Census-Designated Cinema

The little town that’s building its own film festival

There’s something in the historic nature of Madrid’s Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark that makes it appealing as a gathering place decades after its heyday. It’s 102 years old, for one, with a past of hosting the minor league and the Negro league way back in the day. It survived Madrid’s period as a ghost town (with a restoration) and, for more cred, was the first electrically illuminated baseball field west of the Mississippi. New Mexico’s first baseball games after the sun went down were played here.

This field (2895a Hwy. 14) that centered community life in the coal mining days is once again calling people back. It’s here that the socially-distant crowds will gather and the coveted “Le Palme d’Coal” will be awarded to a winning short film, filmmaker and team—the prize of the still-growing Madrid Film Festival.

“There’s been less work for people in film, and some have finally had the time to pursue passion projects of their own,” Andrew Wice, a producer and co-host of the festival, tells SFR. “A lot of these films have technical proficiency because we’ve got a highly trained crew here [in the state]. So you can expect a great deal of originality [in the program].”

Wice is no stranger to the things that make Madrid, well, Madrid. If you’re new around here, the small hamlet outside Santa Fe is an old company town turned ghost town turned alternative enclave for hippies, artists and the occasional major film productions. It’s so small it’s considered “census-designated” rather than a full-on town. Wice sees the 4th annual Madrid Film Festival as another part of the town’s long and unusual story line—one he holds a deep passion for, to the point he’s developed an oral history tour you can self-guide from your phone.

The festival is the brainchild of Wice and local musician and event organizer Joe West, both of whom have a long history in the arts and a deep respect for film.

“We had no idea what was going to happen,” Wice tells SFR, recalling the early days of the festival. “We kept finding it selling out even though we expanded it three nights [in 2019] with seating for 100 people.”

West echoes that sentiment, noting that even under their limited pandemic-induced screening last year, there were no signs of the community missing out.

“It was an offshoot of my theater company, the Theater of Death where we did horror-related shows, which evolved into a production company,” West explains. “It’s hard to gauge growth sometimes, but last year [under COVID-19 restrictions] we sold tickets four times as fast as we usually do.”

This year, the short films on the docket range from all sorts of genres and styles: animation, comedy, drama and documentary with one caveat—they all had to be produced within the state and within the last year. That’s a notable shift from most film festivals, which often curate regional programming but keep general submissions open to the wider film world.

The event wasn’t ever envisioned to be entirely stable. As the program began to build up steam, the vision that Madrid—the idea of Madrid-ness, that is—could be brought to places outside of its enclave began to be a real possibility. The festival held screenings at the Jean Cocteau here in Santa Fe and up in Las Vegas, with eyes on Taos and beyond.

“It was my baby,” West says of the traveling festival. “I had this image in my head of Madrid hippies emerging off a bus with a projector and a bunch of music. But obviously, with the pandemic, that didn’t really work out—but it’s still something I want to do.”

Short films are often how wannabe-directors and creatives enter the business and how below-the-line crew get to build up their resumes and make connections. Wice notes this, but also hopes for the festival to continue being a place where seasoned filmmakers and newer filmmakers submit in tandem.

“We really want to encourage all kinds of filmmaking in New Mexico,” he says. “Both for the professionals and the fresh ideas from one person and their iPhone. So in the programming, we have high quality professional productions and first time filmmakers coming from different artistic mediums.”

Organizers limited the festival to one night this year as a two-hour showcase. West tells SFR the cream of the crop were chosen—there were over 50 submissions and seven hours of material to judge and he and Wice say they’re seeing a lot of overarching themes to this year’s submissions.

“A lot of the films explore questions of authenticity and responsibility, and finding strength within community amidst peril,” Wice explains. “It feels like people have had a lot of time to reflect.”

No matter where or how it evolves, whether it includes a busload of traveling hippies or a condensed screening on a dirt baseball field (friendly reminder, bring something to sit on), staying focused on what makes Madrid Madrid and encouraging New Mexicans to tell their stories through the medium of film is the key. For West, wherever it leads is wherever it leads.

“You don’t do this stuff to be huge, you do it to do it and to make it cool,” West adds. “I’m a go with the flow kind of guy, so I know that there’s a hump with these things—you build it, you sustain it, and after that it just keeps on going.”

Madrid Film Festival: 6:30 pm Friday, Aug. 27. $10. Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark, 2895a Hwy. 14, Madrid

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