Bowman takes a bow
Santa Fe Film Festival at 10
The Santa Fe Film Festival is celebrating the big 10 with another five-day fest of films and film-related events (including panels, workshops, and parties). The fest kicked off onWednesday, Dec. 2, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 6, at various venues around Santa Fe. The fest is going easy this time around, cutting back on the number of film titles— from last year’s 210 or so to about 135 this year— and streamlining its budget in an effort to stay lean and healthy as it heads into its second decade.
The festival began as the Cinema Santa Fe Film Festival in 1999 and was taken over the following year by Jon Bowman, one of the founders of that earlier version of the fest and executive director of the Santa Fe Film Festival since 2000. It’s known for its shotgun approach to programming (quantity sometimes overrides quality) and for its openness, with visiting filmmakers happily rubbing shoulders with audience members, bartenders, and celebrities. This year the fest honors actorsWes Studi and Tommy Lee Jones, cinematographer Ellen Kuras, and director Mark Rydell. The festival celebrates the careers of this quartet at its annual Milagro Awards Ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at the National Dance Institute of New Mexico Dance Barns.
Besides marking a significant birthday, the festival is also undergoing a transition of leadership. This is Bowman’s last year as executive director, though he said he may serve as a consultant next year. Karen RedHawk Dallett, currently serving as the fest’s operating manager, takes the helm as of the new year. She’s got a heap of challenges piling up on her plate: addressing the festival’s debt (she wouldn’t say how much, but her goal is to pay it off within a year), redefining the its identity, and taking it up a notch— to a “B+ level within two years,” she said at the festival’s office.
“We need to tighten up our mission statement. The demographics of our attendees are different than three, four, five years ago because of the growth of the state’s film industry. Guess what? The voice of L.A. is now the voice of New Mexico, Louisiana, and Georgia, and because the bar is raised on the quality of films being made in New Mexico, the bar has to be raised on the quality of indie films coming in.” The budget this year is tighter too— down from a high of nearly $400,000 some five or six years ago to less than $100,000, Dallett said.
Among her planned changes: mounting a mini-festival sometime in the summer— which could include a “walk-in” movie playing on the back wall of the SITE Santa Fe building in the Railyard— and moving the annual festival from December to October next year. She hopes to schedule premieres of mainstream films shot in New Mexico during that October time slot.
She praised Bowman’s willingness to work on the festival as a volunteer. The difference between her management approach and his, she said, is simple: “Jon likes fire drills. I’m not a fire-drill person. I like to plan.”
Bowman, who maintained an easygoing demeanor and a bemused, if not delighted, smile throughout all the ups and downs of his 10-year span as director, said, “It’s a good time to go. There’s a lot of stress attached, a lot of deadlines. This job is better suited for younger people, and I’m not so young anymore.”
He took time to plug some of his favorite titles this year: “ Asylum Seekers was made by an Iranian woman in Hollywood. It’s the most over-the-top story we have in the festival this year; it’s surreal. It goes to places you don’t expect it to go to and never lets up,” he said. He also favors The Other Bank, a coming-of-age story of family angst set against the backdrop of the Abkhazian civil war of the early 1990s. The retro suspense drama The Red Machine, which plays out like aWarner Bros. melodrama circa 1935, is another Bowman favorite. “That’s the rare example of independent cinema that you just don’t see anymore, a period piece with snappy dialogue and crackling situations.”
He acknowledged that the fest got too big in years past: “It’s hard for me to say no.” For a time, the fest played nearly every film made by an independent filmmaker in New Mexico, with the result that audience members got a loser for every winner, and usually a third of the work shown fell somewhere in between. Bowman said he felt a strong responsibility to support New Mexican film artists, though today that’s less necessary because, “There are a good 15 film festivals in New Mexico alone, and a lot of different outlets for filmmakers, so it’s no longer essential for us to provide that outlet for everyone.”
Bowman said that the festival’s all-over-the-place approach to its mission made it seem like a wildWildWest show sometimes. “It was very eclectic, more of a smorgasbord rather than an array of defined courses. There was always room for a different kind of film, and for a different kind of taste.” The festival will taste different next year, minus that indefinable spice brought to it by Jon Bowman. But after 10 years, maybe a new dish featuring fresh ingredients will suit the next birthday party.
Jon Bowman, director of the Santa Fe Film Festival
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