About a week ago, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Executive Director Jacques Paisner told SFR that he and his team had expected the project to expand, but they hadn't thought the annual event—now in its third season—would swell so quickly.

Since 2010, the number of screening venues jumped from one to five; volunteers jumped from 30 to 75; and films from 80 to 100. Once concerned merely with promoting indie film, the festival's mission has also evolved; while free workshops for filmmakers remain a cornerstone of programming, the themes and subjects of the selected films now take precedence. This year, SFIFF partners with Milagro at Los Luceros, Robert Redford's New Mexico production company for Native Americans and Hispanics.

In the nascent festival's new two-room headquarters in the Lensic Performing Arts Center, a visibly inundated Paisner quickly greeted SFR at the door, pausing for introductions with his crew before leading us into the second room, where his partner, David Moore, and an intern worked on a computer.

In a raspy, passionate tone, Paisner—who grew up in Santa Fe—explained how he and Moore had determined to start an indie film festival when they failed to find a festival for their film, Rejection— a “neo film noir about Santa Fe,” Paisner said. As the submissions came in over the last three years (nearly 400 for 2011), the films naturally began to fall into thematic categories—the medium was not the message. “Look at the schedule,” Paisner said. “The films are about issues: cystic fibrosis and war.”

"Multiple wars," Moore interjected.

"Mutiple wars," Paisner confirmed. "We're really pushing issues and social justice."

To wit, Happy New Year is a Born on the Fourth of July-type film about veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; The Power of Two follows the daily tribulations of sisters with cystic fibrosis; and If a Tree Falls attempts to penetrate the enigmatic Earth Liberation Front.

The focus on serious films didn’t, however, prevent the selection committee from adding some “fun features,” Paisner said, such as a zombie musical, The Dead Inside, and the comedies White Knight and Hold the Mayo.

The schedule also includes Bombay Beach, a feature that takes place on California’s Salton Sea with music by Santa Fe native Zach Condon, leader of the indie, nuevo Balkan band Beirut.

At an Oct. 6 industry panel sponsored by the New Mexico Film Lawyers Guild, Paisner said the SF Indie Film Fest aspires to do for contemporary indie film what the Sundance Film Festival did in the 1970s. When asked if the festival would resist swelling into a Sundance of the aughts, he said staff would not put restrictions on the festival's growth, but they would stay true to Santa Fe. "We'll always keep it real and grab local filmmakers to get involved," he said. "But we can offer something Utah can't with a community that supports the arts year-round. Let's see where this goes."

Santa Fe Independent Film Festival
Multiple times and locations
Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 19-23
Follow SFR’s coverage of SFIFF on Twitter: