Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (Part 2)

Final Two Days of Festivities!

Days 3 and 4

Our final two days of the festival were filled to the maximum. We attended five feature length films and a reception for VIP attendees (plus us!) at the New Mexico Governor’s Mansion in the hills above Santa Fe.  More on that later!  

So here are the films from Day 6 of our trip…Days 3 and 4 of the festival.

Aleksi (2018, 90 minutes)

Director:  Barbara Vekaric

Starring:  Tihana LazovicGoran MarkovicLeon Lucev

The Story: The main premise of the story is one that may be familiar to many families.  “Failure-to-launch” coupled with adolescent empowerment has created a situation for a young Croatian woman who feels a need for artistic expression but isn’t accepted by her targets of growth. In other words, she is frustrated by the failure of others to accept her as herself.  Her parents want the best for her but her father understands her artistic goals while her mother recognizes that her daughter needs the stability that her family business (wine production) can provide. Add to this the pangs of youthful sexuality and a very engaging story develops that is filled with humor, disappointment and reconciliation all set in a beautiful Croatian Mediterranean beach front environment. Subtitled in English but the visuals are universally translated into all languages.

The bottom line: All aspects of the film are top notch.

Grade: A

Building the American Dream (Documentary 73 minutes)

Director: Chelsea Hernandez

Cast: Three immigrant families

The Story:  We have all seen it. Immigrant labor doing the work that many of us either choose to not do or cannot do for lack of skills. In the hot environments of the southern states—take Texas for example—the dangers of working outdoors are seen in the hospitals and morgues throughout. Dehydration is something very few (if not none) of us would accept for ourselves if we had to work under the conditions of 100+ degree heat as part of our jobs. The story is about how it took the collective action of the laborers and families of those that have been hospitalized or died to fight for legislation needed to force businesses under mandatory local law to provide two (yes only two) 10 minute breaks for every 4 hours of a work shift. Believe it or not, only two cities in the U.S. now have that requirement on their books—Dallas and Austin, Texas.

The bottom line: Beyond the technical, this empathetic documentary should be seen by anyone who has ever hired, relied on the labor of or knows someone who is an immigrant laborer. 

Grade: A  

Eliades Ochoa: From Cuba to the World (Documentary, 100 min.)

Director:  Cynthia Biestek

Starring:   Benicio Del ToroCharlie MusselwhiteEliades Ochoa

The Story: After the previous heavy documentary (above), we needed something uplifting to see. And we found it. This is the story of Eliades Ochoa and his journey to become the greatest Cuban guitarist of our time. His roots start with the encouragement his father (a talented musician of his era) after seeing his son’s desire and sparks of natural talent. He is probably most well known as a member of the legendary band ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ but his notoriety today is worldwide. If you are interested in knowing more about this iconic figure, find and watch this documentary. You won’t be able to keep your feet still!

The bottom line: Filled with many old images and film of early Cuban musicians that paved the way for Ochoa, this documentary expanded my appreciation for native Cuban music and also my appreciation for folk music in general.

Grade: A

Our third day of the fesitval was capped off with a reception at the New Mexico Governor’s mansion. The highlight of the reception was the recognition of Dan Ladely and the Mary Reipma Ross Media Center (Lincoln, Nebraska) as a major contributor and supporter of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival going back many years. Gary Farmer (actor, director, musician and SFiFF chair) was on hand to present Dan the highly deserved award.   

Last Day of Festival Films

It Must Be Heavan (2019, 97 min.)

Director:  Elia Suleiman

Starring:  Gael García BernalAli SulimanElia Suleiman 

The story: The protagonist, Elia Suleiman, is an escapee from Palestine in search of a new home. His silence (no dialogue) becomes a pantomime of sorts in that he communicates through only his eyes and often times blank expression. (Think of Mr. Bean from 1970’s British TV.)  (Actually, other characters speak throughout the movie but he speaks only three words toward the end of the 97 minutes which probably has some meaning but by then it’s not important.) This might sound like a set up for a really slow movie but here is an example of patience having its own reward.  There are some very humorous experiences as he ventures around the world (Paris and New York City) in search of a place where he feels at home. Each place carries with it a certain stereotype that (to me) makes him question his own understanding of the world, which (again to me), was the point of the story. Stereotyping other places by only what we see in the media provides a shallow view of the world.

The bottom line: I think this might have been one of the better movies we saw at the festival. Primarily for its unique approach to storytelling and underlying message. French with English Subtitles.

Grade: A+ 

The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open (2019, 105 min.)

Directors:  Kathleen Hepburn (co-director), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers(co-director)

Starring:  Violet NelsonElle-Máijá TailfeathersCharlie Hannah

The story: Set in East Vancouver, British Columbia, over the course of a few hours…in the rain…the story is about a young, pregnant, abused, Native American woman who is befriended by a bystander during the woman’s escape from her abusive boyfriend.  The bystander, also an indigenous woman but slightly more affluent, who immediately wants to help the victim find help. The story is about the fear and reluctance on the part of abused women to work their way out of abusive situations.

The bottom line: This was a truly interesting film from a technical standpoint, too.  Shot in one continuous 105 minutes take with a hand-held camera, no sound technicians, no editing and probably limited rehearsal, the story flows like real life.  The manor in which this film was shot takes on the feel of the real-life events that one of the two directors (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) actually experienced and provides the basis for the story. The ending will leave you wondering.

 Grade: A

Some Final Thoughts

As is typical for all of the film festivals we have been a part of, we only saw a fraction of the films offered for viewing. It’s not for lack of trying, though!  The beauty of most film festivals is that there are usually dozens of movies for all interests so there are normally far more titles than can be seen in the time available. 

However, there are always more movies that we wished we could have seen.  

Hopefully in the future, we will see some of those at The Ross or through other resources that pick up the distribution rights such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or one of numerous other on-line venues.  

Independent films are important to support for their artistic and cultural values and stretch our imaginations beyond normal Hollywood avenues.  

A final word of advice: This is only the third festival of this type we have attended but we felt comfortable about how to approach scheduling and selecting a good cross section of movies to see. If you decide to attend a festival, do some homework on how the festival is organized and talk to people who have attended the one you are planning to attend.  They are all a little different and takes some skill in planning ahead. (I would be happy to give you the benefit of our limited experience if you want to reach out to me.) 

Thanks for slogging through our trip to Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Let me know your thoughts and feel free to subscribe to hear about our next adventure!

Greg and Shelley 

P.S. Here is a little video of our trip for your viewing pleasure.

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