“I think this is our best slate yet,” crows an overworked but excited Jon Bowman, the festival's executive director. Bowman, along with a small army of programmers, has been working since the close of last year's festival to nail down the wide variety of shorts, features and documentaries featured in this year's SFFF.
This year's festival features films from some of the best-known indie distributors in America. Relationships with companies like the Weinstein Group, Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Films have helped Santa Fe acquire such big-ticket premieres as the festival's closing night film, Brokeback Mountain. The film, based on a story by E. Annie Proulx (The Shipping News) and directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), is considered a front-runner for next year's Oscar battle. Having secured the film, organizers of the SFFF decided to pay tribute to the film's screenwriter, Larry McMurtry–who also gave us such cinematic classics as The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment. McMurtry is one of several tributees on hand this year to receive the festival's annual Milagro Awards.
Other scheduled attendees include Roger Donaldson, director of The World's Fastest Indian; Maria Conchita Alonso, who appears in the cross-cultural drama English as a Second Language; and famed horror actor Robert Englund, who stars in the filmmaking parody The Return of Cagliostro. Noted filmmakers the Polish brothers–who recently spent time in New Mexico shooting their new film Astronaut Farmer–will return to screen their 1999 debut Twin Falls Idaho and to sign copies of their new book The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking.
In addition to hot indie tickets like Steven Soderbergh's Bubble, Stephen Frears' Mrs. Henderson Presents and Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, the festival continues its mission to present the finest international fare. Last year, the festival began a partnership with Spain's Instituto Cervantes to showcase the best in Spanish-language cinema. This year, the festival has joined forces with National Geographic's All Roads Film Project to screen films by indigenous filmmakers from around the world.
In addition to its collection of Spanish and indigenous cinema, SFFF will feature a tribute to Russian filmmaking. Pavel Chukhray (director of last year's Oscar-nominated film The Thief) and Serik Aprimov (director of The Hunter and guiding light for the resurgent Kazakh New Wave movement) are among this year's guests of honor.
“We have about the same number of films as last year, the same number of venues,” assesses Bowman. “At the same time, it feels more dense, because the programming is really interesting. It is certainly more international this year.” By next December, Bowman hopes to add an unprecedented 11th venue to the festival. Talks are already underway with the French Consulate in Los Angeles and the Czech Consulate to bring a wider variety of international films.
“The public is very world conscious here in Santa Fe,” says Bowman. “There are a lot of world travelers and they are interested in different cultures.”
At the same time, Bowman and his staff aren't forgetting homegrown efforts. “There is a heavier focus on international film,” admits Bowman. “But, at the same time, we have not neglected local films and documentaries. This year I've had so much local stuff to draw from.”
Normally, Bowman screens all New Mexico-made films that are submitted. This year, however, there was such an abundance of local film that he couldn't fit all of it in. As a result, a five-day “pre-festival” featuring all the local work that didn't make the main festival cut was created. “I think it's great,” says Bowman. “All this bounty and surplus is, as a programmer, amazing.”
One of the New Mexico-shot films to be making its “Southwest Showcase” debut is Noah Kadner's Formosa. The film is set in 1951 Albuquerque and focusses on a down-on-his-luck filmmaker cranking out cheap educational films aimed at America's wild youth. Our protagonist's luck changes when he crosses paths with a mysterious stranger on the run from a grizzled bounty hunter.
Kadner, who moved to Los Angeles several years ago, is looking forward to the homecoming. “It's great. I'm hoping that a lot of the people who worked on the film will be able to come up and see it. Of all the festivals I've been to, this is the one I'm looking most forward to, because it's the hometown one.”
Formosa has already claimed several awards at other festivals, including Best Comedy at Taho, Best Director at Garden State and Best Picture and Best Actor at Big Bear. Kadner shot the film in Albuquerque in the winter of 2003 and is excited to finally show it off to the locals. “I grew up in New Mexico,” says Kadner. “It's where I first got into filmmaking, shooting little backyard projects. When it came time to do my first feature, there was a lot of–I wouldn't say pressure–but advice to stay in Los Angeles where there is crew and equipment. But it was important, personally, to shoot my first project in my home state. Plus there's this X-factor that people in L.A. wouldn't understand that shows through in the finished picture.”
Jon Bowman may not be able to explain that elusive Land of Enchantment “X-factor” either, but it is paying off. He expects more than 20,000 attendees to filter through this year's festival. “This is the first year in our history that we have a certified gossip columnist attending: Lloyd Grove from the New York Daily News. There must be enough happening to justify him coming,” Bowman concludes with a chuckle.
The Santa Fe International Film Festival runs Wednesday, Dec. 7, through Sunday, Dec. 11. Tickets and passes can be purchased at the SFFF box office at 1610 St. Michael's Drive. For more information and complete film schedules, log on to www.santafefilmfestival.com.