The new leadership team at the Santa Fe Film Festival thinks it knows the answer to a question that has confronted movie festivals for multiple seasons.
How do you get people back into the seats now that they can stream first-run films at home? You make every night an event.
The 23rd edition of the Santa Fe Film Festival hosts actors Karen Allen and Jacqueline Bisset, in addition to screening 17 feature films, 60 shorts, and 13 documentaries. New Mexico-made films are highlights, as are those made by the Native American and LGBTQ+ communities. The movies were selected out of a group of 600 submissions, says Aaron Leventman, the festival’s programming director.
The festival schedule is also filled with talkback events with some of the filmmakers and stars plus nightly after-parties at Hervé Wine Bar.
The event runs Feb. 17-26.
It’s a return for the non-profit festival, which the pandemic forced into an online event in 2021 and an in-person-and-virtual festival in 2022.
“I think people are missing the in-person connection,” Leventman says. “The whole reason you go to a festival is to interact with people, for filmmakers to meet other filmmakers, or to meet producers and distributors. And to get feedback from an audience which is really important because their movie could be brand new.”
The Santa Fe Film Festival was created by Kurt Young, Larry Stouffer, John Armijo, David Koh, and film critic Jon Bowman in 1999 and began showing films the following year. Leventman has worked at the festival for 18 seasons, rising from volunteering to make VHS screeners to choosing the films included in the festival.
In other words, he’s an invaluable resource for the festival’s new director, Mike Galaxy, who’s seemingly done a little of a lot in the entertainment industry, from working as a stand-in for Jason Priestley in the original season of Beverly Hills 90210 to being caught by paparazzi dancing with former MTV host Carmen Electra. Galaxy built his own music publishing agency, Indie Hits, in 1996, and he started an event planning business called Mike Galaxy Presents that hosted parties at South by Southwest and Sundance Film Festival.
That’s the path that brought him here, and Galaxy says that he’d like to build in dance parties and events that help distinguish the Santa Fe Film Festival.
“My ambition is to get it on par with some of these bigger film festivals,” Galaxy says. “Put it on the map again.”
Galaxy says he isn’t concerned about confusing SFFF with the Santa Fe International Film Festival — which runs in the fall — because he thinks the fact that they run in different seasons is enough to differentiate them.
One thing is certain, says Galaxy. The Santa Fe Film Festival is never going to change its name.
“The Santa Fe Film Festival has been around longer,” Galaxy says of the city’s two film festivals. “It’s the biggest one in the Southwest. It’s got a little bit more of a reputation outside New Mexico. So I’ll just leave it at that.”
What will it take to take the film festival to a bigger level? Money.
Increased support can lead to more screening venues, higher profile movies and directors, and special events which have the potential to buoy ticket sales and fatten the bottom line.
Allen will be feted with a lifetime achievement award on Feb. 25 at the New Mexico History Museum, and she will be present for two screenings and question-and-answer sessions. The festival will show perhaps her most famous movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), as well as her latest film, A Stage of Twilight (2022), at the Scottish Rite Center on Feb. 25.
Bisset, star of Bullit and Murder on the Orient Express, will introduce two of her films: Loren & Rose (2022) and the 2001 film Sleepy Time Gal, and she will participate in question-and-answer sessions for both.
“Jacqueline Bisset is an actress that I’ve been going to her movies almost my entire adult life and her career spanned almost 60 years. And this is, I think, her best performance,” Leventman says. “Karen Allen had an amazing career. Even though she’s never stopped working, I don’t think she’s quite gotten the attention that she deserves in the last 20 years for her body of work. So we’re really honored to be able to present her with this lifetime achievement award.”
Other films of local interest include Cormac McCarthy’s Veer, a documentary about the celebrated author and Santa Fe resident, and The Genizaro Experience — Shadows in Light by local filmmaker and musician Gary Medina Cook. Local comedian Isiah Yazzie will host a workshop in which he discusses stereotyping in Hollywood movies.