In "Hunting Lands" (9:30 p.m.Thursday), a reclusive military veteran is determined to escape the complexities of modern civilization, but adversity still finds his remote location.

Well, that was fun. The first half of the 27th annual Arizona International Film Festival at the downtown Screening Room brought some surprises, also introduced some new looks and new voices to 21st century cinema.

On the Arizona Shorts program, Nickolas Duarte's poignant “Jay” became a sensitively told testament to one person's incredible courage just to wake up and face each new day.

The feature-length “Rodents of Unusual Size,” from Quinn Costello/Chris Metzler/Jeff  Springer, had people talking in the Screening Room lobby. The “rodents” are 10-20 pound nutria, definitely members of the rat family, making a quick climb to the top of the Mississippi delta's food chain.

But humans finally got the edge when they discovered nutria can be good to eat, and wearing nutria fur as a fashion statement isn't politically incorrect.

Continuing this amazing stretch of personality pix was “Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story,” taking viewers into the dreams of several New York women fully committed to increasing the Manhattan popularity of neo-burlesque.

Anyone who has longed to be in show business but doesn't have any particular talent will identify with this desire. Neo-burlesque has room for men, too, which would make a great subject for the sequel.

Peering into the second week of AIFF's schedule, a couple of documentaries jump out. “A Sniper's War,” from Olya Schechter, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, defines the life of a sniper who joins pro-Russian rebels in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict only to find himself questioning if he is a soldier – or just another killer; filmed in Russian with English subtitles.

Late Blossom Blues,” by Austrian filmmakers Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer and Stefan Wolner screening at 8 p.m. Wednesday, centers on an unknown Mississippi blues singer in his 70s, Leo “Bud” Welch, who finally found popularity in 2013 when he teamed up with a Gulf War veteran who had a knack for music management.

Single tickets are $8 for each show; $6 for seniors, military and students with ID. A Saver Pass is $25, good for any five screenings of your choice. 

Advanced tickets can be purchased online at Marketing and Development Director Mia Schnaible says only half the tickets for each show will be sold in advance, so there will always be tickets on sale one hour before each screening.

But don't do the Tucson thing and show up five minutes before the movie starts,” says Schnaible. “Those tickets might be gone." There have already been several sold-out screenings.


We live in violent times and the line-up of dramatic features at this year's AIFF reflect that condition. Conflict and murder are recurring topics in both documentaries and dramatic features.

One sunny exception last week was Irish filmmaker Laim O Mochain's “Lost&Found"   This is a delightful film, a five star must-see experience not to be missed.

That is, if it gets picked up for U.S. distribution. Mochain expects to get good play in Ireland, but will some American distributor see the profit in making “Lost & Found” an art house antidote to that endless stream of big studio special effects comic book flicks?

Follow this film's future on the internet.

Another audience favorite was “Elvis Walks Home.” Although it is set in the 1990s during a time of war in the Balkans, the story is full of heart. Albanian director Fatmir Koci imagines an Albanian performer doing an Elvis act, wearing that signature white jump suit to entertain the troops.

But in a confusing passport check, he doesn't have the proper papers and, fleeing authorities, gets trapped in the actual war zone, still in full Elvis costume carrying only his guitar.

Soon enough he is taken hostage by a well-armed but equally lost group of teens and kids desperate to reach the safety of a UN camp.

The picture has a powerful message of trust and some biting comments on the nature of fame.

Both sides in this war love Elvis, but hey, can that possibly be more important than trying to kill soldiers from the other side?

Once again, getting national distribution and having a chance to see “Elvis Walks Home” at the local multi-plex is uncertain.

For the second week of this AIFF there are six more dramatic features scheduled. All contain a twist of intrigue, ranging from the aforementioned “MexMan” to Saturday's 7 p.m. screening of “You Go To My Head" by Belgian director Dimitri de Clercq, filming in English, French and Flemish with English subtitles.

Set in a desolate stretch of the Sahara, a reclusive architect discovers a beautiful woman wandering lost in the desert, suffering from post-traumatic amnesia.

As he cares for her recuperation, he also invents in his own mind an elaborate life they can share.