Screen machine: Santa Fe Independent Film Festival flickers forward

Seekers, directed by Aurore Vullierme, is among the films featured at this year’s SFIFF

Changes are coming to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (SFIFF). Now in its 12th year, the festival has responded to the pandemic by moving screenings to an online platform —and to Motorama at the Downs, a local pop-up drive-in theater. The festival is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 14, to Oct. 18.

“It’s a different festival than what we normally do,” says Executive Director Liesette Paisner Bailey. “We can’t have the great parties and the great networking events and have all the filmmakers that we normally have come from across the world.”

Paisner Bailey and Artistic Director Jacques Paisner discussed the possibility of moving the festival to a later date, should theaters reopen under revised health orders. Usually, the festival is planned for October. “It’s unclear whether it’s going to be November, December, or 2021. I think it made sense that we continued with the festival dates as planned, and Motorama’s opening coincided with that,” Paisner says. They also happened to be office neighbors with the Motorama, making the decision easier. The Motorama, which converted the infield at the Downs at Santa Fe racetrack into a drive-in, opened during the summer.

After sunset, SFIFF screens one or two films each night of the event for a total of seven films at the Motorama. These screenings will not be available online. Food trucks and movie-style snacks are available at the site. Attendees are also welcome to bring their own picnic.

Other films can be viewed online and are available for 48 hours.

Twenty-eight films are in competition, and additional films are in the short program and noncompetition slate. Cumulatively, the festival has more than 100 programs. Last year, the festival screened a similar number of films. This year, the festival opens with Alex Winter’s documentary Zappa, on the life of singer and songwriter Frank Zappa, and closes with Sam Pollard’s civil rights documentary MLK/FBI. “We’re playing fewer films, but there’s a good variety and definitely the same amount of awards and the really wonderful shorts programs,” Paisner Bailey says. Many of the films were selected from programming at other major film festivals.

From the narrative selections, Paisner has a few recommendations, all of which are available online. “I love one called Materna. I’m really excited about that. It’s kind of an adult drama,” he says. For a little humor, Paisner points to Shiva Baby, which is about a Jewish woman who meets the love of her life after a mourning ceremony. Paisner is also looking forward to a Spanish-language film called Isabella. “It’s about a woman who is studying for a role in Macbeth, and she and her friend, who is helping her study, go for a long hike in the mountains of Argentina, and it becomes similar to Single White Female, but a tamer, less violent version.”

On the documentary side, Paisner is excited about the experimental film Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation, which was directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. “Truman Capote is played by Jim Parsons and Tennessee Williams is played by Zachary Quinto, and so it’s a little bit experimental. For a literary city, I think it’s really going to work,” Paisner says. Literary Santa Feans might also be drawn to Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power. Atwood is best known for writing The Handmaid’s Tale, which was adapted into a successful television series.

As usual, SFIFF will award cash prizes to films in competition. “Here in New Mexico, there’s not really anything else to fill that void of a completion with a cash prize and a way for these films to be seen theatrically,” Paisner says. Prize money runs from $500 to $1,000, in five categories.

Included in that competition will be original films produced in New Mexico, including Fukry, directed by Blackhorse Lowe; Seekers, directed by Aurore Vullierme; and Truth or Consequences, directed by Hannah Jayanti.

The festival continues the tradition of featuring panels and discussions with filmmakers, which are available to watch live or recorded online. The full list of speakers was still under discussion at press time.

Passes are priced $125 for 39 online screenings, including nine shorts programs, $200 for seven drive-in screenings, and $275 for both. Individual tickets for virtual films cost $12. For the Motorama, they’re $25-$40, depending on the size of the carload. No tickets will sold be onsite at the Motorama. Go to to purchase. ◀

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