It's a week before the Fifth Annual Santa Fe Film Festival, and festival director Jon Bowman has a problem. Four of the festival's big-ticket films have already sold out. The Assassination of Richard Nixon, A Very Long Engagement, Zapata and Travelers and Magicians have already filled up. Several other screenings are on the verge of running out of tickets as well. All things considered, it's not the worst problem that a film festival director can face. Still, Bowman is scrambling to add additional screenings for eager audiences.
Looking over the list of sellouts, you get a pretty good perspective on how diverse the festival and its audiences are. The Assassination of Richard Nixon is an Oscar-bait indie about a sad sack businessman (Sean Penn), who goes to extreme ends to realize his American Dream. A Very Long Engagement is an epic World War I romance from the director (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) and star (Audrey Tautou) of Amélie. Zapata is a biopic of the famed Mexican revolutionary from Like Water for Chocolate director Alfonso Arau. Travelers and Magicians captures the beauty of life in exotic Bhutan through the impatient eyes of a young man who is convinced he'll be richer and happier if he only immigrates to America.
“At first [the festival] was a lot for people to digest,” assesses Bowman. “Now they've started to kind of get it.”
With attendance rising every year, audiences that have “gotten” the Santa Fe Film Festival, can choose from cutting-edge independent fare in the festival's “Independent Spirits” program, contemporary international cinema in the “Eye on the World” program, eye-opening documentaries in the “Making it Reel” series, films that profile artists and celebrate the creative process in “Art Matters” and, of course, a ton of homegrown New Mexico films in the “Southwest Showcase.” All tolled, this year's festival sports over 200 features, shorts and documentaries: something for every taste.
“Just to show you how eclectic and unpredictable our lineup is, we programmed a film called Baptists at our Barbecue,” notes Bowman, pointing out the uplifting LDS-produced film in the SFFF catalogue. “The writer is originally from New Mexico. He ran a Mormon bookstore. He's been called ’the Mormon Mark Twain.' It's the fourth or fifth best-selling film we've got!”
The Utah-lensed comedy chronicles the frantic battle of philosophies that breaks out when a newcomer moves into a small town composed of 262 Mormons and 262 Baptists. Bowman calls the film “a nice little parable for our post-election country.”
A new partnership with the Instituto Cervantes at the Hispanic Cultural Center has allowed the SFFF to fly in noted director Alfonso Arau as a special guest honoree. Several of Arau's films, including 1992's Like Water for Chocolate, 1973's Inspector Calzonzin (directed by and starring Arau) and the brand new Zapata will be screened. Arau will also participate in an “Evening with ...” conversation and Q&A. The promising new partnership with Instituto Cervantes, allows the festival to bring in noted artists from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. “I've already been approached by two or three other foundations from other governments,” says Bowman, naming off Russia and India. “We'd like to ramp up every year, become more international as well as more local.”
Speaking of local, this year's festival features nearly 70 films from right here in New Mexico. “That's more than we've had ever before,” admits Bowman. “We had 200-plus New Mexico entries. We've never seen more than 50.” Eleven of the features being shown were shot in state, including String Theory a small-town drama from Taos resident Eliam Kraiem. “It's a strong piece of work,” says Bowman, who describes Kraiem as a “rising star” on Broadway. Kraiem's play Sixteen Wounded is currently playing in New York with actor Judd Hirsch in the lead role.
Lexie Shabel is another of the New Mexico filmmakers who have found a home at the Santa Fe Film Festival. Shabel's “cave dweller” documentary House of Rock showed at the 2002 Film Festival. This year, she's bringing her new film VFWbya. The short documentary chronicles the rapid rise and fall of a promising Santa Fe music scene bursting out of (surprisingly) the Santa Fe VFW post. On Thursday, Dec. 2, following the premiere of VFWbya, Shabel will host a “weird multimedia party” at the Paramount Bar, featuring several of the bands from the documentary including Goshen and 100 Year Flood. “We'll screen the film again at 1 a.m. after everybody's drunk,” promises Shabel, who will be filming the party as part of the film's upcoming DVD release.
A sophomore at SFFF, Shabel feels that the annual event is “on its way to being a top 10 festival. It's cool that Jon Bowman has been so incredibly supportive of local southwestern filmmakers. As film festivals try to get ahead, they often ignore local stuff. ... I admire his commitment to show local films and student films, as well as features.”
With its five-day collection of parties, panel discussions, art films, documentaries, indie features, local offerings and even the finals of the Governor's Cup short film challenge, the Santa Fe Film Festival would seem to have something for every filmgoing taste. “[Our program] allows audiences to cue into whatever it is they want to cue into. We're not imposing one festival on them,” notes Bowman with some small measure of pride. However, he adds, “Some people are eclectic and want to experience it all. Some people have bought up to 22 tickets for the weekend. They're going on a moviegoing binge!”
Now if Bowman can just find room at the table for a few more of those film-hungry patrons.