But the five-day fest was a little too chaotic. Wednesday afternoon when I stopped by the box office seemed sleepy but several films had already sold out. By 5:30 pm the volunteer-run box office was packed and the line more of a cluster. Understandable for a small ad hoc space such as Club Luna, not so understandable for UA DeVargas.
Saturday night, one of the Festival’s gala features, and the one I’d been waiting all weekend for, Doubt, brought about a mass of chaos that caused several people to leave, tickets in hand. The previous film, The Class found its audience filtered out into the line for people hoping to pick up tickets for Doubt and, as is natural when that many people gather in one spot, many people from one film knew people from the other.
Huddles of people blocked the aisle, a complete lack of signage caused Australia’s audience to intermingle with the Film Festival crowd. Those with and without tickets were forced to direct one another to the right line, and if you happened to be one of the unlucky ones without a ticket it was to yet another glob of people huddled together sweating in front of a table with two ragged volunteers—one standing on a chair shouting wait-list names at the top of her lungs, the other shell shocked and slowly handing out tickets while attempting not to speak to anyone—trying to get people away from them as quickly as possible.
DeVargas manager Matthew Asher did his best to control the crowd, which groaned and panicked every time he tried to alleviate the mess, with no help from Film Festival staff. And forget the snack bar, those kids just looked like they wanted to cry, which makes purchasing popcorn seem like sadism slathered in fake butter.
DeVargas wasn’t the only place the Film Festival staff, which is mostly made up of volunteers, could have used a little more training. Each time I tried to call the box office with questions I was shuffled around from person to person until it finally seemed more realistic—and more monetarily viable as I was afraid I’d run out of cell phone minutes before my, I thought, simple question was answered—to hop on the old bike and pedal over. Oops. My question, “will my temporary press pass get me into any movies, I can’t seem to get a legit one?”, ended with one volunteer grabbing “the person in charge,” another volunteer, who promptly wrote “Please honor this pass/except for Doubt, Sita Sings the Blues and Under the Bombs” on it. That one little misspelling, of course, relating the three movies I was trying to get tickets for. Thankfully, Sharpie does come off of laminated plastic with a little hot water and elbow grease.
Truthfully, the frustration of trying to get tickets at the mellow box office kind of deflated my desire to actually get to the theaters to try again. Doubt was a must, and it was worth the hassle, but the others I ditched. All weekend, at various locations I was hearing that the movies weren’t great. Everyone seemed to agree that the Festival went for quantity over quality and after giving a few a shot people were starting to give up.
But this Festival isn’t just about the films being shown, it’s about the film community gathering together. And that seems to be where it succeeded the most. A Sunday afternoon panel discussion on the state of film in New Mexico found a roomful of producers, directors, actors and other schmoozing, bonding and making deals. Though one audience member wrestled the discussion away from the panelists for a short time with a tirade about greening the industry the conversation was quickly taken back and put on track.
In its ninth year The Santa Fe Film Festival has grown from its humble beginnings and this is the first year it has seemed to outgrow itself, at least as far as the general filmgoing audience is concerned. Over the five days more than 2,800 people flooded through DeVargas alone, according to Asher, and though some screenings were more packed than others all involved more crowd control that was on hand. Next year I hope to see Festival organizers train their volunteers a little more, actually have someone of authority on hand to help them out, and for Godsakes people, DeVargas mall is huge, there’s got to be a way to utilize the foyer in the middle rather than forcing people to wait in line outside.