With film productions once again shooting in New Mexico, the Santa Fe Film Institute last week announced a new scholarship and grant program for local and regional filmmakers who need a financial boost. The institute is the nonprofit arm of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and was founded in 2013 by Liesette Paisner Bailey, her brother Jacques Paisner (also artistic director of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival), filmmaker Chris Eyre and Central New Mexico Community College English professor Marissa Juarez.
"At any stage of making a film, you're going to need a little help," Paisner Bailey, the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival's executive director and treasurer for the Santa Fe Film Institute, tells SFR. "We really want to advance the artistic vision of the filmmaker."
The newly announced programs offer up to $2,500 to New Mexico filmmakers and up to $2,000 to filmmakers from Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and/or Texas. Additionally, two aspiring or current New Mexico-based film students can apply for a $500 scholarship to be used toward their studies. The announcement builds onto SFFI's already-established fiscal sponsorship and mentorship programs for filmmakers in search of professional guidance, though this will be its first foray into the scholarships and grants game. Paisner Bailey says this is just the beginning.
"We're definitely looking to make it annual," she says, "and growing the amount given out, both in grants and scholarships. And the more sponsors we have, the more we can give."
Even better, the new program eschews the traditional qualifiers of similar artistic funding opportunities. According to Paisner Bailey, many other film scholarships and grants require certain criteria be met, such as specific production needs or narrative requisites that reflect a particular theme, genre or subject. The Santa Fe Film Institute's new process opens the doors to filmmakers in all stages of production, however, from screenwriting to the final post-production touches—and the filmmakers can keep their vision intact.
Paisner Bailey predicts the funds could herald long-term positive results throughout New Mexico, even if filmmakers in neighboring states are eligible.
"Our preference is for New Mexico filmmakers," she explains, "but still, there are not a lot of scholarships for people in film out there, so we wanted to encourage people even beyond the state to apply."
It's also about making opportunities for young creatives in New Mexico, who often leave the state in search of better opportunities. As the film industry has ebbed and flowed over the years—most notably ebbing during Gov. Susana Martinez's administration—New Mexico has always kept a strong toehold in the industry. If newer and/or younger filmmakers have even a small financial cushion, there's no telling where that might lead.
"By having a scholarship and granting program," Eyre tells SFR, "SFFI is showing its commitment to local youth."
Eyre and Paisner Bailey also hope to bolster more community-based film education opportunities in Santa Fe. That might be as simple as film screenings in Railyard Park, or panels, Q&As and workshops from and for filmmakers. The Santa Fe Film Institute also hosts a weekly radio show on Saturday mornings. Led by Paisner Bailey and brother Jacques, Film Talk Weekly airs on Talk 1260 and 103.7 KTRC.
SFFI's scholarship and granting announcement comes at a time when the state's film industry shows signs of making a particularly strong comeback. The New Mexico Film Office announced seven productions of various sizes and budgets in March and, last November, streaming juggernaut Netflix announced a $1 billion expansion to its studios in Albuquerque. In January, MovieMaker magazine even listed Santa Fe as the second-best small town for filmmakers in America (trailing only New Orleans) and Albuquerque as the best large city, edging out traditional heavyweights like Austin, Chicago and Atlanta—the latter of which is seeing more productions packing up and leaving in response to Georgia's racist voting laws.
Applications for Santa Fe Film Institute grants and scholarships open May 1 and recipients will be selected by committee. Grant submissions are open until July 26, while scholarship applications will remain open until July 31. Paisner Bailey says she expects to announce the first-year beneficiaries in early November.
"We want to entice filmmakers to come here and to talk more about New Mexico productions," she says. "Ultimately, we want what's best for a filmmaker. We want to support someone who grows up here and makes films. If they have to leave and make a film and then come back to make more, we're going to support them. It's exciting to see the boom."
This year, that boom also includes federal funding. In February, the institute received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts—one of only 16 New Mexico-based arts organizations to do so. And just last month, the Santa Fe Community Foundation's Native American Advised Fund granted SFFI $5,500 to continue its mission of promoting Indigenous filmmaking.
"It's all for the filmmakers," Paisner Bailey says of the money. "We want New Mexico to feel like home for them."