the Santa Fe Film Festival is back. It’s had a tenuous few years, rebounding from recessionrelated financial issues and an experimental rescheduling, in 2014, to May from its usual slot in December. But it’s reclaimed the first weekend in December, SFFF executive director NaNi Rivera told Pasatiempo, because the timing attracts filmmakers and film buffs to Santa Fe during a seasonal lull in tourism, and it allows local film crews to participate during what is typically their downtime. “They’re busy working on far more productions in May than they are in December,” Rivera explained.
SFFF’s history extends to the early 1980s, when the founders of the Taos Talking Picture and Telluride film festivals wanted to bring something similar to the City Different. The current incarnation of SFFF dates to 1999, which makes it the oldest continuously operating film festival in New Mexico. This year organizers have rebranded it as the “original” Santa Fe Film Festival to set it apart from upstarts such as the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, which was established in 2009 and is held annually in October. “We wanted to remind people how much history the festival has,” Rivera said. “We were the very first mainstream film festival in the state of New Mexico, and we’re very proud of that.” She added that there are now upwards of 30 film festivals in the state, at least 10 of which are held in Santa Fe.
The five-day festival, which began on Wednesday, Dec. 2, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 6, includes screenings of major feature films, documentaries, short-film showcases, retrospectives, panels, parties, and a slate of free events on Saturday and Sunday called Tune Up. Tune Up is designed to help connect aspiring film professionals to the industry in New Mexico as well as in Hollywood. Rivera leads an allvolunteer staff producing SFFF; she works full-time as the director of special projects for IATSE Local 480, the union for film technicians in New Mexico. She is privy to the inner-workings of the local industry, and she uses that insight to make SFFF more than just an experience for movie viewers. “We hold Tune Up to build the infrastructure of film production as a whole. I’ve reached out to every film festival in the state of New Mexico and asked organizers to meet with me at our events in December, because we want to help as many festivals grow as possible — we want to nourish them,” she said. This year’s Tune Up includes sessions
on aerial cinematography and casting, among other topics designed to train and educate.
“We’re in a unique position in that there’s a booming film industry in Santa Fe, and our festival reminds the film industry nationwide that New Mexico has become a huge base for filmmaking,” said Aaron Leventman, the festival’s programmer. He has selected a combination of mainstream, local, and international films. He emphasized three must-see short film showcases this year: New Mexico Shorts Cinema, in which all films are made by filmmakers with a connection to the Land of Enchantment (Saturday, Dec. 5, 4:30 p.m., Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Road); Stories from Our Lives: LGBQT+ Shorts Program (Sunday, Dec. 6, 1:30 p.m., Center for Contemporary Arts, 1050 Old Pecos Trail); and Native Cinema (Dec. 6, 4 p.m., Jean Cocteau Cinema, 418 Montezuma Ave.).
“We know we have a Native audience here, so it was important to us to make sure we had a good collection for the festival,” Leventman said. Films in the Native cinema showcase include 100 Years of Freedom, a documentary directed by Daniel Ostroff about the Fort Sill Apache tribe’s centennial celebration of the final release of the Chiricahua/Warm Springs Apache prisoners of war, and Fancy Dancer, a narrative film directed by J.R. Mathews about a Native American man, adopted by a white family, who discovers his culture through the medium of dance.
There are many strong documentaries in the program, including several about World War II, and retrospective screenings of classic films written by Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God, Homage) and directed by Peter Bogdanovich (Mask, Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show). Medoff is honored as a “shining” New Mexico filmmaker at the patron dinner on Saturday night, Dec. 5, at Coyote Café, and Bogdanovich receives a Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday, Dec. 6. One of the biggest mainstream Hollywood movies in the festival is Tumbledown, starring Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall, a romantic comedy about a young widow and the academic who wants to write about her late husband.
“We get a lot of strong documentaries, but a fiction film with a strong narrative — I tend to pay attention to that,” Leventman said. “I thought the film was interesting because it’s about these characters’ passion for music, and how their connection happens because of that. It’s also about what’s important artistically, which I thought would be important to a lot of artists and musicians in Santa Fe.”
Tumbledown shows at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4, at CCA, with the short film Dreaming of Peggy Lee, about two children in the 1940s who sneak into a jazz club. Many of the feature-length films are preceded by thematically related shorts, and some of the documentaries are similarly paired. There are comedies and heartfelt dramas, historical portraits and less conventional documentaries, such as Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, about a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark by three young fans.
All-access passes to the Santa Fe Film Festival are $300. Admission to individual events and screenings are $12 to $25, with the exception of events held at the Center for Progress and Justice, which are free. For a complete schedule and ticketing information, visit www.santafefilmfestival.com. — Jennifer Levin