A man of independent means Festival executive director Jacques Paisner
S even years ago, author and filmmaker Jacques Paisner, reacting to the news that his movie Rejection had been rejected by the San ta Fe F ilm Festival, decided to start an alternative fest highlighting independent movies.
Paisner and David Moore initiated the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival in 2009, funding it “mostly on handshakes and a budget of about $2,500,” as Paisner put it. Patrons responded to the festival’s gritty can-do attitude and its ability to draw a mix of local and international film artists. That line-up has included John Waters (of Pink Flamingos and Hairspray fame), Native American actors Wes Studi and Gary Farmer, the late comedy writer Digby Wolfe, and actress Shirley MacLaine.
The programming has leaned toward features and documentaries about social justice issues, war, samesex relationships, and nuclear energy, but it has also showcased offbeat oddities like the zombie musical The Dead Inside and the New Mexico-made film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.
Paisner, the festival’s executive director, said that last year, SFIFF attracted more than 10,000 patrons. The budget is close to a quarter of a million dollars, and screening venues have increased from one the first year to five this year. Movie Maker magazine has touted the festival as one of the to p 25 co olest film fests and twice cited it as one of the top 50 in the country worth the entry fee.
This year’s festival runs from Wednesday, Oct. 14, to Sunday, Oct. 18. Paisner spoke with Pasatiempo about its place in th e film w orld and his hope to increase its profile and patronage.
Pasatiempo: What is the definition of an independent film these days? Jacques Paisner: Something just outside of the studio system. Some say it’s not independent if it’s made for over $10 million. Jean Cocteau said, “Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as paper and pen,” and independent film today is the beginning of that movement. Pasa: Is attendance a good barometer of success for the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival? Paisner: It’s definitely a result of good programming and people wanting to show up and be there for it. Pasa: Do you keep track of the demographics? Paisner: We do. We have a relatively young demographic for a film festival, but we also get a lot of retired people. They come heavily from Los Angeles and New York, but we also get them from Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona. About 2,500 or so came from outside the state last year, so about 7,500 were from New Mexico. Pasa: What do you look for when you program the festival — the so-called “eclectic mix”? Paisner: We are not looking for an eclectic mix. We are looking for the top national and top international independent films. We also want the top local films. Some of the films we were lucky enough to show in Santa Fe last year, like Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe, went on to play at AFI [American Film Institute] Sundance in January. Being able to show that kind of film in Santa Fe six months or a year before they open somewhere like CCA or Violet Crown is really cool. Pasa: Are you still making films? Paisner: I’m working on small projects here and there, but I’m not writing or directing. Pasa: Has running the festival sapped that creative energy? Paisner: No, it hasn’t. I have a real mission to get the festival up to where it’s attracting 50,000 visitors and have businesses and tourists line up in a corridor between the Lensic and the Jean Cocteau and the Violet Crown every year followin g the we ekend of Balloon Fiesta. While running the festival has put me int ouch with new people and filmmakers and opportunities that I never thought I would have, in terms of dropping everything to produce an indie feature now — well, that would be grea tbutIdo n’t see that happening in the next couple of years. Pasa: All the press for the festival has so far been positive. We haven’t heard of any growing pains yet. Are there any? Paisner: No, I think we’ve had a really good progression. Last year we gave the Lifetime Achievement Award to Shirley MacLaine, and that’s the catalyst for giving it to Gena Rowlands this year. The Academy [of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences] is going to give her an honorary award following ours. That gives us a chance to show some John Cassavetes movies.
While I think our programming is big, we have the theaters in Santa Fe to accommodate it and we have the audience to fill those theaters. My thinking is, why do it smaller and more specific when Santa Fe can be a destination for film just like Park City [for the Sundance Film Festival] and Telluride are? Santa Fe is a much better city for this type of festival. We have this artistic cultural history, we are the oldest capital, and there is so much more to do here. — Robert Nott
From left, Jacques Paisner, SFIFF’s production assistant Frank Quatrone, and festival director Liesette Paisner;