The 10th an­nual SFIFF

The 10th Santa Fe In­de­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val

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Since its in­cep­tion in 2009, the Santa Fe In­de­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val (SFIFF) has al­ways been a home­grown shindig. More­over, un­der the aus­pices of sib­ling cinephiles Jac­ques and Liesette Pais­ner, it’s also a fam­ily af­fair. The Pais­ners, former pro­gram­mers at the Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, have nur­tured a life­long love of movies. Al­though Jac­ques, the fes­ti­val’s founder and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, was born in Min­neapo­lis, he was raised in Santa Fe and his sis­ter was born here.

“We’ve al­ways loved films. Our whole lives, grow­ing up, we went to Video Li­brary and checked out all the films we could and at­tended all the the­aters in Santa Fe. Film and art has al­ways been in­stru­men­tal in our lives,” said fes­ti­val direc­tor Liesette. Liesette joined SFIFF right out of high school af­ter work­ing for a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that ran writ­ers’ con­fer­ences. She cred­its that ex­pe­ri­ence with help­ing her co-or­ga­nize the an­nual fes­ti­val. “That was mainly lit­er­ary, but with the film fes­ti­val, it’s re­ally about cinephiles, cel­e­brat­ing film­mak­ers, and cre­at­ing a space for peo­ple who love film to be able to ex­plore and ex­press it,” she said. “We both grav­i­tate to­wards in­de­pen­dent films. Our sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers will drag us to what­ever the next big Marvel movie is, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily by choice.”

Jac­ques Pais­ner’s pas­sion for cin­ema led him to take some film classes in col­lege. “My in­tro­duc­tion was on an in­de­pen­dent pic­ture as part of the cre­ative team,” he said. “I’ve been do­ing the fest pretty strong and haven’t been on too many other projects other than con­sult­ing.” How­ever, last sum­mer Jac­ques pro­duced the up­com­ing Jon Morit­sugu film Numb­skull

Rev­o­lu­tion, which is now in post-pro­duc­tion. In 2009, Jac­ques started out with the in­ten­tion of show­ing just a hand­ful of films at a lo­cal cof­fee shop and at Ware­house 21. When he put out a call for en­tries, the re­sponse was over­whelm­ing. This year marks the 10th an­niver­sary of the fes­ti­val, which runs from Wed­nes­day, Oct. 17, through Sun­day, Oct. 21, and has grown to be­come the most well-at­tended film fes­ti­val in the state. For five years run­ning, the quar­terly trade pub­li­ca­tion MovieMaker Mag­a­zine has named SFIFF one of the top 50 film fes­ti­vals worth the en­try fee. A ded­i­cated staff has helped it achieve that sta­tus, along with New Mex­ico’s steady film in­dus­try and the rise of art house cinemas in Santa Fe. “We’re blessed with more screens than most cities of this size,” Jac­ques said. “We’re one of the great­est small-the­ater cities on Earth. You’d be hard-pressed to find an­other in the world. The fest grew in re­sponse to that.”

This year, the fes­ti­val is host to around 35 films that in­clude doc­u­men­taries, nar­ra­tive fea­tures, and an­i­mated fea­tures, along with the an­nual pro­gram of shorts. The fes­ti­val’s fo­cus is in­ter­na­tional, but New Mex­ico-made pro­duc­tions and projects by film­mak­ers from the state, even if they were made else­where, are also promi­nently fea­tured. “This year we have

Long Dumb Road, which is a film that pre­miered at Sun­dance and stars Taissa Farmiga,” Liesette said. “Peo­ple know Taissa from Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story. This is her sec­ond film that she did in New Mex­ico, be­cause she did In a Val­ley of Vi­o­lence with John Tra­volta, the Ti West film, in 2016.” The Long Dumb

Road is the open­ing-night film. The fes­ti­val is also show­ing a few movies by Santa Fe di­rec­tors that have made a re­cent splash on the in­de­pen­dent film cir­cuit, such as Alexan­dria Bom­bach’s doc­u­men­tary On Her

Shoul­ders, about a young woman’s story of geno­cide and sex­ual slav­ery un­der ISIS. The film’s sub­ject, Na­dia Mu­rad, was awarded the No­bel Peace Prize this Oc­to­ber for her ef­forts to bring jus­tice to vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence. In ad­di­tion, SFIFF screens Meow Wolf: The Ori­gin

Story, a film di­rected by Ji­lann Spitzmiller and Mor­gan Capps that doc­u­ments the chal­lenges faced by the Santa Fe-based art col­lec­tive Meow Wolf in the wake of their rapid suc­cess, along with co-di­rec­tors Hunter Baker and Jor­dan Fein’s New Mex­ico-made film The

Bless­ing, which took the Grand Jury Prize for doc­u­men­tary fea­ture at the Dal­las In­ter­na­tional Film

In 2009, Jac­ques Pais­ner started out with the in­ten­tion of show­ing just a hand­ful of films at a lo­cal cof­fee shop and at Ware­house 21.

Fes­ti­val this year. The Bless­ing fol­lows the strug­gles of a Navajo coal miner to pro­tect sa­cred land from ir­re­versible de­struc­tion while rais­ing a daugh­ter on his own. Santa Fe-based doc­u­men­tary film­maker Glenn Sil­ber’s Os­car-nom­i­nated 1979 film about re­sis­tance to the Vietnam War in Madi­son, Wisconsin, The War at

Home, is also show­ing in a brand new 4K restora­tion. Sil­ber’s Atomic Artist, a 1983 doc­u­men­tary short on New Mex­ico sculp­tor Tony Price, also screens along with lo­cal film­maker Adam Jonas Horowitz’s 2011 doc­u­men­tary fea­ture Nu­clear Sav­age, which de­tails the United States gov­ern­ment’s decades-long top-se­cret hu­man ra­di­a­tion ex­per­i­ments on Pa­cific Is­lan­ders.

SFIFF is its own suc­cess story. Since 2015, at­ten­dance has peaked at over 10,000. “Last year it reached crit­i­cal mass, where it was a lot harder to get tick­ets to any­thing,” Jac­ques said. “Peo­ple were ring­ing the phone off the hook. I went over to CCA and there were two cars backed into each other in the park­ing lot. I was walk­ing around that Fri­day or Satur­day and think­ing, ‘Wow, this feels a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than it’s ever felt.’ ” The 2017 fes­ti­val fea­tured some ma­jor pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing Hos­tiles and Only the Brave. “That’s a $100-mil­lion stu­dio pic­ture and a $72-mil­lion in­de­pen­dent film,” Jac­ques said. “Wes Studi was pre­sented by Ge­orge R.R. Martin at the Vi­o­let Crown for Hos­tiles. That was only the sec­ond U.S. screen­ing. The fes­ti­val has be­come this chance for Santa Fe au­di­ences to see these movies six months or a year be­fore they would oth­er­wise. That’s been pretty spe­cial for us. I think the au­di­ence has re­sponded in such a way that they ex­pect cer­tain movies to be at the fest. They’re show­ing up to buy their passes ear­lier. They’re pick­ing them up ear­lier. They’re buy­ing early tick­ets. Ev­ery­one wants to have these chances to see the movies.”

The Pais­ners may be the faces of the fes­ti­val, but they don’t go it alone. Ac­tor Gary Farmer (Pow­wow

High­way, Smoke Sig­nals) has served as chair of the ad­vi­sory board since its in­cep­tion. A restora­tion of the Jim Jar­musch cult movie Western Dead Man (1995), in which Farmer plays the role of a Na­tive Amer­i­can guide called No­body, also screens this year. Derek Horne, an alum­nus of the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, cu­rates selections for the shorts pro­gram each year, and a screen­ing com­mit­tee led by the Pais­ners choose most of the fea­ture films from a se­lec­tion of sub­mit­ted en­tries.

Like other big fes­ti­vals, SFIFF also hon­ors wor­thy pro­duc­tions with awards in sev­eral cat­e­gories. “We do best doc­u­men­tary fea­ture, best nar­ra­tive fea­ture, best New Mex­i­can film, au­di­ence choice for best doc, and best nar­ra­tive fea­ture,” Liesette said. “For the shorts, we do best short doc­u­men­tary, best short nar­ra­tive, best an­i­mated or ex­per­i­men­tal short, and best New Mex­ico short. Then we do an au­di­ence choice for best short over­all.” The jury is usu­ally made up of about three or four peo­ple to cover each cat­e­gory who re­view and rate all the com­pe­ti­tion films and sub­mit their scores. Past jury mem­bers have con­sisted of In­de­pen­dent Spirit Award win­ners, Emmy win­ners, Os­car nom­i­nees, and peo­ple who’ve had ca­reers in the film in­dus­try, in­clud­ing fes­ti­val alumni who have sub­mit­ted their own films in pre­vi­ous years. The jury pool changes an­nu­ally, al­though a few mem­bers have served for sev­eral years in a row.

The fes­ti­val also hon­ors in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ers and indie stars with life­time achieve­ment awards. This year’s hon­oree is animator Bill Plymp­ton; the fest is show­ing his 2016 film Re­vengeance, co-di­rected with Jim Lu­jan, and his new an­i­mated short The Mod­ern

Lives. Pre­vi­ous life­time achieve­ment award-win­ners in­clude direc­tor John Sayles and his part­ner, pro­ducer Mag­gie Renzi (2017), ac­tress Jac­que­line Bis­set (2016), and ac­tress Gena Row­lands (2015).

Be­cause their fo­cus is on in­de­pen­dent films rather than movies pro­duced at ma­jor stu­dios, the Pais­ners have picked up on trends. When a cer­tain coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­nais­sance in in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing, for in­stance, that trend is re­flected in the fes­ti­val sub­mis­sions. They’ve also noted in­creased sub­mis­sions from women film­mak­ers, which, by hap­pen­stance rather than by de­sign, has marked SFIFF as a show­case for women di­rec­tors. “It’s never some­thing we set out to do with our pro­gram, it just al­ways ends up that way,” Liesette said. “We ap­pre­ci­ate the fe­male view in film­mak­ing, which is of­ten lost. I think there were only three big stu­dio films made by women this year. It’s kind of a cool thing to look at our pro­gram and re­al­ize that 60 per­cent of our films were made by women.” What the Pais­ners are see­ing is per­haps akin to the early days of cin­ema, when, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the silent era, a lot more films were made by women than in the decades that fol­lowed. “I think it kind of changed in the ’30s at some point,” Jac­ques said. “But there was a time when 50 or 55 per­cent of di­rec­tors were women. I think that’s com­ing full circle.” ◀

Jac­ques and Liesette Pais­ner; photo Luis Sánchez Saturno

con­tin­ued from Page 39 All Crea­tures Here Be­low

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