Given our city’s growing importance in the film industry, it’s surprising that it’s taken Albuquerque this long to work up to hosting a mainstream film festival. There have been contenders in the past, of course: specialized fare like the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the New Mexico Italian Film Festival, Sin Fronteras Film Festival, TromaDance New Mexico and Experiments in Cinema; or shorts-based showcases like the Duke City Shootout, the 48-Hour Film Project, Local Shorts and the late, great Alibi Short Film Fiesta. Those weren’t good enough for Rich Henrich, though.
A relatively new transplant to New Mexico, Henrich arrived in 2007 to serve as a producer on the independent science-fiction feature Starwatch. Sticking around the Land of Enchantment afterward, Henrich taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and founded FilmforChange, an arts community outreach “dedicated to the promotion, presentation and production of socially conscious cinema.”
When, in mid-April of this year, Henrich was tossing around the idea for the Albuquerque Film Festival, his plan was for a 2010 debut. But some locals felt the time was ripe. “In surveying the land, people seemed to be ready for it now,” says Henrich from the film festival’s now bustling offices in Downtown Albuquerque. “So I said, OK.”
With the rush now on to create a full-fledged film festival by late summer, Henrich pooled his resources and started casting about for films, guests and sponsors. “I basically thought that I could plant a seed and do something small and controllable,” Henrich says of the inaugural outing. Sponsorships arrived in the form of Clear Channel Outdoor, Comcast, Citadel Broadcasting, the City of Albuquerque and the McCune Charitable Foundation. Nearly a hundred volunteers signed up to help. And guests crawled out of the woodwork. “All of a sudden, it started shaping into a little bit bigger festival than I thought I would be able to put together for year one,” says Henrich.
Given the shockingly short prep time, it’s not too surprising to see the schedule stocked with a good deal of what might be called “reruns.” The festival will kick off Wednesday, Aug. 5, with a screening of the best films from last month’s 48-Hour Film Project. Thursday night will see a sampler of award-winning shorts from Albuquerque’s now dormant Duke City Shootout. Among the feature-length films with New Mexico connections are Made in Pakistan (which debuted at Guild Cinema in May), American Meth (a Farmington-shot documentary that has screened heavily around the state since its premiere in 2007) and American Waitress (a 2002 Santa Fe-lensed film that’s now a regular on the Documentary Channel).
In addition to tapping local talent, Henrich has been quick to call on New Mexico’s growing celebrity scene. Actor Bryan Cranston, an Albuquerque fixture while shooting his hit TV series “Breaking Bad,” will emcee an honorarium / award ceremony for actor/
Actor Giancarlo Esposito, who has also been in Burque shooting “Breaking Bad,” will attend the film festival to screen his 2008 directing debut Gospel Hill. The drama stars Angela Bassett and Danny Glover and explores race relations in a small, South Carolina town. On Saturday afternoon, Esposito will hold an acting workshop at The Cell Theatre.
Also exploiting a local connection is the festival’s opening-night film, the 1992 time-lapse travelogue Baraka. The dialogue-free film’s ambient music composer, Santa Fe-based musician Michael Stearns, will introduce the film. Editor David Aubrey and supervising producer Alton Walpole will join Stearns for a post-film Q&A.
In addition to the screenings and the requisite parties, there will be several panel discussion over the course of the weekend. And again, many of the participants have a local connection. Henrich points out Sunday’s “The Art of the Film Business” panel. “I’m using Brent Morris, who’s a local line producer, to talk about scheduling and budgeting, and Chet Mathis, who’s a local entertainment attorney. We have Tony Mark, who just finished producing The Hurt Locker, which is in theaters right now. He’s coming down from Santa Fe. So we’re pretty happy with the amount of talent we’ve been able to access in a short amount of time.”
Henrich hopes the Albuquerque Film Festival will continue to grow along with our state’s filmmaking fortunes. Ideas are already percolating for next year: more local premieres, more workshops for local filmmakers, casting sessions for New Mexico actors. “But first,” cautions Henrich, “we gotta get through this year.”