1990: Tucson welcomed the first annual Arizona International Film Festival, a four-day event held in November at the newly restored Temple of Music and Art. Audiences were treated to the surrealist animation of The Brothers Quay and transported back in time by the 1927 feature Wings, with an original score performed live by Jeffrey Haskell.
1993: The Festival reemerged in April in a new ten-day format. Films like Holly Fisher’s Bullets for Breakfast, controversial Sundance winner Swoon, and Hopi Victor Masayesva’s Imagining Indians demonstrated the Festival’s commitment to independent cinema. Visions of Light, the celebrated documentary on cinematography, was a Festival favorite.
1994: The Festival hit the road with screenings in Tempe, Sedona, Nogales, Patagonia, and Sells, and welcomed the Loft Theater as a screening venue. Filmmaker Brian Singer brought his Sundance award-winning film Public Access, and Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca reigned as the Festival favorite.
1995: The Festival celebrated the Film Centennial by again traveling to Arizona communities, and the Sedona visit led to the emergence of the Sedona Film Festival. Workshops highlighted the arrival of digital and web technology. The Festival emphasized Mexican Cinema, and the most popular film was Gregory Nava’s Mi Familia.
1996: Electronic screenings were added as the Festival expanded to public access television. Independent films like Fun, Synthetic Pleasures, Follow the Bitch, and acclaimed indie filmmaker Alex Cox’s Highway Patrolman all created positive buzz, but Ulu Grosbard’s Georgia ruled the day with four consecutive sold-out screenings.
1997: It was a year of firsts for the Festival: Robert Young received our first official award for independent filmmaking; the first Cine Chicano program emerged; and the Festival became available to the online community. Festival favorites included Robert Young’s Caught and the Dinello’s Shock Asylum and Other Twisted Tales.
1998: The Irish invaded Tucson with an expanded program on contemporary Irish Cinema. The Reel Frontier Film and Video Competition made its debut with entries from across the globe. The Unholy Tarahumara, a much anticipated documentary from local filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson, premiered to sold-out houses.
1999: Cine Chicano flourished when Edward James Olmos received the Arizona Independent Film Award and the Grand Cinemas in south Tucson hosted Chicano screenings. The Festival in the Schools (F.I.T.S.) program was formally established and WB58 came on board to televise independent shorts. A Place Called Chiapas packed theaters.
2000: The Science and the Spectacle celebrated the year 2000 with a special millennium program that highlighted the intersections of science and cinema. African-American filmmaker Charles Burnett was honored with the Arizona Independent Film Award and his quirky feature The Annihilation of Fish, along with Will Conroy’s Catalina Thrust, thrilled sold-out houses at The Loft.
2001: On its 10th Anniversary, a special program highlighted films and filmmakers from past Festivals. New light was shed on Chicano issues and cinema in the popular Cine Chicano and Chiapas Media Project programs. Animator, filmmaker and Festival favorite Bill Plympton screened his latest film, Mutant Aliens, and won the Arizona Independent Film Award.
2002: The Opening Night Ceremony served as a special tribute to the brave independent filmmakers who captured unique perspectives of the World Trade Center tragedy for the screen. The Arizona Independent Film Award was presented to New York City filmmakers for their collaborative efforts. Spotlighting homegrown works from Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, and aboriginal Australia, the Festival’s special focus was on Indigenous Cinema.
2003: In an ironic twist, the Festival celebrated the American Western while awarding the Arizona Independent Film Award to First Nations/First Features’ Canadian writer, actor, producer, and director, Shirley Cheechoo. The Festival incorporated the quirky documentaries of Bill Brown, the penetrating work of experimental filmmaker James Fotopoulos, and international work from locations as widely varied as Iran, Rwanda, and Mali. Among viewer favorites were the documentaries Spellbound and Our Town as well as the dramatic shorts Rosso Fango and White Like the Moon.
2004: Cine Sin Fronteras paid special attention to issues surrounding immigration in the Southwest and among union workers and activists across the United States. Pepe Urquijo was awarded the Arizona Independent Film Award for his socially conscious filmmaking. The continued emphasis on Chicano and Latin American cinema at the Festival was matched by strong international efforts from Australia and the Middle East.
2005: The Festival opened with the eagerly anticipated film, How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer by UA alumni Georgina Reidel Garcia. A record number of international entries were selected for The Reel Frontier competition. Cinema without Borders expanded its scope to investigate the disparate nations of Israel and Palestine. The Rialto Theatre and Hotel Congress, two of downtown Tucson’s most historically significant buildings, became new venues for the Festival.
2006: For its 15th anniversary, the Festival resumed efforts to raise border issues awareness by opening with a panel discussion titled Immigration: Where Do We Go from Here, followed by a screening of Joseph Mathew’s incisive documentary, Crossing Arizona. The Festival in the Schools program introduced students to independent filmmaking and continued Bridging Cultures by discussing the underrepresention of certain nationalities and social backgrounds in mainstream media.
2007: Broadening its ongoing theme of Bridging Cultures, the Festival collaborated with the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center to bring Pan Asian Cinema to the silver screen via the eagerly anticipated A Dream in Doubt as well as numerous other features and shorts. IndieYouth, yet another new addition to the Festival, incorporated short films to show this younger demographic the joys of independent cinema.
2008: The Festival commenced with festivities at the famous Fox Theater, Tucson's only movie palace and the site of Hollywood Chinese's opening night screening with director Arthur Dong in attendance. Festival favorites included Rocco DeVilliers' The Flyboys, which won the Best Narrative Feature award, and the winning documentaries Circus Rosaire and Sozdar, She Who Lives Her Promise.
2009: Filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson returned to the Festival with her new documentary, Rita of the Sky, which won Best Documentary Feature and Best of Arizona. International participation grows and audiences listened to fourteen languages (five Native American) in subtitled films from all parts of the globe. Spanish filmmakers were highlighted in special Cine Español programs. Funding from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences helped the expansion of the Festival-in-the-Schools program
2010: Despite budget cuts, the Festival featured 95 films from 16 countries. Winning films included a feature from Iran (Be Calm and Count to 7), a comedy from Australia (Celestial Avenue) and a documentary from Canada (65_Red Roses). The Festival-in-the-Schools increased its youth participation by 20% and The Art Institute of Tucson hosted an exciting Awards Night ceremony.
2011: The Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary and travels to Arivaca, Patagonia, and Alamos, Mexico.
2012: Cinema Carnival opens the Festival with a celebration of independent film on six screens.
2013: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Festival celebrates15 years of F.I.T.S.
2014: The Festival premieresCine Cubano, contemporary films reflecting different views of Cuban life.
2015: Tucson’s new streetcar is featured with designated “film stops” throughout the downtown.
2016: The Arizona International Film Festival celebrates 25 years on the silver screen.
2017: Festival-in-the-Schools celebrates 20 years of bringing the art of independent film to Arizona students.
2018: Filmmakers from Albania, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, South Korea and the United Kingdom attend the Festival.
2019: Filmmakers from 10 countries, poets, and artists celebrate “Words Matter, Indie Film Matters.”
2021: After COVID delays, the Festival comes back with online and outdoor screenings.
2022: The Festival celebrates 30 Years of Independents.