PHOENIX — Stepping into Jerome's Liberty Theater is like going back in time. It's a movie theater straight out of the heyday of western flicks, when Arizona was the center of the era's most popular genre.
Nowadays, there aren't as many films made here. But Valley filmmakers Justin Rose and Chris Studenka had created something entirely Arizonan. When they saw the theater, they knew it would be the perfect venue to screen their work.
Their film, Run Rabbit -- a thriller shot, produced, and set in Arizona -- is one of the centerpieces of the upcoming Jerome Film Festival. Rose directed, Studenka acted, and together they created a feature-length film that has held up to studio-produced pieces at festivals across the country.
The film has played at roughly 50 different festivals, winning awards for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and more.
"It played at festivals alongside films that cost one-million, maybe two-million dollars," Studenka said.
But the trio opted to bypass a studio altogether, and (in proper wild west fashion) struck out to create the film on their own, shooting in the brutal heat of an Arizona summer.
"We spent $500 making the film," Studenka admitted. And though he laughed off the cost, worried about the film seeming cheap, the price tag speaks to the trio's accomplishment -- doing so much with so little.
Run Rabbit was shot on location, frequently in the deserts of Maricopa County. Its sweeping wide shots highlight the splendor, and isolation, that such locales provide. The trio pushed through summer heat to bring their vision to life.
"Arizona is a beautiful state," Rose said, "We really use that to our advantage, and really bring out the beauty."
They hope that Run Rabbit will become a stepping stone for future works. And while Rose and Studenka weren't ready to share all the details, they said there's already another project under development.
Before filming Run Rabbit, the duo filmed the short films "Father's Day" in 2021, and "Red Velvet Evening" in 2022.
Run Rabbit will be playing at the Jerome Film Festival alongside other award-winning independent features like Eyes Upon Waking and Bread in the Bones. For a full list of films, you can visit the festival's website at jeromefilmfestival.com/films.
The festival will run from Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 10. If you're not able to make it to the festival, Run Rabbit will get a wider digital release in 2024.
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