PHX Film Collective celebrates Midnight Cowboy and honors Stonewall Riots

By Tom Reardon

One of the safest things to talk about is movies. If you think about it, even with people you barely know or a family member who you have a tenuous relationship at best, you can almost always find common ground when talking about movies. Sometimes movies push us to look at situations or subject matter from a new perspective and the best films inspire thought, discussion, and sometimes, a sense of moral outrage, for better or worse.

For the past year, the PHX Film Collective has worked to make a mark in our community with a series of events designed to generate discussion around movies. Starting off in July of 2018, the fledgling group of Phoenix area film lovers presented Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb and over the past 11 months has consistently provided local film buffs with an excellent opportunity to see some classic (and potentially classic) films in a new, and dare we say it, educational light.

On June 22, the group, which was founded by Chris Ayers, will show the 1969 Academy Award-winning film, Midnight Cowboy, at The Parsons Center for Health and Wellness (1101 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona 85004) at 7:30 p.m. to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the film’s release, which also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The correlation between the two anniversaries was not lost on the PHX Film Collective which led to their reaching out to The Parsons Center to host the event.


given an X rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for nudity and

the portrayal of both prostitution and homosexuality, Midnight Cowboy tells the

story of Joe Buck (portrayed by Jon Voight in an Oscar nominated role), a male

prostitute and street hustler from Texas, who makes his way to New York City

with the goal in mind of making his way in the world by selling himself to

wealthy women in Manhattan. Without spoiling the film at all (NO SPOILERS!!!),

things don’t go as planned for Buck and he meets up with street hustler,

“Ratso” Rizzo (played by Dustin Hoffman, who was fresh off of The Graduate) and

the pair form a bond that was unlike any shown previously in film history.

The late John Schlesinger came out while directing Midnight Cowboy in 1969 as his longtime

relationship with photographer Michael Childers began during filming. Childers

and Schlesinger met after the latter hired Childers to work as his assistant on

the film. While Schlesinger was comfortable being open about his own sexuality,

he was less inclined to explore the budding relationship between “Ratso” and

“Joe.” In an 1980 Vanity Fair interview, Hoffman told Vanity Fair that he and

Voight realized their characters were “queer” yet Schlesinger did not want to

explore that side of their relationship at this point due to the threat of

funding being revoked for the film.

PHX Film Collective member Tom Samp, a Chicago-area transplant to the Valley who moved with his husband Mark after the pair semi-retired, suggested that the group screen the movie as it is a favorite of his since he first saw it in the mid-70s.


of all, when it was released, I was 12 years old. It would be another five or

six years before I ever saw it. So, my interest was piqued for a while. But,

when I did see it, I was moved by it. The central story, I thought, was

intriguing. These characters were interesting, pathetic, tragic, but also

strong in many ways,” says Samp over a smoothie at The Refuge on 7th



stately, yet soft-spoken gentleman, Samp’s enthusiasm for the movie will be on

display at the event as he shares his thoughts regarding Midnight Cowboy, the Stonewall Riots, and the beginning of the gay

pride movement prior to screening the film. It was apparent, as we discussed

the importance of the film with Ayers, that Samp has a passion for film in

general, but when pressed he admitted that Midnight Cowboy was “probably” in

his top five movies of all-time.


enjoyed the way the story unfolded, but as an aspiring filmmaker with my super

eight viewer and all my reels of film and my cameras and just working on, you

know, trying to be a good editor, I felt exhilarated by the way the film pushed

the boundaries of filmmaking and how it told the story. I found that when I

went back to see it again and again, I saw it a little differently each time.  I just don't think there's one uninteresting

moment in the film, either cinematically or culturally or even historically. To

me, it's the whole package,” added Samp.

For Ayers, the opportunity to create events like screening Midnight Cowboy at The Parsons Center is a key step toward the PHX Film Collective eventually finding a permanent home.


whole backstory is my dream is to actually build a physical location to house a

non-profit indie theater. It seems like an impossible goal, you know, as I’m

not a real estate developer, and when we don't have capital or anything, so for

now it is just a passion project,” says Ayers.

Ayers went on to share that initially, he wanted to find a building in central Phoenix that could house the types of films the collective would like to show, but after talking with a friend about his ambitions, he decided to scale back his initial plans and work with existing venues that might match the films the group decides to show.

Previous events have been at places like Changing Hands Bookstore, 180o Automotive, and the Monarch Theater. The PHX Film Collective will continue to look for venues to work with for their (almost) monthly events. The group welcomes any new members, so check out their website at for more information on how to get involved. w

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