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Hollywood meets Sun City with new film

Documentary to open in Surprise

Posted 12/20/23

A tertiary road that began in Sun City, traveled to Surprise then to Hollywood overlapped to create an emotive, expressive and sensitive documentary film titled “Jewel of the Desert.” The …

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Hollywood meets Sun City with new film

Documentary to open in Surprise


A tertiary road that began in Sun City, traveled to Surprise then to Hollywood overlapped to create an emotive, expressive and sensitive documentary film titled “Jewel of the Desert.” The film juxtaposes the marvels of young instrumentalists with the grandness of seniors who still embrace the miracle of music and the Desert Brass Band they created, under the direction of Charlie Musgrave, conductor and Music Director.

Following a Hollywood-style premier of the film for cast and crew, its formal release to the public will be Friday, Jan. 19, at the Fat Cat Entertainment Center and Theater, 13100 N. Prasada.

For more information on movie times call the theater at 623-231-2610, option 2, or visit the movie listings at fatcatsfun.com.

The film’s Hollywood producer and director Mary Apick fused a cinematic patchwork quilt out of pieces of Sun City and West Valley life. It begins with the brass band and its 39 performers, ages 58 to 91, all from the greater Phoenix area, along with vignettes from the Royal Oaks Senior Community Campus in Sun City, where Musgrave and his wife Toby live, along with segments from Bellview Heights Church in Sun City and the Salvation Army on Avenue of the Arts in Surprise, where the band rehearses.

The film depicts the pluses of learning to play a musical instrument as a young person and the rewards of that musical commitment as seen through the eyes of the musicians and performers of the Desert Brass Band, a compilation of retired educators, former musicians and career professionals who used music to augment their lives.

“The hope is that they will see senior citizens playing at a high-level and it will inspire them,” Musgrave said.  Regardless of musical roads traveled, he added, there always will be venues like the Desert Brass Band for people to fulfill their passion to play music. The band plays all over the West Valley.

The road that led to the film began in 1998 when a group of brass players from the Sun City Concert Band created a new sound under the direction of Musgrave, an accomplished musician who brought a suitcase full of talent with him when he moved to Sun City. He worked as Director of Music/College Coordinator for more than two decades at the Indiana State Prison, Michigan City, IN. He was Director of Development, Interlochen Arts Academy, Associate Conductor of the Salt River Band and conductor of the Sun City Concert Band, just to name a few. He has held musical workshops, composed a song, “Why Only on Christmas,” and has written a book, “Fussell’s Individual Technique Guide,” for all instruments.

On the film side, producer/director Apick began her acting as a child star in Iran and became the first actress in her country to win the Moscow International Film Festival Best Actress Award for her performance in the film “Dead End.” She has starred in numerous theater, film and television venues including the NBC miniseries “On Wings of Eagles” and produced the MGM release “Mind Games.” In 2005, she wrote, directed and produced the politically-charged Critic’s Choice Play, “Beneath the Veil,” which premiered in places like the Lincoln and Kennedy centers.

She recently wrote, produced and directed the animated film “The Cat,” which was an Academy Award contender and she has won more than 27 international film festival awards in Toronto, Berlin and Cannes. The documentary draws on her history both in-front of and behind the camera to create this slice of musical drama. Working without a script, she fashioned a screen play out of whole pieces, filmed by as many as 16 cameras to create the one-hour documentary.

The conductor and the documentarian met in 2022 after Apick’s close friend, Col. Bill Fedor, who is the band’s founder and a member, invited her to one of its concerts. She was so impressed that she used her iPhone to capture the moment. She returned to Hollywood and formulated a plan to create a documentary and then returned to Sun City multiple times, to film not only the band members and their performances, but the people whose lives the band has touched including family members and friends.

The documentary showcases Mike Vax who was first trumpet for The Stan Kenton Band and Karen Moeck whose mother would not let her listen to Elvis Presley. There is ground-breaker Terrie Beltran who took up the trombone when women did not play that type of instrument. And there is even romance, the story of Terry and Linda Griffin, both colonels in the Salvation Army, who met as band members and who still are in love.

The film will be entered in the Academy of Motion Picture’s Oscars competition in the Spring of 2024. Apick also plans to enter the film in 30-plus other competitions internationally.

“Mary has had several winners in the various competitions in the past and she is confident that she has produced another winner. Come see for yourself!” Musgrave said.