmed in Scottsdale and the Superstition Mountains and stars Natasha Henstridge, Lance Henricksen and Adam Beach. We’ll also be screening the documentary, ‘Kiss the Ground’ which has an amazing cast of including Woody Harrelson, Patricia Arquette, Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen and many others.”

“The festival is definitely growing, and I love that,” says Gilbert resident and board member Christine Wenger. “I also love that the entire community comes together to participate. I know this will be a great year and we have incredible films entered in the festival.”

Key event sponsors have been valuable in keeping the festival viable for 2021. Those sponsors include Casanova Brothers Pizza, Desert Car Care Center of Chandler, Waymo, Hilton Garden Inn Chandler Downtown, Residence Inn by Marriott Phoenix Chandler South.

The City of Chandler has also been instrumental in making the festival a success. Chandler’s Community Resources and Diversity Supervisor Niki Tapia has been a big support, and Chandler’s Neighborhood Resources has provided volunteers and printing services. “The City of Chandler has always supported our festival and it proves what we can do when we work together!” adds Ramirez.

“This is our fifth year and even with the changes we had to make with COVID, we feel it will be a wonderful and exciting event,” says Patel. “We are so excited to know that two of the actors from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ will attend and actor and improv professional Pat Finn will conduct an improv workshop. We anticipate more stars will be joining us, too.”

Patel finishes, “We will have workshops and after-parties to enjoy, but the biggest excitement will be to see the films that the kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as the Chandler High School students submit for recognition and awards. These are just a few of the ways that we are involving our local community.”

Local nonprofits AZCEND and ICAN have both been chosen by the film festival as the recipients of a portion of festival proceeds. Chandler-based AZCEND helps change lives by nourishing minds and bodies to create a connected, thriving community. ICAN is also based in Chandler and is a free youth center in the East Valley that offers programming for youth, teens, families and the community.

The Fifth Annual Chandler International Film Festival takes place January 21-24, 2021 online, at Harkins Chandler Fashion 24 and at Chandler High School. Tickets for all events are on sale at   

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