Tuesday, December 2, 2008

There's Something Miraculous Going On Here

Something incredible is happening in Santa Fe this week and I feel like not enough people know about it, or if they do know about it, they're not talking about it. If you're here, reading this blog, you know very well I'm talking about the 9th Annual Santa Fe Film Festival, a festival which, as I'm cruising a borrowed 5-speed around Santa Fe's adorable streets and thinking more about this year's line up, is beginning to look more like a miraculous cultural phenomenon than a run-of-the-mill film festival.

The miracle at work here boils down to being able to see Steven Soderbergh's Ché--a film epic in duration, formal ambition, and subject matter--next to something like Squeezebox, a documentary made by and about New York City's gay rock and rollers and the alternative space they created in reaction to Guiliani's Disneyfication of Times Square. Starting tomorrow, us lucky ones here in Santa Fe can see Doubt starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymore Hoffman and then walk a few blocks and see The Linguists, a 65 minute doc that travels on the shoulders of linguistic scientists through Russia, Serbia, India, and Bolivia to explore the devastating loss of the world's languages.

This is exceptional. The Santa Fe Film Festival embodies the type of attitude necessary for a much-needed revolution in the American film industry. This attitude goes something like this: This is high-budget art, this is low-budget art, this is conventional, this is radical, this is global, this is local, this will be duplicated millions of times, this will never be seen again--all of it worthy of a thoughtful eye, an attentive mind, and a sincere respect for the creative spirits that stand behind it. Well anyway, that's the vibe I'm picking up.

The festival hasn't always been able to brag of such range. Its history is short but its growth has been steady; Robert Benziker for Pasatiempo (the Arts and Culture section of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper) writes, "We don't need a flashback sequence to tell us that this festival has come a long way in the past nine years. In cinematic terms, it's gone from a quirky indie pic to a major blockbuster — a citywide celebration that's managed to retain its small-town charm."

What's more, this "small-town charm" has a lot to do with a taste for work off the mainstream, which makes perfect sense coming from a town where independent art galleries are more common than all the coffee houses, bars, and stoplights put together. (I mean, really. This place is crazy. I've been here for 20 hours and while I would have no idea where to find a cocktail or another wireless internet location, I know exactly where to find all the blown-glass, pottery, and wood carving a lady could ask for.) Benziker goes on to describe this Santa Fe taste, "Over the years, [festival director Jon Bowman] has tapped into what audiences in Santa Fe crave. Although he will program anything that is well-made, regardless of genre or content, Bowman mentioned that horror doesn't play well locally, while films with a multicultural subject matter or a Third World setting tend to pique Santa Feans' curiosity."

Well, thank you guys. This year's festival stands among very few others in this country that can bring in big names and maintain a strong list of independent films from a diverse array of cultures and mindsets. Among this year's categories of films: All Roads Film Project, Eye on the World, Independent Spirits, Mañana Film Series, New Mexico Film Expo, Southwest Showcase, New York Jewish Film Festival, Art Matters, and American Film Institute Project 20/20. While you might be able to read a certain multi-cultural tendency into these categories, there is also a notable amount of LGBT-focused/related films and seriously above average marks on the number of female filmmakers represented.

Finally, the engineers of the SFFF are clearly invested in a festival culture that, again, few other U.S. film festivals have mastered. Much like the annual Telluride Film Festival in Telluride Colorado, Santa Fe is working to cultivate an inclusive environment that is truly about celebrating film as oppose to capitalism and star/deal-making. Benziker writes, "While discussing why filmmakers would want to be a part of the Santa Fe Film Festival, [Festival Programmer, Stephen Rubin] mentioned that other festivals 'call themselves festivals but are really just film exhibitions. They don't have parties, they don't have receptions, they don't have panels, they don't have guests. And that's OK if that's what they want to be, but we don't want to be just that. We want to be a five-day memorable experience where everyone is treated well and everyone gets to meet everybody as much as possible.'"

Alright then. Party on, SFFF, and kudos for daring to be the way you are.

Please click HERE to read Robert Benziker's full article!

--Martha Polk
Guest Blogger

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Martha, good job. I haven't been able to attend the Santa Fe Film Festival for nearly ten years. Your blog brought me right back to Santa Fe and my favorite film festival.