At this point, New Mexico had better get good and used to its relationship with Hollywood. Because right now--with Steven Seagal shooting a movie near UNM, the Terminator TV spin-off “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” getting underway and a $70 million film studio being built on Mesa del Sol--it shows no signs of slowing down. As a result of this burgeoning relationship, it’s no surprise to see the Santa Fe Film Festival bursting at the seams for its seventh annual incarnation.
Though officially scheduled to take place Dec. 6-10, the SFFF has already jumped the gun, hosting the New Mexico Film Expo, a special 5-day pre-festival festival of some 60 New Mexico-made shorts and features. The New Mexico Expo wraps up on Tuesday, Dec. 5, just in time to make way for opening night of the Santa Fe Film Festival proper.
“Ticket sales are 20 to 30 percent ahead of last year,” notes the festival’s exhausted but very pleased executive director Jon Bowman. “We’re predicting over 20,000 seats sold.” Bowman figures there are several factors fueling this year’s sales boom. Among them is the selection of higher profile film premieres, such as the shot-in-New-Mexico drama Astronaut Farmer starring Billy Bob Thornton. The Polish brothers, who wrote and directed the film, will even be back in New Mexico to present it.
Of course, that’s not the only big sneak preview in 2006. This year’s opening night film is Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a lavish adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s literary thriller by German director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run). This year, in fact, a major studio release is scheduled for every night of the festival. On Thursday, it’s another literary adaptation--W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. Friday night’s Centerpiece Film is Miss Potter, a biopic about Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter starring Renée Zellweger. Saturday night, the festival offers up a gala premiere of Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Volver. The festival wraps on Sunday with its closing night film, the British romance Venus starring Peter O’Toole and Vanessa Redgrave.
Hollywood movie studios have proved increasingly eager to contribute films because, as Bowman puts it, “New Mexico is on the map. A lot more studios are aware of us because of a lot more film production [in state]. We’re definitely enjoying the spillover from that.” Plus, Bowman admits, “Studios have also started to realize we’re the only major film festival in the month of December. If you’ve got an Oscar-bait film in this timeslot there are not a lot of places to show that off.”
Of course, between those gala Hollywood premieres are dozens of independent comedies, dramas, documentaries and short film from around the world. The 2006 Festival received nearly 1,000 submissions, somehow shrinking that vast pool down to a mere 120 features and several dozen shorts. There are features by local filmmakers: Aaron Hendron’s dark comedy Faithful and the Foul and Lexie Shabel’s We Like to Drink, We Like to Play Rock ’n’ Roll, a musical documentary about the Unband. There are New Mexico-shot flicks: the Guy Pearce thriller First Snow and the female-centric Western Far Side of Jericho. There are films from Brazil (the animated fable Happy Cricket), from Korea (the energetic monster movie The Host), from Turkey (the Antonioni-esque drama Climates) and from Mongolia (Cave of the Yellow Dog, a follow-up from the makers of Story of the Weeping Camel). There are, at certain points in the festival, opportunities to choose between nine different films screening from one end of Santa Fe (DeVargas Theater) to the other (College of Santa Fe).
As if that weren’t enough, this year marks the first full partnership with National Geographic’s All Roads Film Festival. This exciting multicultural showcase has played in past years in Washington D.C., New York, Vancouver and New Zealand. This adjunct festival will present 15 programs of roughly 35 films from around the globe--all pertaining to indigenous cultures. About 15 filmmakers from around the world will be in attendance, showing off their work and chatting with audiences.
In addition to the traditional, passive, butt-in-seat approach to film festival programming, this year’s SFFF will also have a rather active slate of panels and workshops. The All Roads Film Project will present discussions on “Traditional Storytelling Through Film” and “Culture Through the Digital Medium.” The local branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts will be on hand offering four days worth of hands-on film labs, covering topics from editing to Internet distribution of movies to the business of acting. These workshops are geared toward working filmmakers as well people interested in getting into the expanding industry.
Organizers of this year’s festival are even putting their guests to work, offering a special first-
Of course, if you’re interested in getting into any of these myriad films, discussions, workshops or parties (oh, yes, there are parties), you’d best act quickly. The box office has already sold out a dozen screenings, well ahead of schedule--a fact that the executive director chalks up to the festival’s expanding local profile. SFFF has always seen strong support from northern New Mexico residents, of course, but this year the largest element of growth is coming from the Albuquerque area. “After all these years,” says Bowman, “Albuquerque is starting to realize it may be called the Santa Fe Film Festival, but it’s a statewide resource.”