THE FAMILY THAT SCREENS TOGETHER BRENT KLIEWER AND THE SANTA FE FILM FESTIVAL
By Robert Nott/The New Mexican
July 22, 2011
Brent Kliewer — who has always believed that movies should be shared with others in the dark — is the new director of programming for the Santa Fe Film Festival. He still oversees programming at The Screen on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. The festival runs from October 20 to 23 at various sites around town, including the Center for Contemporary Arts Cinematheque and The Screen.
Since the early 1980s, Kliewer has worked as a programmer — he worked in that capacity for the now-defunct art house Collective Fantasy in Santa Fe before he began programming films for the Cinematheque and The Screen. “My 27-year relationship with Santa Fe and film can bring a knowledge, stability, and passion to the event,” he said. “It’d like to see the festival survive. It needs this year to get over the hump.
” It’s a significant hump. The festival was founded in 1999 or 2000 (accounts vary) and quickly became known for its low-key, fun atmosphere in which filmmakers mingled with patrons and celebrities. Over the years, it has honored wild and weird film personalities, such as Steven R. Kutcher (who trains bugs for movies) and cult actress Mary Woronov, and local, big-name celebrities including Alan Arkin, Shirley MacLaine, and Wes Studi. The festival often scheduled 100 to 200 titles (though many of these were shorts) over the course of four or five days. Panel talks and parties generally bookended the event.
Along the way, the festival has been plagued by rising debt and organizational mess-ups that have put off patrons and sponsors. In May, the festival announced that film producer Diane Schneier Perrin was taking over as executive director. It recently hired Kliewer, who is working gratis for the time being.
Pasatiempo spoke with Kliewer about his new position.
Pasatiempo: How many titles will you program for this year’s festival, and can you give us any clues as to what those titles are?
Brent Kliewer: I’m thinking 12 feature films and four shorts. It will never be as big as it once was with the number of films it once showed — 120 or something like that. I have lots of ideas, but I can’t give you any titles yet.
Pasa: Will the festival have any guest stars or honorees as before?
Kliewer: That’s still in the works. We had a potential honoree who couldn’t be here due to other commitments, so we’re still pursuing it.
Pasa: Why should Santa Fe support a film festival?
Kliewer: Santa Fe is unique in that it is one of the most eclectic and supportive towns in terms of film. It’s a natural for a film festival and one that can take advantage of a “City Different” attitude. We want to make it a tighter, leaner machine. I think the festival got too unwieldy … for a four-day event. In four days, how many films can you see? Set it up where people can see a reasonable amount of films in that period and then have time to discuss them.
The sacred nature of film is communal. Everybody sees a film differently, but what’s nice about a film festival is you bring all these people together to discuss film, and they all bring their own life experiences to a movie. A film festival should be a community activity — four days of immersing yourself in some esoterica, thought-provoking documentaries, popular titles, offbeat comedies. A lot of films garner a lot of publicity — everybody’s talking about Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris now; all the reviewers love it — but the key with a festival is, you are selling something that people don’t know anything about. I think we will aim for getting films that haven’t played in this country yet and films that may not have found distribution yet.
Pasa: Besides the financial hurdles, what challenges do you think the festival faces today?
Kliewer: Getting its audience back and getting it to support the festival as a year-round organization … along the lines of a film society, with events featuring guest speakers covering a wider range of opportunities for discussion. If a television movie is shooting here, bring in one of the producers or writers for a special event.
Pasa: Despite all its problems, the film festival is still alive after some 10 years. What does that say about it?
Kliewer: This town loves movies. This town loves the festival. The average movie-goer does not get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with day-to-day operations. It doesn’t concern them. If you went to a theater and the print didn’t show up, well, that’s another story.
Pasa: What does the festival need to do to survive — or thrive — for another 10 years?
Kliewer: It needs major sponsors and the trust that comes with those major sponsors. It needs the community to invest and take ownership of it. The entire industry is going through a massive evolution. Where will it be in five years? It’s about keeping up with new technology while not forgetting where it all came from or how it started. Film is a timeless art, but you have to demonstrate that by distilling a great group of films into a smaller group of titles to ensure you get the best quality program that you can give Santa Fe and its attendant movie-goers … which is not to say everybody will like everything.
Intimacy is the key here. You have to have an intimate film festival and an intimate relationship with its audience. I want everyone to know the people involved with the festival, set a little more relaxed atmosphere where people are able to chat. With all these interactive media choices, we have to work with it and see where it goes and incorporate that into the festival itself. Film has become such a disposable media. The festival has to find the things that are not disposable.
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