It’s fitting that the 13th annual Santa Fe Independent Film Festival kicks off with Bergman Island, a film about a movie-making couple (Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps) who seek inspiration on Fårö, the Swedish isle where renowned filmmaker Ingmar Bergman lived and worked. The film, which premiered at Cannes in July, screens at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Violet Crown.
With this film the festival is saying, “We’re all about movies.” In fact, it’s all about five days and nights of movies, celebrating independent filmmaking the world over with dozens of features and more than 100 shorts.
This is the first in-person festival since 2019, which was attended by more than 10,000 people. Last year, SFIFF presented seven films at the local drive-in, Motorama at the Downs, but most of its program was virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The virtual component, while not ideal, did have an upside.
“People from all over the United States were able to tune in,” says SFIFF Executive Director Liesette Paisner Bailey. “But you don’t get that communal experience of watching a film and getting to talk about it after or having those reactions together. You know when a great scene happens and everybody gasps or everybody claps? We’re excited to bring back that communal film experience.”
This year’s festival is a bit of a hybrid: SFIFF is showing 6 features, 8 student shorts, and 8 risqué shorts virtually, but the majority of films screen at local venues, including the Jean Cocteau Cinema and the Violet Crown.
“On Friday and Saturday at the Railyard Park, we’ll have an LED wall with environmental films playing during the day,” Paisner Bailey says. “Some people aren’t quite ready to go back to the theaters, so that’s something that’s free and open to the public.”
Among the films screening in the park are director Tasha Van Zandt’s documentary feature After Antarctica (3:40 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15), which follows legendary explorer Will Steger’s latest expedition to the coldest region of the planet 30 years after his historic coast-to-coast journey to the polar regions; and directors Pamela Tanner Boll and Lindsay Richardson’s To Which We Belong (3:10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, Railyard, and 2:20 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at Violet Crown), which is about farmers and ranchers who’ve abandoned conventional practices in favor of more sustainable ones in an effort to bring health to the environment and their livelihoods.
Over the course of its history, SFIFF has featured more than 500 films, from Academy Award-winning productions to undiscovered gems, and it’s grown into a top seasonal event in Santa Fe. In May, the festival received the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in recognition of its impact on the city, which includes helping to establish Santa Fe as a destination for filmmakers and film enthusiasts and extending the tourism season into October.
“It’s always exciting to receive an award in your town,” Paisner Bailey says. “Being recognized for showing these independent voices every year is really special.”
The stellar lineup of films includes: actress Charlotte Gainsbourg’s first film as director, Jane By Charlotte (2:40 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, Jean Cocteau), a documentary feature on Gainsbourg’s relationship with her mother, Jane Birkin; Argentina-born provocateur Gaspar Noé’s drama Vortex (3:20 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, Jean Cocteau), which is about an elderly couple with dementia; and director Asghar Farhadi’s new film, A Hero (6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, Jean Cocteau), about a man’s attempt to convince his creditor to remove a complaint about him over an unpaid debt.
But among the more prominent highlights is the festival’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award, which goes to Oliver Stone, director of such massive hits as Natural Born Killers (1994), JFK (1991), and Platoon (1986). Stone receives the award, which will be presented by actor Wes Studi at the Lensic Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16. The event includes a screening of Stone’s 1991 biopic on rock icon Jim Morrison, The Doors.
Pasatiempo takes a look at eight notable features in a variety of genres, all of which screen at this year’s festival.