News Column

Santa Fe Independent Film Festival celebrates five years of indie spirit

October 18, 2013


Oct. 18--When Jacques Paisner and David Moore co-founded the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival five years ago, it was partially because Paisner's film Rejection was rejected by the organizers of the original Santa Fe Film Festival. Paisner said the initial indie fest in 2009 was financed "mostly on handshakes and a budget of about $2,500."

This year's independent extravaganza, which started Wednesday and runs through Sunday, features more than 100 events, including screenings, workshops, panel talks and parties held at several venues around Santa Fe. On Thursday evening, for instance, patrons attended a sold-out screening of director Eddie Alcazar's documentary Tapia, about the late Albuquerque boxer Johnny Tapia, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

The festival is now running on a budget of about a quarter of a million dollars, Paisner said, which come from private donors, local businesses and corporate sponsors.

"We're certainly surprised by the speed of our growth, but it's certainly organic," Paisner said Thursday. "For a young, 5-year-old fest, we feel we are making our place, not just in Santa Fe ... but on the national film festival circuit."

Festival-goer JoAnn Balzer, who attended the Thursday afternoon screening of the Pakistani movie These Birds Walk -- about the relationship between an ambulance driver and an orphan boy -- said she has attended several of the past few indie film festivals. She always finds the films "fresh, exciting and unexpected -- in a very good way."

Festival patron Marilee Harrison agreed. "Frankly, I don't enjoy mainstream movies very much," she said. "They're so formulaic and predictable." Independent films, she said, "allow you to experience stories that are more real -- and I'm not just talking about the documentaries."

Friday's lineup of events and movies reflects the independent spirit. At 11 a.m., screenwriter Joan Torres, who co-wrote the scripts for the 1970s blaxploitation horror films Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream will take part in a writers' workshop. A producers' panel follows at noon and a directors' panel at 2 p.m. All three events will be held at the Center for Contemporary Arts on Old Pecos Trail.

Among the film screenings Friday are the documentary I Am Divine, about late actor, singer and drag queen Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, who often appeared in the films of John Waters.(Waters will present his one-man show/documentary This Filthy World at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center as part of the festival.)

And at 7 p.m. Friday, the festival screens the dark western Sweetwater, aka Sweet Vengeance, shot by the sibling team of Logan and Noah Miller in New Mexico and featuring January Jones as a revenge-driven frontierswoman and Ed Harris as a somewhat nutty lawman.

The festivities also include a 1960s-themed "Groupies" party at 7:30 p.m. at Kristin Johnson Fine Art on Palace Avenue, and a 10 p.m. dance party at Rouge Cat on Marcy Street. And at 2 p.m. Saturday, the festival is orchestrating a horse ride onto the Plaza.

Paisner said such non-movie events are expected at film festivals. "The three food groups of any festival are education, films and parties," he said. The education part, he said, involves film-goers meeting film artists either at screenings or via the various workshops and panel talks. He said somewhere between 60 and 70 filmmakers, including the Miller brothers, will be on hand for this weekend's events.

Tracking ticket-buyers' home addresses from last year, Paisner estimates the festival drew about 5,760 people in 2012. They came from a total of 26 states and from within about 28 of New Mexico's counties. Paisner said an independent economic analyst estimated that this influx of visitors led to a roughly $330,000 financial impact within the city.

Simon Brackely, head of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks that may be a conservative estimate, given the chamber figures each visitor staying overnight spends about $250 a day for food, lodging and other amenities and necessities.

Visit for a schedule and more details.

The original Santa Fe Film Festival runs again in May 2014.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or


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