State of the art: Santa Fe Film Festival screens year’s choicest pics

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Santa Fe Film Festival unfolds its treats for northern New Mexico next month, Dec. 3-7 at the still-formative age of nine. Like a healthy child of that age, the festival, is not only still sweet, but already has “a sense of accomplishment,” “definite interests” and “a lively curiosity.”


John Bowman, executive director, and Stephen Rubin, program director, of the festival paid a visit to Los Alamos recently, according to a deeply established rhythm of inclusion for the surrounding areas.


Bowman, a former editor of the Monitor, is also the associate publisher of New Mexico Magazine and one of the vital cultural forces in the state.


Most festivals, he said, are crazy about premiers.


“We’re the last festival of the year,” he said. “The whole year has happened. If we tried to do that we’d be chasing the tail and end up with lousy movies.”


Another thing about growing up, by nine the healthy young festival has the ability to balance a sense of performance with a competitive spirit.


The Santa Fe Film Festival is sometimes compared to the Sundance Film Festival.


That’s unfair in a way, because the Park City-Utah Festival, associated with Robert Redford has been going for 17 years, 30 years if you count its predecessors. By contrast with Santa Fe, Sundance is virtually the first festival of the year, and a huge extravaganza, brimming with premiers and overflowing with crowds and competitors desperately seeking attention.


Santa Fe is up-and-coming, “growing into one of the most distinguished Festivals in the world,” as the festival described itself in an announcement. It is also fair to call it “intimate,” “charming,” and “quaint.”


With 250 features and short-subject films and videos, selected from over 1,000 entries and with some 200 filmmakers expected to attend (21,000 tickets sold last year), SFFF is truly all the festival that ordinary people can reasonably hope to handle.


Coming at the end of the year is not a handicap, but a virtue.


“I’ve been to 10 festivals around the world, this year,” Rubin said, adding that he has talked to dozens of programmers during the year, in pursuit of what the Santa Fe fest wants, “the highest quality.”


Bowman called it “a parade of champions,” the best that’s out there this year, the pick of the crop for the whole year across a wide spectrum of festivals.


The hard part is figuring out which films to see and then working screening schedules into the time you have, making one choice that forecloses another possibility.


But here is the basic lay of the land: the festival is divided into mini-fests, each with its own qualities and genetics. There is an “Independent Spirits” showcase celebrating films outside the studio system; “Eye on the World,” with hard-to-find international productions; “Making It Reel,” presents documentaries; plus, Southwest Showcase and selections from the New Mexico Film Expo.


That’s not to mention a daily schedule of professional panels and workshops, parties and special events.


Don’t miss the Milagro Awards Ceremony Saturday afternoon. That’s when SFFF’s version of the Oscars are presented in an emotional and highly entertaining Santa Fe style.


That is one of the venues for seeing the specially recognized “Tributees.”


This year’s Tributees, actor James Cromwell, composer Howard Shore and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, will be among the many visiting guests and jurors, Academy award-winning producers and filmmakers participating in a variety of programs.


Zsigmond, for example, filmed such classics as “Close Encounter of the Third Kind,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Red Sky at Morning.” His cinematography in “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” will be on display in one of the Tributee Salutes.


Bowman pointed out that another special trait of SFFF is its interest in the technical and artistic side of production.


“This is the third straight year that we have honored a cinematographer,” he said. Zsigmond’s partner, the legendary cameraman Lazlo Kovaks was a Tributee in 2006.


There are program partners, like the National Geographic’s “All Roads Film Project,” with a skein of indigenous films from around the world.


Another trench of four films comes from the New York Jewish Film Festival, shown at the Lincoln Center at the beginning of the year.


A new partner is an American Film Institute’s Project 20/20, a distillation of films dealing with cultural and social issues from around the world.


There are also the Gala films, produced by film studios.


In this category Bowman called special attention to two films shot in New Mexico – “A Lonely Place for Dying,” a CIA thriller, and Tributee Cromwell’s latest production; and “Sunshine Cleaning,” with Alan Arkin and by the team that produced Oscar-winning “Little Miss Sunshine.”


Two other Gala presentations that will draw crowds are “Doubt,” with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hearst and “Jolene,” with Jessica Chastain.


For a dark-horse hit, check out the world premier of “Lifting of the Veil (Kashf),” a Sufi movie, shot in Pakistan, but with its roots in Santa Fe.


“Really a strong film,” Bowman said.


The box office opened Saturday at 519 Cerrillos Rd., open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and noon-4 p.m. on Sunday, but closed Thanksgiving.


Programs for SFFF were printed on Friday. There is a lot of information on line at www.santafefilmfestival.com.


Action plan: Get a program. Pour over it. Log on the website. Save this tip sheet and immerse yourself.


Do a little research. Get tickets in advance. Think strategically. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Keep your ear to the ground and your eyes peeled.


Gindreau’s “Ice Cream Man” selected for festival


This year another Los Alamos filmmaker will light up a big screen at the Santa Fe Film Festival.


To be sure, Los Alamos residents have participated in the Santa Fe Film Festival from the beginning, as volunteers and movie-goers, and Los Alamos National Bank is one of the sponsors.


On Dec. 5, an 11-minute documentary, “Ice Cream Man,” directed by Jean Gindreau, executive director of Pac-8, will be screened.


The film will be included in a package of videos from the New Mexico Film Expo and the Governor’s Cup series of animated shorts. The free show starts at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Temple, 463 Paseo de Peralta.


“Ice Cream Man” is about Matt Allen, a 33-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., whose goal in life is to give away a half-million free ice creams in seven years.


He started his ice-cream career in Ashland, Ore., giving away ice cream on his three-wheel bike. Now he travels the country in “Bessie,” his ice-cream truck, giving it away at music festivals and children’s hospitals.


Gindreau shot the documentary during several days in March, in Austin, Texas at South by Southwest, one of the biggest music festivals in the world.


She began making films as a college student in Madison, Wisconsin and has made many productions since she started working at PAC-8.


“I have attended the festival every year as a volunteer,” she said in an interview Friday. “We do interviews with filmmakers, before and during the festival. We cover all the panels and tape the award ceremony to air on PAC-8.”


She said she has had music videos in the SFFF, but “Ice Cream Man” is her first short documentary.


“Music is my favorite thing in life,” she said. “Film is my second favorite.”


She said another thing she’s looking forward to is that Gene Torres, who used to work at PAC-8, has a music video in the festival about a band called “Mission Creeps.”


Torres is coming in from out of town and the band is coming too. They will play at a special “Mission Creeps” party at Warehouse 21 on Saturday night, Dec. 6.