By Lynette Carrington
The Jerome 89A Indie Film and Music Festival will celebrate its third year when it roars into town September 3-6, 2015. Serving as a stellar platform for those in the film and music industries, the festival attracts people from all across the Southwest and beyond. Industry professionals, filmmakers, actors, musicians and film fans celebrate the finest in indie film and music as well as soak in the special mystique of the city in the hillside - Jerome, Arizona.
Toni Ross is an Arizona native and the founder and director of the Jerome 89A Indie Film & Music Festival and she's been enamored with Jerome since her first road trip to the town back when she was six years old. "The road was like a rollercoaster and as a kid I was just terrified but thrilled. Coming into Jerome for the first time was magical for me. I was hooked and Jerome became my favorite town. It was truly a ghost town then - buildings falling down and sliding off the hill," Ross explains. "It was the most mysterious place I had even been. Each weekend my parents took us kids on road trips to discover new Arizona towns. They would let my sisters and I pick which towns we wanted to hit and I always picked Jerome. I knew every inch and cranny of that town. I would climb under the fence to what is now the Grand Hotel and crawl in broken windows and explore it; scaring my sisters all the time that there were ghosts in there. I consider Jerome my heart town, Phoenix is my hometown. As a kid I dreamed on living in one of those funky little crumbling houses!"
In 2004, Ross made Jerome her home away from home when she opened up her own art gallery, "The Enchanted Mission" and lived there on the weekends in an apartment right above the shop. The gallery was short-lived and closed a few years later due to her divorce. She explains, "While I was running my shop, I started thinking about having a day festival up there where musicians would perform on the streets with chocolate vendors and even approached the Liberty Theatre to see about having a few movies play. I wasn't able to realize that dream then but always held that vision in my heart. A few years after the gallery closed, I moved from Jerome. I also visited Telluride a few weeks before the Telluride Film Festival. That little mining town is very reminiscent of Jerome and as I walked through the town and saw the banners, that seed of a dream to do a festival in Jerome took a firm root and I started thinking of doing a full-blown festival there."
After her divorce Ross returned to the legal field as a paralegal for a few years but due to staff cutbacks, lost her job, her house and even lost all her possessions in storage (even all of her art and things from the gallery) because she could no longer afford to pay the storage. "It was an awful time for me," recalls Ross. "My kids and I moved in with my mom while I struggled to find employment. I still dreamt of creating the festival, though. One day I was in the kitchen with my kids and my mom and I said ‘I'm going to do it.' My daughter asked What?' I said, ‘I'm going to start the festival. They knew that had been a dream. My mom asked how in the world could I possibly do that?"
Ross continues, "I didn't even have a bank account anymore! I had faith that God would help me find a way. I did an Indiegogo campaign and raised $550.I set the date. People started coming on board supporting it and the first festival took place in June of 2013. In doing this festival I have truly found that anything is possible, even if it makes no sense on paper. You can find a way to do that thing you are most passionate about if you just decide to pursue it with everything you have."
The festival was originally held only in the town of Jerome, but because the town is pretty small with few venues and not enough parking, Ross knew that she would have to reach out to neighboring towns at some point. This year it happened. Clarkdale and Old Town Cottonwood are small towns that make up one larger community in the area. Clarkdale is nine minutes from Jerome and Old Town Cottonwood is just four minutes from Clarkdale. The two towns will host various events throughout the course of the festival.
The first few years of the festival revealed an attendance over the weekend of about 1000-1500 people. This year Ross is hoping to double that. "Our bands include Jerusafunk, Boxen, The Invincible Grins, Parker Smith, Threefold Fate to name a few. Our lineup is very eclectic and the bands really bring about a diverse energy that we love," explains Ross.
"Some films that I am really excited to screen are ‘Shadow Nation,' a film by George Lynch, the former guitarist of Dokken and Lynch Mob. It will premiere on Saturday night at the Gold King Mine and he will also be performing. That is a world premiere," Ross states. "Our films really cross the gamut. A few others I am really excited about are ‘Myrna the Monster' which played at Sundance, ‘Apocalypse Rock,' ‘Eadweard,' a retrospective film called ‘Colorado City and the Underground Railroad,' ‘Jane Doe' and ‘Power's War.'"
The festival also attracted the attention of Loyola Marymount Senior and Scriptwriting Major, Janette Danielson. When she heard that the festival combined both indie film and music, she realized that she had not one, but two completed short films that fit right in with the festival submission requirements. "I'm so excited to be part of this film festival and I will also be reporting on the event to my school through LMU's publication ‘LogLines,' explains Danielson. "So, I will be having two films in my first film festival, reporting at the festival, participating in a panel discussion and networking with people in the industry. I think it's going to be a busy four days for me!" As a bonus, Danielson was able to secure Grammy Award-winning songwriter, Gardner Cole to score her short film "Troubled Waters." Cole and Danielson will be doing a panel discussion together during the festival at 12p.m. Friday, Sept. 4 at Cellar 433 in Jerome.
"We really have a strong line up of docs this year that I am really proud to screen," Ross says. "As always, we continue to shine a huge spotlight on Arizona films. This year we will be screening nine Arizona features and 56 Arizona shorts. We really have some very solid AZ lineups. This year brings the addition of the train. The festival really thrives to create unexpected and unique events and we couldn't be more thrilled to offer guests an opportunity to experience cinema in a completely new way aboard the Wicked Wild West Cinema Train. Next year we are planning a Kayaking trip to a local vineyard. We're not just a festival; we're an adventure!"
The festival is dedicated to the memory of Ross's son, Trey who passed away in 1997. "The festival is in memory of Trey as my effort to bring something good from something bad. It supports and celebrates all artists," finishes Ross. "This is what I love to do- create an atmosphere of fun that connects people; something I believe the festival does."
For additional information and full festival schedule, please visit www.jeromefilmfestival.com . Regardless if you come for one day or all four, you will have a unique and enlightening experience that has ultimately come as a positive result of Ross's loss and heartbreak.