Set-building at Garson Communication Center, 1991; file photo/The New Mexican
The movie awards season is heating up, and as we hurtle toward Oscar night, we can expect to see more Hollywood statements of solidarity with the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. But a pervasive culture of sexism also stymies women working behind the camera. According to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, just 7 percent of all directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2016 were women. (Overall, women held only 17 percent of all writing, executive producer, producer, editor, and cinematographer jobs in 2016.) But top-grossing films are not the only movies being made — or the only movies worth seeing. Small, independent projects made by women and others who cannot always find traditional outlets for their work are the lifeblood of film festivals, where audiences can view movies from around the world that might never make it to a multiplex screen.
Organizers of this year’s Santa Fe Film Festival, which continues through Sunday, Feb. 11, did not plan the festival’s focus on women in film to fit in with #MeToo. “When I got together with Nani Rivera, the chair of the festival board, to talk about what we wanted to do this year, she said she wanted to work with the New Mexico Women in Film organization and show more films with female directors and actors,” said Aaron Leventman, the festival’s programmer. “It turned into the perfect opportunity.”
Christine McHugh, president of New Mexico Women in Film, said, “This is a really important time. All of the high-profile positions that women are able to take now — speaking loudly against a culture of sexual discrimination, of harassment, of general disrespect — I think this is the time for women in the New Mexico film industry to get really loud about it.”
There are numerous panels offered on women in the industry, beginning with Women of a Certain Age in Film and TV at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, at Hotel Santa Fe. A panel called NM Girls Make Movies takes place at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Center for Contemporary Arts, and the Activism: Women in the Field panel is 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 11, at Hotel Santa Fe. Festival films directed by women include Snapshots, directed by Melanie Mayron, and Axis, directed by Aisha Tyler, both of whom will be present for Q&As at their respective screenings.
The festival, which is usually held in December, was pushed back to February this year to coincide with New Mexico Film Week, Feb. 6 through Monday, Feb. 12, organized by Shoot New Mexico. Film Week is a collaborative marketing effort by organizations associated with the local film industry. The week includes New Mexico Film and Media Day on Feb. 12 — a day of action and information at the New Mexico State Legislature, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Another component of Film Week is a wealth of training events, known as Tune Up, that are coordinated through the film festival and sponsored by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 480. There are workshops on everything from OSHA certification to sound design, entertainment law to casting.
The Santa Fe Film Festival struggled financially for a few years after the recession, but returned for a full festival in 2015. That year, the festival received a $40,000 check issued in error by the New Mexico Tourism Department. The money was actually in response to a grant application from the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Rivera and Jon Hendry, president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor and business agent for IATSE Local 480, told Pasatiempo that though they did not anticipate receiving these funds, the check was made out to the Santa Fe Film Festival and included their business information, so they deposited the check. Later, however, the state informed organizers of the error and began making plans to recoup the money, which the festival had already spent. The Santa Fe Film Festival reached a tentative agreement with the state to repay the money through advertising and sponsorships in 2016 and 2017. Because the festival was not held in December 2017, the Santa Fe Film Festival “failed to comply with the full terms of their sponsorship agreement with the New Mexico Tourism Department,” said Bailey N. Griffith, director of public information and policy for the Tourism Department, in a prepared statement. Griffith confirmed via telephone that the check was incorrectly issued with the Santa Fe Film Festival’s business information.
In general, there is a working-class vibe to the Santa Fe Film Festival and the New Mexico film industry itself, where gaffers, key grips, hairstylists, and script supervisors are as vital to the local economy as directors, producers, and stars. The festival’s movies tend to focus more on story than over-the-top style. Leventman said he gravitates to voices that are not likely to find an outlet in Hollywood, selecting the documentary If I Was a Famous Artist as a prime example of this quality. That movie — showing at 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, at CCA — is directed by Rich Rickaby, a filmmaker and performance artist who has been making underground films for over 30 years. “He’s a little like John Waters, but his films make no money. They are barely seen,” Leventman said. “Nobody knows who he is. He questions whether his life would be different if he was well known. Would he make as much art then? I wanted to give voice to that because there are a lot of artists in Santa Fe who do their work because they love it, regardless of whether they get recognition for it.”