For those of you keeping track, this year marks the eighth year in a row that Santa Fe has hosted its increasingly popular film festival. It’s no real surprise that the festival has taken root and flourished in the creative soil of our capital city. Santa Fe has long held an artistic lure for Hollywood actors, several of whom call the City Different home. Of course, New Mexico’s growing stature as a filming location has helped cement the Santa Fe Film Festival in the minds of the movie industry as well.
“We’ve been around for eight years, so most of the studios know what the festival is now,” says film festival Executive Director Jon Bowman. Of course, he and the festival he helped found haven’t rested on their laurels all these years, simply letting Santa Fe charm lure filmmakers and audiences. Over the last eight years, the festival has actively showcased important world cinema in a noncommercial context. It has premiered local New Mexican film, new American and foreign film, including revivals, retrospectives and independent productions. Most importantly, it has forged annual alliances with other independent showcases like National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project and New York’s Jewish Film Festival to present aesthetic, critically acclaimed and entertaining films in the Southwest.
“We’ve got a track record,” says Bowman. “I have an easier time getting gala films from studios now. We definitely have a good cross-section. Miramax, Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company, Paramount Vantage, ThinkFilm, IFC, Sony: They all supplied gala films.”
Among the gala, Oscar buzz films showing at this year’s SFFF are Control (a biopic about Joy Division founder Ian Curtis), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (the true story of French magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who dictated his own biography after a stroke left his entire body paralyzed), Grace is Gone (starring John Cusack as a father who takes his two daughters on a road trip after his wife is killed in Iraq), Persepolis (a stark, animated version of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel about growing up in Iran) and Juno (a hard-edged comedy about a teenage girl who makes an unusual decision regarding her unwanted pregnancy).
The increased participation of Hollywood studios is evident in this year’s schedule. “I like our lineup this year. It feels like we upgraded everything,” says Bowman, speaking as a film fanatic and not a festival director.
Although films featuring big-name actors like Woody Harrelson, Sean Penn, Jennifer Garner and John Cusack make an impression in the 2008 lineup, smaller, less commercial films are still a major part of the festival. Asked to offer up his “must see” list, Bowman confesses, “My personal list of favorite films would include a smaller film like Finding Kraftland. It’s by Richard Kraft, a guy who’s an agent, mostly for composers. It’s not about his career as a Hollywood agent, but a personal story of his brother dying. After his brother dies, he goes on a quest to rekindle his childhood. He and his son go on a trip around the world. They ride on every roller coaster in the word, they collect every piece of Disney memorabilia they can find. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a tale of obsession, a quest to be young again--but to not do it with Botox.”
An increase in national sponsors has brought with it more parties (courtesy of new sponsor Heineken) and an even greater diversity of film selection. National Geographic will be back with its All Roads Film Project, which will feature 10 quality examples of world cinema and at least one major world music concert at the Lensic Theater. Bowman is most excited, though, about an inaugural partnership with the New York Jewish Film Festival. “They have a program every year at Lincoln Center. All the films we got were from that program. But we handpicked titles that would fit New Mexico audiences,” assures Bowman. Among the handpicked films are My Mexican Shivah, a south of the border comedy Bowman is particularly proud to show because it is directed by Alejandro Springall, whose 1999 film Santitos won an award at the very first Santa Fe Film Festival.
Also well-represented is the local filmmaking contingent. Every year, the festival sponsors the New Mexico Film Expo with dozens of locally produced features, documentaries and shorts. In years past, the Expo got so large it had to be held the week leading up to the festival. For this go-around, “we integrated it more,” explains Bowman. Most local films will get two screenings, one before the festival open to cast and crew and one during the festival for general audiences. Two New Mexican films, Hearts of Desire and Shedding Skin, have already made it to the festival’s “sold out” list, proving the hometown crowd is eager to show its support. Also leaving a mark this year is Albuquerque filmmaker Scott Phillips, who gets double billed at this year’s SFFF. He directed the low-budget horror flick Gimme Skelter, which is part of the New Mexico Expo, and he wrote the screenplay for the indie thriller Broke Sky, which is part of the Southwest Showcase.
Bowman expects to have “as many sellouts as last year.” With the festival fast approaching, the box office reports about 10 screenings already sold out. Bowman expects 30 or so screenings will be sold out by showtime. But the longtime festival director assures there are still a wealth of opportunities for latecomers. “Even people who haven’t heard of the festival before can come up and see a movie. There’s plenty of stuff for them to see. Even big buzz titles.” Seasoned festival goers know that even “sold out” screenings get opened up for last-minute rush sales. Bowman promises eager viewers, “If they’re diligent, persistent and patient, they can get in.” His commandments for the 2008 festival: “Come on up. Go see plenty of stuff. Have a lot of fun.”