10 Tucson Film Festivals: Anything But an Average Trip to the Multiplex

If you’ve never been to a film festival, be prepared for a radically different and more exciting proposition than your average trip to a multiplex. Here's why:

First, festivals generally aim to deliver films you’d have a difficult time seeing elsewhere. Usually, you’re talking about a brand-new movie that would never be shown in the place where the festival is occurring, or it could be an example of a rare genre that a boutique festival specializes in.

Second, it's not simply the movie that makes this experience unique, it's also the vibe in the screening room. Mingling with seasoned, well-known directors, screenwriters and actors can be truly enthralling. And talking to filmmakers in the early stages of their careers who make themselves available for audience questions is especially thrilling when a film is still fresh in your mind.

Third, fans who experience the buzz of a festival often become devotees and look forward to the program announcements on the eve of their fest in much the same way sports fans view playoffs.

Tucson is lucky to host a variety of film festivals. You're bound to find one or more that exhibit exactly what you’re looking for among these 10:

Arizona Underground Film Festival (September) - Arizona’s only premier underground cult film festival is on a mission to showcase the work of filmmakers with defiantly independent visions. The Arizona Underground Film Festival's quest is to represent every genre of independent film from across the world celebrating the artists and their work. Over ten days, the festival includes narrative, horror, documentaries, experimental, animation and is proud to be the only festival to offer an exploitation film category.

Tucson Film & Music Festival (October) - A celebration of the artistic talent emerging from Tucson, this festival presented by Upstairs Film showcases the past, present, and future of the city's unique music-and-filmmaking scene. Staged over an early autumn weekend in downtown Tucson, the focus is on live music, films and filmmakers with a connection to Arizona or the American Southwest as well as downtown Tucson's superb restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.

Film Fest Tucson

Film Fest Tucson (October) – This homegrown Tucson film festival is just made for those who are passionate about movies. See new and important shorts and feature-length narrative and documentary films. With a focus on presenting work by emerging as well as established filmmakers, Film Fest Tucson has some of the best audiences on the circuit—educated and savvy film fans who look forward to post-screenings almost as much as the films themselves. With top-quality projection and sound presented at unique venues and panels, parties and local experiences, Film Fest Tucson is the place to be in October.

Tucson Terrorfest Film Festival (October) - Welcome to Tucson and southern Arizona’s only horror-themed film festival and all-horror convention. The Tucson Terrorfest's mission is to showcase and celebrate the best of horror and films from all over the world. The festival's focus is on the artistic, aesthetic and fun side of independent horror filmmaking. See a terrifying mix of features and shorts that will send chills up your spine.

Loft Film Fest (November) - Described by Filmmaker Magazine as “geared truly toward cinephiles of nearly every stripe” and praised for its “phantasmagorical programming … and astute choice of guests,” the Loft Film Fest was created as a showcase for the very best independent, foreign and classic cinema. For eight days every November, the festival provides an intimate and unique setting for fans to experience hand-selected festival favorites from Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, etc., and to meet internationally renowned artists from the world of independent cinema. Films are screened at the Loft Cinema, Tucson's art-house cinema and member of the Sundance Institute’s Art House Project.

Tucson International Jewish Film Festival (January) - One of the country’s longest-running Jewish-themed film festivals, one of Arizona’s longest-running film fests, and one of Tucson’s most popular cultural arts events. The annual Tucson International Jewish Film Festival promotes the preservation of Jewish culture and celebrates cultural diversity through independent Jewish films from around the globe, many of them Arizona premieres, screened at the Tucson Jewish Community Center and other venues every January.

Apex Film Festival (February) - A day's worth of independent movies and music videos of the highest caliber. The program features exclusive screenings of short films and music videos from filmmakers around the world along with live musical performances and Q&A panels with filmmakers from across the American Southwest. The films are shown at The Screening Room in downtown Tucson, a 94-seat local cinema featuring independent, foreign and Hollywood films.

Arizona International Film Festival (April) - Staying true to its mission of showcasing independent film, the Arizona International Film Festival has exhibited over 2,800 films representing 95 countries to over 160,000 patrons in southern Arizona since its birth in Tucson in 1990. And now, the festival has expanded to include ever more exciting and innovative films from around the world for audiences from Arizona and beyond. Taking place every April, its programming mixes short, feature-length, children's, documentary and animation films.

Tucson Cine Mexico (April) - Established by the University of Arizona Hanson Film Institute, Tucson Cine Mexico is the longest-running festival of contemporary Mexican cinema and a vital platform for the screening of Mexican films in the United States. The admission-free, four-day festival is promoted bilingually and attracts a culturally diverse audience. Since its inception in 2004, it has attracted more than 20,000 attendees and has hosted more than 40 filmmakers and industry professionals. In addition to award-winning contemporary films and documentaries, the festival includes post-screening question-and-answer and filmmaker panels.

Filming at Old Tucson

Loft Kids Fest (July) An annual affair for more than 13 years running, it's a sweet summer tradition for the little ones, with an awesome array of family-friendly favorites assembled by Southern Arizona’s premier art-house independent theater. Admission as always is free, with activities, games, free popcorn, and wonderful surprises that change every year. Traditionally, Loft Kids Fest kicks off with an outdoor screening at Himmel Park.

A Legacy of Film

Since 1925, the international film industry has relied on the desert southwest to provide stunning vistas and charming locales to feature films of every genre.  A comprehensive Tucson filmography of movies, TV shows and commercials made in and around Tucson and southern Arizona, at Old Tucson studio and beyond, over nearly 100 years is available on FilmTucson.com. For an overview of iconic, early made-in-Tucson films, watch this video:


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