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After 2020 cancellation, Tucson Film & Music Festival returns, sets milestone

Film festivals are back in action this year, but still adjusting to COVID-19.
Posted at 11:17 PM, Oct 03, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Film festivals are returning to Tucson this fall after a year of COVID-19 cancellations and virtual screenings.

The Tucson Film and Music Festival was back at The Screening Room in downtown Tucson this weekend for the first time in two years.

Festival founder Michael Toubassi admits there was a mix of excitement, but also concern about the delta variant.

“Between audience and attending filmmakers, I don’t think everybody was completely comfortable,” he said, acknowledging that he and the other organizers “considered” waiting until next year for the festival to return.

The show did go on, with some adjustments. The festival required masks indoors except when eating or drinking. It also went to a hybrid model and streamed its films online for those missed in-person screenings.

Toubassi says the in-person theater experience is still his biggest focus. The festival saw a large crowd gather for its Saturday shows.

“It’s been great,” Toubassi said. “I think the audience people that are coming out are really appreciative. They’re excited to be in the theater again and to have interactions and see the Q&A’s with the filmmakers as well as just being out and enjoying the movies again.”

The Screening Room typically hosts seven to 10 film festivals a year. Operator David Pike says their comeback is a big boost for venues like his, because of the audience.

“They notice what’s going on here,” Pike said. “And we get repeat customers out of it. It’s great. It helps us immensely to have these film festivals here to keep this theater alive and keep it going.”

The festival recognizes talented filmmakers from across the country and from Tucson. This weekend it also set a new milestone.

“This was the first time in the festival’s history that we had three female directors for our key films, for opening, closing and centerpiece films,” Toubassi said. “It was exciting to have that represented in the festival this year.”

Independent film producer Lance Kramer arrived at the festival after two previous festival stops in the same weekend, both on the other side of the country in Tennessee and upstate New York.

Kramer’s film ‘The First Step,’ which follows journalist Van Jones pushing for criminal justice reform and trying to find common ground across political divides, had its Southwest premiere at TFMF on Sunday.

Kramer says he and the crew applied to film festivals in almost every state, looking to show the film to as many different audiences as possible. He also says that festivals allow for films without the marketing power of major studios to build a larger footprint.

“Film festivals are really, they have been for decades and continue to be, an independent filmmaker’s best friend when it comes to building relationships in communities, finding out how audiences are responding to your film,” he said. “All these types of relationships and grassroots exposure wind up being critical.”

To find more information about this year's films, you can visit TFMF's website.