THE BIG PICTURE
Please curb your festival
A film festival isn’t just about the movies. It’s also about the face it presents, the enjoyment it spreads among patrons, and the satisfaction it gives visiting filmmakers as they watch their movies on the big screen with an audience. Likewise, it helps define the community it serves. From Dec. 2 to 6, the Santa Fe Film Festival — which started as Cinema Santa Fe Film Festival in 1999 before officially renaming itself— once again paid tribute to the independent cinematic spirit at various venues in town.
I talk to enough visiting filmmakers to know that they appreciate the fest. It’s warm and welcoming; it’s low-stress; it gives them a chance to discuss their creative baby with patrons; and it’s set in Santa Fe. What’s not to like?
Well, projection equipment not working, leading to the postponement or cancellation of a screening, is one thing not to like. Seeing the word “canceled” marked on advertisements for your film at the box office when it hasn’t been canceled isn’t much fun either. Some of the “galas” weren’t so gala-tastic. Handsome Harry didn’t start until about an hour after it was scheduled, according to one disappointed viewer who pulled me aside to complain. Another patron called me to say that the print for Up in the Air didn’t arrive on Friday, so the show was canceled at the last minute — and this after a capacity crowd was lined up to see it. (That film was eventually rescheduled for Sunday.)
The biggest mess-up came on the last day of the fest, when audience members standing in line at Regal DeVargas with tickets for Crazy Heart (shot in New Mexico) were told that cast and crew members who worked on the film— about 150 in all— had first priority for seating. A New Mexican staff member who was there told me this information caused an angry uproar, and the newspaper received several calls and letters of complaint about it afterward. SFFF operations director Karen RedHawk Dallett confirmed this occurred and took her share of responsibility for the incident. Jon Hendry, business agent for IATSE 480, the local film technicians’ union, was there at the time and said the union would reimburse any ticket holder. He’d already paid out about $300 in cash to roughly 50 disappointed SFFF patrons by Monday of last week and will honor his offer through the end of the year. (Swing by IATSE at 1418 Cerrillos Road for a refund.) That’s a generous offer from Hendry, but it doesn’t compensate festival patrons for their time and commitment. More important, SFFF, not IATSE 480, should honor those tickets.
The awards ceremony, usually replete with embarrassing snafus that stamp “amateur” on the event, lived up to its reputation for infamy again this year, with presenters talking more about themselves than the person they were introducing, one winning title being telegraphed before the nominees for that category had been announced, and one presenter— cinematographer Christopher Doyle— spouting offensive profanities and acting bizarre and rude. One tributee joked that he was slurring his words due to the strong Irish whiskey he had imbibed. Offering alcohol to the special guests at the event— which was held at the youth-oriented National Dance Institute of New Mexico Dance Barns— was a boneheaded and insensitive move, given that this community is still reeling from the summer tragedy in which four teens were killed in a crash reportedly caused by a drunk driver. Santa Fe Film Festival and NDI-NM officials should have known better, and if the two team up to present the awards ceremony again next year, they should ensure that it is a drug-and alcohol-free event. Incidentally, the affair was emceed by Anna Gunn and John Carroll Lynch, who were class acts— as were presenter Miguel Sandoval, tributee Mark Rydell, Drago Sumonja (winner of the New Face in Film award for Char. ac.ter), and several other participants.
The festival is undergoing a transition of power, from co-founder and executive director Jon Bowman to RedHawk Dallet, so cut them both some slack for possible communication problems. I admire RedHawk Dallett’s straight-shooting attitude, but now she and her board have to get things organized and pay some outstanding bills. Whether the makeup of the board will change as leadership does remains unclear, but board members— new and old— should pull out those checkbooks and decrease that debt. SFFF board presidentWalter Gallegos told me at the awards ceremony that this is a priority. Good. Get it done. Soon. And raise funds for temporary paid staffers to help next year— a capable box-office and venue manager could help eliminate these messes that permeate the festival and annoy patrons.
As one loyal SFFF fan e-mailed me, “It’s the only festival that I’ve ever attended that just can’t quite get it together. Must be the altitude!” If so, then it’s well past time to get the oxygen tanks out.
Not-so-classy act: cinematographer Christopher Doyle, right, with tributee Ellen Kuras and emcee John Carroll Lynch
Class act: presenter Miguel Sandoval, left, with Mayor David Coss in background