AMFM Fest, the new acronymic festival in the Coachella Valley, might just be aiming to overthrow that other four-letter film and music event in Austin.
Every spring in Austin, any casual scholar of antiquity might recognize—amongst the faces of the SXSW denizens—disciples of Caligula and Nero, stumbling drunkenly from over-crowded bar to over-crowded screening as if commuting between the Coliseum and the bathhouse. The most influential festival in the American West is a bacchanalia, a month-long orgy of music, film, and most recently, technology—where more people show up to drink their weight in locally-distilled spirits than do to inspect the crop of new American film. And that’s why it’s so popular.
SXSW is officially too big to fail, but it can’t resist the onset of trendsetters’ malaise. The festival was achingly cool from the late ’90s to the late ’00s. If you played a guitar or operated a camera, you couldn’t afford to stay in Brooklyn during March. As with Sundance, now that attendance is compulsory, SXSW’s influence may be permanently carved in the relief of American culture, but it’s attractiveness to the avant garde is waning. The cool people need another place to tell other cool people they’re going.
This June 13-16, Rich Henrich and Robert Galarza—who ran the Albuquerque Film Festival between 2009 and 2012—are attempting to capitalize on the appetite (or is it apathy?) of the culture mavens and found a Byzantium in the Coachella Valley. Their brainchild, AMFM Fest (that’s art, music, film, and more), debuts in Cathedral City with a remarkably ambitious slate for an inaugural event. Besides honoring Viggo Mortensen with a lifetime achievement award and bequeathing unto Michael Madsen a stage on which to read poems drunk, AMFM will screen 50 films—including eight premieres (we’re particularly excited about Man in the Silo and Fynbos) and a 20th anniversary revival of Dazed and Confused that will doubtless remind us why we kept the candles of faith burning at the altar of Matthew McConaughey while he smirked away his talent in Marley and Me.
Attempting to enter the saturated festival market is a daunting challenge, but Henrich and Galarza might just be able to get a foot in the door. If you think that the desert seems like a dangerous place to plant your cultural flag in the summer, remember that hundreds of thousands of people already turn out for the Coachella Music Festival every April at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio—a migratory pattern AMFM is no doubt banking on—and tens of thousands of “film fans” don tights and moon boots to combat the Sundance snows every January. In other words, weather will not necessarily hamper this festival’s success. In fact, a modicum of unpleasantness may prove a selling point. If you go to AMFM in Cathedral City, you’re suffering temperatures that those with more delicate physical and artistic constitutions can’t tolerate. Misery, after all, can be pretty rad.
Whether or not the diverse entertainment at AMFM (more than 20 bands are performing, and countless galleries are displaying new visual art and photography—including a never-before-exhibited picture of Michael Jackson) supplants the Roman Empire in Austin, MovieMaker will be braving the heat this year to report on what could be the newest destination film festival in California. We’ll let you know. Or, better yet, come visit us in the desert. We’ll either be lounging in the air-conditioned theaters or hallucinating on the slopes of Mount San Jacinto.
AMFM runs from Thursday, June 13 through Sunday, June 16. For ticket and event information, visit www.amfmfest.com.