Indie Cinema Makes a Home at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

Charlotte Martinez - October 1, 2012

The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival was founded with the intention of challenging the film audience of Santa Fe

It’s a movie about high school, because we’ve all been there. Your girlfriend gets pregnant, your parents get divorced, you’re failing class or living out in the streets. The character is Joshua and “Joshua is very naive,” in the film, “but I think that’s where it gets its charm,” says writer, director, actor Freedom Hopkins, currently a student with the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

Using friends as his crew and last month’s pay check as his budget, Hopkin’s first feature film "Freeing Joshua" (2010), demonstrated the dirt of a “guerilla film” and it “was the most fun I ever had in my life,” he says. Hopkin’s film, along with hundreds of independently produced shorts and features have flooded the office of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival since its launching four years ago. The much awaited fourth year will bring all new faces to venues such as the Lensic Performing Arts Center and Warehouse 21.

“When you're young, you feel like it’s the greatest thing in the world,” says Executive Director of the Independent Film Festival Jacques Paisner. Paisner has been a struggling artist, so he knows the burning need to tell his story by any means necessary, like “giving up a paycheck so you can film a scene with horses. You do what you need to do.”

Like Hopkins, Paisner and the festival’s co-founder, David Moore, made a movie with the sweat and determination of young filmmakers, but unlike Hopkins, their early 2009 submission of their feature, "Rejection," was unexpectedly met with...rejection. What does Paisner do? He reads a radical hippie book from the '60s called "Steal This Book" by a political and social activist, Abbie Hoffman and takes a trip to Israel.

Though protesting government with homemade bombs has nothing to do with the launching of your own film festival, the idea of a revolution caught Paisner’s attention. With the conviction of free speech and few rules, Paisner and Moore began the Independent Film Festival with the intention of challenging the film audience of Santa Fe. While mainline cinema, films produced by major companies for major profit, “gives the audience its red meat” Paisner hoped to create “a special experience, something that they can be a part of.”

The distribution and community of Indie films is “under siege,” says Paisner. “But there are million of people who feel the way I do, who don’t care about music on MTV or about what movie is playing at Regal.” The ambition is different, describes Paisner, the idea that a film could surprise, shock or get the filmmaker to say, “I can do way better than that!”

This year’s festival, like the first, does not fail in its mission. Consisting of a diverse board of advisors, the submissions range from the much awaited feature "Bless Me Ultima" to student shorts. The requirements for submission? The film cannot be produced by a major company. This is the guideline for an Indie film. Does this mean Indie films have to be low budget? Paisner explains that "The Book of Eli," directed by the Hughes Brothers, cost millions of dollars and it featured Denzel Washington. It is considered independent. Then there are those films that sacrifice deportation and black-listings in order to convey a message, like the 2010 showing of "Salt of the Earth," filmed in Grant County. These movies are memorable because they make their own rules.

Filmmaker Hopkins describes the festival as a “cult classic, more liberating and free-speech oriented. Where Independent artists from main and extreme can be in one place.”

“These kinds of films, they don’t spoil,” says Santa Fe University Intern Salvador Hernandez, “They say, ‘I’m here, like it or not!’”  

“If all you want to do is watch blockbusters, then these are not the films for you,” says Hernadez’s fellow student Rachel Anderson. Both Hernandez and Anderson have been assigned to pre-show blogging, “dissecting the movies and identifying their theme,” says Hernandez. For example, his opinion on the feature "Los Chilos" is “...I don’t even know how to say it... sexually perverted? About the cold, cold things people do to each other in the name of love.” Another he describes as a humorous view on the issue of immigration:

“You think it would be about Mexicans, but the immigrant is a Canadian who sneaks across the border.”

Hernandez says the challenge to writing the blogs is to “find something that will hit a nerve or bring feedback and controversy” from fellow viewers. When a film brings on heated discussion, then it’s got to be worth watching.

Anderson mentions an animation that’s been in the making for 15 years called "Consuming Spirits." Featuring three kinds of animation, the movie is anything but Pixar, and features a confusing plot in which clarity is only revealed in the end. “For some people the films shown might be too artsy,” Anderson admits. “They have to be willing to commit intellectually.”

So how does such a revolutionary festival survive? In one word: volunteers. “These are the kinds of people who aren’t interested in money. They’re not trying to make a profit and it makes us feel proud,” says Hernandez, who’s disappointed that so few students have taken advantage of the festival. As far as promoting goes, “they’re really doing all they can,” comments Hernandez, to which Anderson replies, “it’s really all word of mouth.” But both Hernandez and Anderson say they are grateful for the chance to work with dedicated artists and volunteers.

Community involvement, particularly by the students and youth, is also a big goal according to the festival’s mission statement. Along with the participation of the University of Art and Design, the festival’s biggest supporter is Santa Fe’s youth hub, Warehouse 21. In its third year of housing the Independent Film Festival, the venue has become its official sponsor. It means that along with recording annual attendance, warehouse is in charge of grants and community promotion

“I’ve seen Jacques start from scratch,” says Youth Programmer Ana Gallegos y Reinhard, who oversees Warehouse’s donations, programs proposals and press relations. “He has a strong volunteer team.”

The theater and concert space, with a capacity to hold 250, has filled each year and during the festival “we get people walking in from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Gallegos says, “from locals to tourists and young to old,” the warehouse is booming with indie supporters. “Santa Fe loves film and they have hundreds of them.” Along with coordinating community involvement, Gallegos hopes that the future of Santa Fe Independent Film Festival will include more youth and tourism, but meanwhile they will welcome the current film wave.

With October approaching, the office is busy with volunteers designing posters, running errands and answering phones. When questioned on the festival’s future, Paisner looks around at the hard-working volunteers and says, “We’ll let the universe do its thing.” Though the staff remains unpaid, they say that the work is their pride and joy and bringing these films to the city of Santa Fe is their goal.

“As long as we keep doing the right thing, showing great movies,” Paisner says, “people will show up.”