Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (Part 1)

Let the Film Fun Begin!

Days 1 and 2 of the Festival

First Day of Movies!!

The time has arrived for the main purpose of our time in Santa Fe.  It is to participate (on a spectator level) in the viewing of new films being presented at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. 

Our mission (which we were glad to accept!) was to connect with directors of the films that we liked and feel would potentially be good for showing in Lincoln at our local independent film theater, The Mary Reipma Ross Media Arts Center. 

As volunteer emissaries for The Ross, we had a new purpose for movie watching! 

This year the festival has a full array of foreign, Native American and main-stream films plus several categories of short films made by new film makers.  There is literally something in every genre to fill out our schedule.  The hard part is deciding which ones to see and balancing our time to make the most of our experience.

Opening night was highlighted by the movie ‘Just Mercy’ at the Violet Crown theater. This movie will probably make it to the main-stream theaters next year and it’s one you should definitely see.   

Just Mercy(2019, 156 min.)

Director:  Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring:  Brie LarsonMichael B. JordanTim Blake Nelson and Jamie Foxx

The Story: This movie is based on a true story. It is very moving in its depiction of an innocent man on death row.  Regardless of your feelings of being pro or against the death penalty, the fact that this movie is based on a true facts about and innocent individual who is falsely accused, found guilty, imprisoned and placed on death row should move any person with an ounce of compassion. This issue impacts everyone in a civilized society. The cast includes Jamie Foxx (the accused), Michael B. Jordon (his attorney) and Brie Larson (Jordon’s impassioned law clerk). All deserve to be recognized for their outstanding performances.

Grade: A++   

Foodie Photos

We complete the day with dinner at a restaurant we visited back in May, Restaurant Martin.  It’s still a great! 

Day 2 of the Festival

Second Day at the Movies!

I’ll need to keep these reviews short as I am probably already dangerously close to exceeding the attention span of most readers.  Skip ahead if that’s the case and just enjoy the foodie shots…

Today's Agenda

Today we viewed 4 programs.  Three foreign films and a collection of Comedy and Romance shorts. Just a quick word about foreign films.  Since it probably involves more reading than enjoying the cinematic qualities of the movie, work on your fast reading skills and catch as much of the acting and scenery as possible between takes.  Personally, I let the images do most of the story telling and on occasion rely on the dialogue (subtitled) to orient myself on the direction of the story. With practice, it seems to work most of the time.

Another piece of advice if you’re doing these marathon movie events.  Go lite on the popcorn and soda—or in our case, water. Plan on when you are going to relax, eat lunch and dinner.  And most importantly, drink caffeine (if that’s your stimulant of choice). The reward of seeing so many movies in such a short period of time is that you are exposed to so much new talent with very little effort.  If you like movies, this is (for some of us) nirvana. Here’s what we saw:

Top End Wedding (2019, 113 min.)

Director:  Wayne Blair

Starring:  Brooklyn DoomadgeeHelena JohnsonDan Collins 

The story: This is a story set in Australia, about a young couple who decide to get married. She is a modern day aboriginal (native) successful business intern who works in a high stress job for a “Coretta DeVille-style” boss and he is your standard Caucasian (non-native) boy who is a lawyer but suddenly finds himself conflicted with his boss’s (and profession’s) lack of empathy toward people. He quits his job at the same moment that his girlfriend decides they should quickly get married to fit into her boss’s work schedule. Without telling her about his new unemployed status he agrees to get married in her home town of northeaster Australia with her parents present. There is only one problems…Her mother has gone missing (of her own accord) due to some marital issues of her own.  The wedding cannot go on until they find her mother. In the ensuing chase around Australia to find her, we, the audience, get to see some spectacular images of Australia and its people.

The bottom line: The movie is enjoyable to watch. Funny and fast moving at times. The arch of the story is formulaic but still enjoyable to watch.  The good part, no subtitles except for a few aboriginal phrases. And a happy ending! 

Grade: B+

Shorts: Comedy and Romance

O.K. Shorts of all types are a hit and miss type of genre. We viewed 8 Shorts which varied in length from 4 minutes to 26 minutes. Some funny and some dull.  

All of the shorts in this category were creative in their style of camera use and dialogue.  Most were low budget; they might be shot in the director’s apartment or other types of borrowed locations.  A piece of advice regarding Shorts, though. Keep an open mind or work in some nap time if you’re just not inspired.  It’s only a few minutes until the next one starts so there is hope on the horizon.

 We saw:

Bad Assistant (2019, 26 minutes)

Director: Kyle Cogan

Starring:  Cooper JohnsonPaige KloneJason Schwartzman

The story: Brash, narcissistic movie ‘star’ (Jason Schwartzman) abuses his devoted assistant (Paige Klone) by ridicule and quasi-law breaking demands. She puts up with it until she finds a way to fight back.

Bottom line: Funny at times. Good acting, good production value (the filming was high quality), story was a little awkward. More editing could have saved it, though. At 26 minutes, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Grade: C+

Connections (2019, 6 minutes)

Director:  Kevin P. Alexander

Starring:  Lindsey BroadTeo Rapp-Olsson

The story: A young new writer (Teo Rapp-Olsson) makes a connection with a young opinionated producer (Lindsey Broad) who proceeds to advise the writer on his career in writing—rather harshly–but with honesty. 

Bottom line:  A funny story with a surprise ending that should make everyone smile. Good acting, good production value (multi camera in a fixed location), good writing and editing.

Grade: A

Trashy (2019, 5 minutes)

Director: Kevin P. Alexander

Starring:  Cameron ScogginsClea Alsip

The story: A man and woman are on a date and he says something that “ruins” the mood of the evening at just the wrong moment. Something about being ‘Trashy’…  

Bottom line: This was a very funny 5 minutes that instantly related with most viewers in the audience (based on the audible laughter). Nothing but relate-able real life for some of us…The film had very believable acting, good writing and editing.

Grade: A

Personal Best (2019, 4 minutes)

Director:  Kevin P. Alexander  (again!)

Starring: Rachel McKeon, Miles G. Jackson

The story: Similar to Trashy, this is a similar real-life story but with a slightly different twist on who to root for.  A woman reveals more than her “tinder” date wanted to hear. This is a commentary on today’s dating scene that some of us have only imagined or read about but in any case, find curiously interesting.

Bottom line: Another funny and interesting subject for us oldsters. Good production value, writing and editing were succinctly done.

Grade: A

I Love Lisha (16 minutes I’ll never get back)

Writer/Directors: Dan Robert and Lisha Brooks

Starring: Lisha Brooks, Dan Robert, Emily Skeggs and Greg Santos

The story: I have no idea what the story was trying to evoke other than to be a parody on the 1950’s TV show ‘I Love Lucy’…complete with slap stick-ish humor and stereo-typed characters.

Bottom line: Shot in black and white on a stage setting with quasi-believable characters and writing. The actors stayed afterward for Q&A. I feared it would be awkward for them and us since there wasn’t a single laugh from the audience the entire 16 minutes. However, the actors were enjoyable to listen to about their process of writing, shooting and performing in the movie. It just wasn’t well executed. That happens occasionally at these festivals. I hope they learn from the experience and keep making more movies, too.

Grade: D (O.K., I admittedly didn’t really like the film very much but I graded it up from an F due to it’s fearless attempt at trying to stand out from the crowd. I just wish I had been uniquely funnier–like the original ‘I Love Lucy’.) 

40 Minutes Over Maui (14 minutes)

Directors:  Josh CovittMichael Feld

Starring:  Julie BristerKaitlyn ClareJohnny Ray Meeks

The story: Remember when Hawaii was under attack from North Korea?  Or so it seemed? Imagine what some people did when they got the message on their TV’s and cell phones that they only had a few minutes before the missiles would be landing on their heads.  This is the story of two people who decide to make the most of it before their lives are snuffed out.  Mini bar and all. 

Bottom line: This one was actually, fairly, funny. The premise of the story served as the basis of much of the humor so it pretty much wrote itself as most of us would probably have done some of the same things that this couple decided to do. The rest (production value, editing and performances) were all well done and cute.

Grade: B+

Kindred Spirit (18 minutes)

Director: Caroline Lindy

Starring: Jack Henry Robbins

The story: Do you believe in ghosts? Well, this one might be less funny if you don’t. Imagine, though, if social media and the eternal spirt world somehow combined. Texting might be a new form of communicating with the dead!

The bottom line: The best part of this little film was the acting. The two characters are totally believable and likeable.  Production value was good as was the writing and editing but if I can like AND believe the actors on the screen, it makes all the difference on my liking or disliking a movie.  The premise of the story is totally unbelievable but who cares?

Grade: A

Westfalia (2019, 16 minutes)

Director: Haley Finnegan

Starring: Haley Finnegan, Brian Flynn

The story: One theme of the new generation of movie makers is the impact of social media on how we live. This little movie does a good job of pointing out the lack of value to our personal happiness that social media can have if we let it. A couple in this film chases the rabbit of “more likes”, “more followers”, and “trending” and it starts to control their lives beyond true value. 

The bottom line: This is a very well-done film with high production, writing, editing and performances from its actors. I came away in the end not liking these two very much but empathized with their situation of trying to survive in the world they probably found exciting in the beginning but ended up hating by the end of the story. Maybe that’s the point for many people to find themselves in unrewarding jobs that are meaningless to their own self worth.

Grade: B+

Some Short Thoughts

One final word about Shorts. 

It’s difficult not to be too critical about the efforts of these early film makers who gave it a shot and either succeeded or didn’t as the result. I applaud their efforts, though, and hope they don’t get discouraged if they didn’t. After all, some of the best directors and film makers made a ‘dog’ on occasion…not naming anyone specific.

 We’re not done yet!

The next two full feature movies were both foreign films with plenty of subtitles.  I’ll try to convey the story as much as I can remember from the translations.

Anbessa (2019, Documentary, 85 minutes)

Director: Mo Scarpelli

Starring:  Asalif TewoldAlem Sebisibe AyitenfsuAbinet 

The story:  This is a tough one.  Filmed in Ethiopia, I was mesmerized by the visual images of poverty and the harsh struggle to survive for a small young boy and his mother who find themselves living next to a new housing development. The modernization that was supposed to be improving their lives, though, only made it more difficult to assimilate and survive. It’s not explained but, for them, they will undoubtedly never benefit economically from the progress being made around them.

The bottom line: Beautifully photographed and acted (although as a documentary, it’s not clear if the acting was scripted or just edited to make it appear there was spontaneity in the line of the story). I don’t know that this film will be enjoyed by very many people, but it should.  The reality of life in Ethiopia is something that should be known.

Grade: B

Il Traditore (The Traitor) (145 minutes)

Director:  Marco Bellocchio

Starring:  Pierfrancesco FavinoLuigi Lo CascioFausto Russo Alesi

The story: Godfather it’s not. Reality, it’s probably very close. The (based on a true) story is about a Sicilian mafia soldier who sees his own life and his family’s lives going in the wrong direction and seeks out the safety of living anonymously as a government informant; much to the danger to his family he leaves behind. As a true story, beyond the graphic violence depicted throughout the movie, seeing the truth of historical reality is both shocking and important for understanding the violent world of the Costa Nosta which impacted many Italians during the 1980’s.

The bottom line: Very high production value. Very good acting. Editing would have made the story more contiguous to the overall story. (Some courtroom scenes were overly detailed and could have been efficiently edited out for the sake of the audience.) 

Grade: B

A Few Thoughts

Our first couple of days at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival were exactly what we had hoped for.  Great venues, a diverse list of movies to see in a beautiful city.

Santa Fe held many attractions for us to take advantage of such as museums, art galleries, restaurants and shopping for all budgets! It will certainly be one of our “go-to” destination spots in the future. 

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