May 6, 2011

Like the heroine of an old movie serial, the Santa Fe Film Festival has undergone its share of close calls in the past few years, with changing leadership, mounting debt, and a lack of focused programming often putting its existence in jeopardy. It has been tied to the tracks, waiting for the train to roll over it, more than once. Then again, those serial queens always escaped at the last minute, didn’t they?

Earlier this month, the board of directors of the roughly 12-year-old festival hired Diane Schneier Perrin as executive director. Schneier Perrin worked in independent production before she ran the New Mexico Filmmakers Intensive training program from 2006 to 2009 at the former College of Santa Fe. The festival’s board is ready to launch a “Rebuild the Santa Fe Film Festival” campaign in preparation for this year’s fest (slated for Oct. 20 to 23).

“We want to take the Santa Fe Film Festival and put it up where it ought to be and have everybody in the community be part of it and not have any bad blood,” Schneier Perrin said in a recent interview in her Santa Fe home, where she was joined by SFFF board members Nick Durrie and Sandy McGovern Durrie. The board currently has four members, all of whom are fairly new and are actively working to create a program of 12 to 15 feature films (plus selected shorts and panel talks), raise funds, and pay down the debt accumulated by the festival over the last decade.

“What was so appealing about the job to me is the board commitment and level of expertise to be responsible for the financial obligations of the festival past and present,” Schneier Perrin said.

The festival officially started in either 1999 or 2000, depending on which account you follow, and was spearheaded by a group of film fanatics including Jon Bowman, David Koh, and Michelle Kiley. Its goal was to spotlight independent and New Mexico film artists. Bowman quickly became executive director.

In a short time the festival became known for its party atmosphere and for a quantity-over-quality approach, often screening more than 200 titles. With an annual budget that sometimes topped $400,000, it also racked up debt that made dealings with vendors, contractees, and staffers a challenge.

Two years ago, Bowman stepped down, and Karen RedHawk Dallett took over as operations director for one year. Last year Dallett was out, and the board relied on volunteer directors Rose Kuo and Michael Hare to run the fest, which screened eight feature films and some shorts last October at various venues in Santa Fe on a budget of just more than $100,000.

Kuo and Hare have since been hired as executive director and chief operating officer, respectively, of the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. Nick Durrie praised Hare’s ability to pay down half the festival’s debt and keep it going.

While working to satisfy creditors, Schneier Perrin and the board want to renovate the event so that it not only highlights world cinema, indie filmmakers, and New Mexican film artists, but also makes a profit. They are already speaking about bringing in one guest of honor — as yet, unnamed — who is still active in the business and who has a legacy of work that can sustain a retrospective.  As with the fest of old, they will entertain submissions, primarily through the online festival submission system Withoutabox.

One goal they have is to keep the operating decisions sustained within a cohesive, tight-knit group. They’re also planning to mount fundraising events and community outreach programs this summer.

The festival’s volunteer base is still strong, and board members are reaching out to the mayor’s office and to the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission for support. “It seems that we just have to say, ‘My dad has a barn, and we’re putting on a show,’ and people respond,” Schneier Perrin said. “The spirit is infectious.”

She realizes that belt-tightening is a given and drew a parallel to the challenges any independent filmmaker faces when trying to raise money for a movie — she knows how much she needs to make the festival work (somewhere north of $100,000 and south of $200,000, Nick Durrie said), but she’s willing to make financial compromises to keep the festival within budget and maintain its integrity.

“We want to be in the hearts of Santa Feans,” she said. “We want to make something that people will be talking about from an intellectual and artistic perspective while still offering a ‘let’s have fun’ attitude and having people realize how great it is to see films in Santa Fe in October.”

The festival website — www.http://santafefilmfestival.com/index — will be revamped and updated soon, she said.  Other than that, as with the old chapter plays, you’ll just have to stay tuned to see what happens next.

May 6, 2011 | Category: News | Comments (0)

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