Note:  The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival has a new iPhone and iPad app out for a complete guide to all festival activities.

At the 2011 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, 18 youngsters were bused into Santa Fe from the tiny town of Cuba to screen their film, The Lizard People from Chaco Canyon. After a sleepover at Warehouse 21, the city’s arts and cultural center for the under-21 crowd, the group attended a lecture by award-winning Diné filmmaker Norman Patrick Brown.

Moments like these make the festival’s executive director, Jacques Paisner, proud as he recalls highlights of previous years’ festivals. Founded in 2009 by Paisner and a small group of other indie film enthusiasts, the SFIFF has grown considerably, from a fledgling event to a well-regarded festival that is becoming a pit stop on the independent-film circuit.

This year, the festival will run from October 17 to 21 and will feature 80 films, ranging from features to shorts to documentaries. A special emphasis is placed on independent films made in the state, including, this year, three notable features that will be making their New Mexico debuts.

Opening the festival will be Bless Me Ultima, Rudolpho Anaya’s semi-autobiographical 1972 novel, adapted and directed by Carl Franklin, best known for directing Devil in a Blue Dress with Denzel Washington. Tiger Eyes, based on the 1981 book by young adult author Judy Blume, is directed by her son, Lawrence Blume. It tells the story of a young woman who moves with her mother to Los Alamos, to get over the murder of her father. Blaze You Out is an original screenplay set in the Española Valley, written and directed by Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquin Lopez. The film chronicles a young woman’s redemptive journey into the dark underworld of her hometown. The films were shot in New Mexico, and were partially financed by the state’s tax-rebate incentive program, which finances up to 25 percent of a film’s budget.

“We started the festival in part to highlight the independent films that are being made here in New Mexico,” said Santa Fean Paisner, a published short story writer. “While there are other fests throughout the state, we felt that what we wanted to do would fill a gap in what was being shown.”

For a state with such a small population, New Mexico is loaded with film festivals. The New Mexico Film Office website lists 29 festivals throughout the year, including such heavyweights as the Santa Fe Film Festival, the White Sands International Film Festival, the Duke City Shootout in Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Film Festival, and the Taos Mountain Film Festival. But the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival is unique in that it will show only independent films, many of them made in New Mexico but also including a cross-section of voices from outside the state.

“Each of the film festivals in the state has its own niche in terms of the kind of audience it serves,” said Rich Henrich, an independent filmmaker and director of the Albuquerque Film Festival. “The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival was born from a situation where some independent filmmakers didn’t get their films shown at the Santa Fe Film Festival, and so they started their own, creating a venue for other independent filmmakers in the state and throughout the nation to screen their films in Santa Fe.”

One of the films that Henrich referred to was Jacques Paisner’s own first film, ironically titled Rejection. The film was submitted to the 2009 Santa Fe Film Festival but did not make the cut.

“In the course of the past year that I’ve been on the job, I’ve seen a significant number of films that have been made by independent producers and crews,” said Nick Maniatis, Director of the New Mexico State Film Office. “What we’re seeing a lot of is independent writers, directors, and producers out there creating pictures that make for a really healthy independent film scene. This, in turn, fosters a healthy climate for filmmakers of all budgets. Film festivals that showcase our local talent are great for the scene throughout the state.”

Organizing a film festival of any size is no small affair. In addition to promoting the existence of a festival to filmmakers throughout the nation, the planning and execution of five days’ worth of programming requires building a local infrastructure—a vessel, if you will—that can carry the talents and efforts of those filmmakers as they make the trek to Santa Fe to show their films and meet with like-minded creators and filmgoers. To pull it all off requires securing venues, arranging for lodging, planning panel discussions, and—of course—making sure there are a few parties to entertain everyone after a hard day of movie watching. In these tasks, Paisner, who works without salary, is by no means alone. Over 100 other volunteers come together to make sure the event runs smoothly.

Among them is veteran actor Gary Farmer (Dead Man, Powwow Highway), who serves as the co-chair of the Festival’s advisory board, along with Santa Fe activist Kimi Ginoza Green.

“In addition to bringing a film festival to the community that offers great programming, we’re also creating a space where people can network and interact with the film industry,” said Green. “For example, we’re hosting a Filmmakers’ Brunch this year to help people figure out the ins and outs of making a film here in New Mexico. We’re aiming to help the industry build from within, bringing veteran filmmakers together with new filmmakers.”

While SFIFF is a new kid on the block, with a lot of splash and a fast-growing organization, many other festivals throughout the state deserve special mention. The Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, in Albuquerque, for example, also in the fall (September 28–October 7), brings together some of the best new GLBTQ films from across the nation. The Taos Shortz Film Festival, in March, gathers filmmakers to share their short films and discuss resources for making movies here in New Mexico and elsewhere. With the amount of quality film festivals throughout the state, local filmmakers have many opportunities to not only show their films, but to interact with others and exchange resources for making more movies.

Gregory Pleshaw is a writer living in
New Mexico.



A $100 festival pass for SFIFF, October 17–21, covers admission to all films, parties, panels, and events. Individual film tickets, $10; $8 for students and SFIFF members. For information about the festival, including how to volunteer, visit As few as four hours of volunteer time can earn you a free movie pass, and 20 hours earn a free festival pass.