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Sante Fe on the rise

As recently as four years ago, the New Mexico film festival marketplace featured a slug fest between the long running Taos Talking Picture Festival (TTPIX) and the upstart Santa Fe Film Festival (SFFF). Both possessed a unique niche, mountain town settings, and devoted audiences. For indie film festival freaks in the area, life was good. Alas, things never stay the same for long in this volatile business.

Locals were stunned at the news last month that the nine year old Taos Talking Picture Festival had filed for bankruptcy. While details remain sketchy, there’s a chance we may see a scaled down version next spring put on by the volunteers and others. A huge loss for the state, the city of Taos, and indie film community in the northern part of New Mexico, time will tell.

Four years later however, Jon Bowman, Executive Director of the Santa Fe Film Festival, finds himself standing alone as head of the undisputed premiere film festival in the state of New Mexico, if not including southern Colorado (Telluride and Durango’s fests notwithstanding) and west Texas. After this year’s edition, he may be there for some years to come.

Four years ago, SFFF sold just over four thousand tickets. For 2003, tickets topped 20,000, a 30% increase from ’02, with 211 features, shorts, doc’s and animation screening. Considering the economy, and a number of other factors, the growth spurt is phenomenal on any level.

Perhaps a late bump in sales was due to the announcement of the potential demise of TTPIX, but more likely it was the result of four years of solid programming, good community support and the creative and artistic eco-system unique to the city of Santa Fe that makes it an appealing festival for the 400 – 600 mile radius drive-in market. Simply put, SFFF is a safe bet for indie film festival devotees in the mountain west.
Highlights this year included actress (and part time New Mexico resident) Shirley McLaine feting Luminaria Tributes to veteran actor Peter Boyle (Joe, Young Frankenstein, Medium Cool, Monsters Ball), British Director Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters), and the writer Max Evans (The Hi-Lo Country, Xavier’s Folly, The Rounders).

Part of the programming magic that has made Santa Fe unique is the different “tracks’ an attendee can choose. This year featured six film festivals in one, each a series that could stand on its own. “Luminaria Tribute,” winners titles, “Eye On the World,” contemporary cinema, “Independent Spirits,” for filmmakers working outside the studio system, “Making it Reel,” for documentaries, “Southwest Showcase,” films from Louisiana to Nevada, and “Art Matters,” titles that profiled artists and celebrates the creative process.

Solidly established on the top tier of indie film festivals west of the Mississippi, the Santa Fe Film Festival has a clear running field ahead. Now that the bar is set, the only thing that could hold it back is not raising the already high expectations next year as well.

2003 Santa Fe Film Festival Milagro awards went to:

Best of the Fest:
“Since Otar Left,” Julie Bertuccelli - Director

Best Animation:
“Fast Film,” Virgil Wildrich

Best Latino:
“The Revolution Will Not be Televised,” Kim Bartley, Donnacha O’Brien – Directors. David Power – Producer.

Best Short:
“Simon’s Labyrinth,” Ivan Sainz – Pardi – Director

Honorable Mention:
“Blackwater Elegy, “ Joe O’Brien – Director (Best Short Category)

Best Creative Spirit:
“Jon E. Edwards Is In Love,” Chris Bradley – Director, Patrick Bradley, Kyle LaBrache – Producers

Best SouthWest:
“Jesus Freak,” Morgan Nichols – Director, Amy Dawn Anderson, Pete Kuzov – Producers.

Best Native:
“Spirit of the Game,” Annie Frazier Henry – Director/Producer.

Best Documentary:
“Lustron,” Bill Kubota – Director/Producer.

Best Indie Spirit (tie):
“Break a Leg,” Monika Mitchell – Director, Jeanette Volturno,Trey Wilkins – Producers

Best Indie Spirit (tie):
“Virgin,” Deborah Kampmeier – Director, Ray Dowell, Producer.

Audience Award: “Indigo,” Stephen Simon – Director/Producer.

Gene Grant

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