SEDONA — Watching a movie is like taking a two-hour vacation, Patrick Schweiss says.
For Schweiss, life has been one big holiday since he took over as executive director of the Sedona International Film Festival in July 2004.
“I love how movies make you feel,” he says. “I love the escape for 90-120 minutes and the fact that movies can take you away into another place. I love being inspired, entertained, uplifted, motivated and moved by movies. And I love the communal experience of getting to see movies the way they were meant to be seen: on the big screen in a dark theater surrounded by other movie lovers.”
A self-proclaimed “Hollywood geek,” Schweiss loves the nostalgia of movies as well as the movie house experience.
“Plus, I get easily star-struck – and sometimes tongue-tied – when I meet some of our honorees and special guests here for the festival,” he says.
King of Sedona
Tell Schweiss that he is like the Robert Osborne of the Sedona International Film Festival, and he’ll giggle almost shyly. That’s because meeting the late-Turner Classic Movies icon is one of Schweiss’ career highlights.
“One of his dear friends lived here in Sedona and reached out to see if Robert would come to our festival and host some classic films,” Schweiss recalls. “Robert called me personally and asked me to come meet him for lunch when I was in New York and we could work out the details.”
Schweiss would not just become business associates with Osborne. The two became friends.
“What sprang from that day was a beautiful friendship with someone I consider a legend in the film world,” Schweiss says. “He invited me to join him at the Port Townsend Film Festival in Washington as his special guest. And he became a regular here at our festival for several years after that, until his health started failing and he wasn’t doing much traveling anymore.”
With the smile of a Cheshire cat, Schweiss remembers that Osborne used to call him the King of Sedona.
“His dear friend Peter Simpson ran the Port Townsend Film Festival, and I ran the Sedona Film Festival,” Schweiss says. “With our initials, we were his two favorite P.S.’s.” He was a gentleman and a gifted movie historian. And he opened his connections to us and brought us other celebrity honorees. He was a humble presence and a dear, dear friend of our festival and of me, personally.”
Day in the life of Pat Schweiss
Patrick likes to listen to his movie-goers, likes to hear their reactions as they leave a film or SIFF event. It’s how he knows people are having a good time.
“My favorite thing to do is to stand in the back of the theatre and hear the audience respond to certain moments in a movie, whether it is laughter, shock, fear,” Schweiss says. “And I love when a film is so powerful that you can hear a pin drop as the credits roll and no one wants to leave their seat. On the other hand, I love when a film makes an audience burst into applause as the credits start to roll.”
It’s the festival’s patrons, members, donors, sponsors who Schweiss says are so supportive and grateful for the culture SIFF brings to Sedona and the Verde Valley.
“Getting to see everyone here at the theatre and at the festival and hosting the Q&A discussions after the films are truly favorite parts of my job,” Schweiss says.
There’s more to being executive director at SIFF than bathing in the reactions of the folks who watch the movies. Schweiss requests films from distributors and filmmakers, reads movie reviews of the latest indie films, books films and coordinates films for the annual festival, writes press releases about upcoming films and events; updates the SIFF website and creates the ticketing links for the films.
“There is something new here all the time, and that variety is also one of the reasons I love my work,” Schweiss says. “In fact, I don’t consider it work at all. I get to come play in this wonderful film and event world every day.”
One of a kind
Sedona International Film Festival is much more than a nine-day film festival in February. Closed on major holidays, SIFF shows movies each day, twice a day, at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre. Opened in spring 2012, Mary D. Fisher Theatre shows feature films from around the world, as well as on-screen operas, ballets, Shakespeare productions, London West End and Broadway productions, live shows, and simulcast events.
“We’ve become known as the Cultural Heart of Sedona (as named by our members) and are the largest member-supported organization in Sedona,” Schweiss says. “We are very fortunate to have the support of our incredible members, sponsors, donors, patrons and this incredible community and area.”
Chair of the Sedona International Film Festival’s board of directors, Chuck Marr says that Schweiss worked long and hard at bringing independent films to Sedona’s movie lovers since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, Pat’s first question was ‘how do we keep our members engaged?’ said Marr, who has been on the SIFF board for the past two years. “He contacted almost all of the festival’s shorts filmmakers to ask if they would donate their films to our members. Almost all said ‘definitely yes.’”
Patty Herrman Juda is vice-chair of the SIFF board of directors. Her mother Marion Herrman who was one of the founders of the festival.
Juda calls Pat a dynamo, a born showman who loves what he does.
“Because of that, everyone loves him,” Juda says. “Filmmakers comment on how amazing it is to hear directly from Patrick when their film has been accepted into the festival. That is not something that happens often in the industry. He is a hands-on director who is creative, sincere and hardworking. To watch him host a movie, a celebrity guest, a fundraiser or an award ceremony, you can sense that he is in his element, a natural entertainer who truly loves his job.”