“We’re really excited with how nationally known the film festival has become,” says Jacques Paisner, SFIFF artistic director. “It’s one of the top international film festivals because we are coming together with films that are often the second or third screenings in North America.”
The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival began in 2009, when it was housed inside a community center.
By 2011, it had become the largest film festival in New Mexico, screening over 100 films during a five-day festival.
By 2014, the festival crossed a milestone and hosted over 10,000 attendees for the first time.
The festival has always been held in October.
“The festival lines up well just after the Balloon Fiesta and the New York Film Festival,” says Liesette Paisner Bailey, SFIFF executive director. “It’s the perfect time for our region. Big premieres are taking place in New York and Los Angeles, and we try to get these films in Santa Fe for the festival. It gives people the opportunity to not have to travel far to see these films.”
In 2019, the festival was able to secure the films “Marriage Story,” “Just Mercy” and the 1983 classic “Somewhere in Time.”
“Marriage Story” and “Just Mercy” were Oscar contenders and gave people in the state a chance to see the film months before it came out.
Jacques Paisner says the festival was able to get the films because of the developing relationships with Netflix and NBC Universal, both of which have studios in Albuquerque.
“It’s been super important to develop these relationships,” Jacques Paisner explains. “(Netflix and NBC Universal) decided to make New Mexico their home. It’s our home, as well, and we want to provide quality cinema to festivalgoers. Having these relationships gives everyone a new opportunity. ‘Marriage Story’ was from Netflix and ‘Somewhere in Time’ is an Universal picture.”
As the festival continues to gain traction in the circuit, Liesette Paisner Bailey says it’s also important to have a presence at other festivals.
“I travel to other film festivals around the world,” she says. “I went to Festival de Cannes and, each year, we go to Telluride to find the best international films to bring to Santa Fe.”
Years ago, SFIFF was competitive with festivals that were more regional.
Jacques Paisner says, today, the festival is competing for the biggest films.
“It’s put us in a place where we have these opportunities to play movies that in previous years were out of reach,” he says. “It really challenges us to be a stop for a big movie. A movie that is figuring out its journey and it decides to land in Santa Fe because there is a large number of Oscar voters here. There’s no little city like this and it’s because we have one-of-a-kind theaters. Everything comes together for the festival to stand out.”
Liesette Paisner Bailey says the festival continues to expand its community outreach, offering free movies in the park during the summer months.
The festival has also honored the likes of Russell Means, Gary Farmer, Kirby Dick, Alton Walpole, Chris Eyre, Rudolfo Anaya, Judy Blume, John Waters, Shirley MacLaine, John Sayles, N. Scott Momaday, Jane Seymour, Tantoo Cardinal and George R.R. Martin.
“When we’re setting our program, things can get pretty crazy,” she says. “We’re doing our volunteer meetings and making sure everything is covered. It’s a lively time around the offices and it’s purely fun.”