During his time in New Mexico, Jon Bowman has served as associate publisher for New Mexico Magazine, columnist for The Santa Fe New Mexican’s arts insert Pasatiempo and editor/author of seven books including 100 Years of Filmmaking in New Mexico.
Ten years ago, Bowman signed on as executive director and programmer for the very first Santa Fe Film Festival. This year, the now institutional outing celebrates its 10th year in business. While the festival that Bowman helped found continues, the longtime local film advocate is stepping down as executive director and turning the keys over to a new generation of organizers. The Alibi took the opportunity to conduct an “exit interview” with Bowman.
The big news, of course, is that you’re retiring after 10 years. Do you just like round numbers?
Actually, I had decided to leave about a year ago. It seemed like 10 would be a nice round number, like you said. A milestone. I didn’t want to go on past that because I’ve seen a lot of arts groups where they’re small nonprofits and they have someone that founds them and then stays with them in perpetuity. What happens then is they never really grow or evolve into something else, because you always have that same stand that the originator brought. It’s good to bring a stand, but I think it’s also good to move on. I don’t want to be one of those people that outlives their usefulness. Or one of those athletes who can’t hang up the cleats.
Do you feel the festival is going to be in good hands for the future?
Yeah, I do. I feel like it’s not only reached this milestone—10 years—but we also have enough national and local sponsorships to weather the storms. And this year has certainly been a big storm. The economy falling out the way it did affected us the same way it did most arts groups. For us to be able to regroup and cope with it and to still mount a festival suggests that the event has staying power.
Has the economy affected you as far as sponsors, ticket sales, both?
Not so much ticket sales. Ticket sales are pretty much what they would be normally. But it has affected us in two areas. National sponsorships, they’re not as plentiful this year as in years past, and then some of the ones that are there are smaller because people have had to downsize, primarily. There really are few organizations that are growing right now. Secondarily, we’ve seen a downturn in the sale of the big passes, the full-festival passes. People aren’t splurging on that type of luxury item. Sales of the [ticket] 10-packs are really robust, though; so I think everyone really is in the mood for movies. They want to see movies, they’re just having to do them on a budget.
What about the business of filmmaking? Did you see a decrease in the number of films made and submitted in 2009?
We had as many submissions as in years past. I was surprised. I thought there would be a downturn, but there actually were about as many. Where I noticed a trend and a change was that there were more submissions that were documentaries. Fewer feature films. I chalk it up to [the fact] that docs are a little cheaper to make—faster, easier to produce on the fly. Whereas feature films take a larger budget. So if a filmmaker had three projects on the hook—one was a feature film, one was a doc and one was a short—they ended up making the short or the doc. Not the feature film, because they just couldn’t get the angels together to make it.
I think the other factor behind that is just that there are more outlets for docs than there used to be. When we first started the festival 10 years ago, there really weren’t many docs that were being shown theatrically.
Looking back over your 10-year tenure at SFFF, what do you see as the highlights?
You know, one of the things I’m most proud of is that, from the very beginning, our festival provided a strong platform for local filmmakers. And we, in many cases, were the only venue where the material would get shown. In the beginning, there were probably only 20 local submissions, I would say. Now, there are like 150 or more. And we’re not the only venue now, so I think that’s one change.
I can’t say that we are totally responsible for that. Obviously, the film industry is robust and state production is occurring and there’s schools and training programs. All those things have contributed. But I think that we’ve done our part, at least in providing an outlet for people to show their work.
Is there anything in this year’s program you’re particularly looking forward to?
I’ve seen a lot of the films. I haven’t seen all of them. I think it’s a strong program. It’s a tighter program than we’ve had in years past. There’s about 130 films altogether, whereas last year we did about 250 or so. It’s a little more streamlined, in a way, but it’s nice because all of the venues are basically within walking distance of each other—except for The Screen at the College of Santa Fe. The Screen’s been with us since the beginning and is actually the nicest venue in town. We’d be really remiss not to use it.
So what’s on your agenda now?
I’m still at New Mexico Magazine, and I’ll continue to work there for about another year. Then I’m moving on to a farm. I bought a farm in Kentucky. I’m going out to pasture! ... I’m not actually going to farm it. There’s a Mennonite family who lives down the road that’s doing the farming. I’ll just let them keep doing that, but I’m gonna maybe grow a cherry tree or something.
We’re going to miss your contribution to the film industry around here.
I’m gonna miss a lot of the people. I’m hoping to come back every once in a while just to have some fun. If I get bored on the farm.
Maybe visit the festival as a spectator?
Yes. It would be fun to see it from the other side of the fence and not have to sweat every little detail on whether the tributee has been picked up at the airport or not.