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by Wolf Schneider

Within days of nabbing awards from the National Board of Review and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Pan’s Labyrinth found its way to the top prize at the 7th annual Santa Fe Film Festival. The film—which as Mexico’s official entry to the upcoming Oscars must battle it out in a field of about 60 movies vying for five finalist berths as best foreign film—won the Best of the Festival Award. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is set against the background of the Spanish Civil War, where the supernatural powers of a magical labyrinth are tested against the forces of fascism as a girl comes to terms with reality. It’s being distributed by Picturehouse.

Patches of lingering snowfall and Christmas lights in reindeer patterns adorned this adobe town as filmmakers convened for the 2006 Santa Fe Film Festival, held December 6-10 and headquartered at the Hotel Santa Fe. Distribution executives making the trek to New Mexico included Paramount Vantage’s Joe Matukewicz, IFC’s Scott Murrow, and representatives from the Documentary Channel, Tidepoint Pictures, and AMD Live.

Possible distribution interest swirled around two other winners: Beyond The Call, which won the Best Documentary Award, and Jam: When Lives Collide, which scooped up the Best Independent Spirit Award. From writer/director Adrian Belic, Beyond the Call traces three Americans’ humanitarian missions in the Third World. Writer/director Craig Serling—cousin of Rod Serling—lined up William Forsythe and Marianne Jean-Baptiste to act in Jam: When Lives Collide, a Crash-like ensemble picture that tells several interlocking stories when strangers must wait for a traffic accident to be cleared on a hot day in the mountains of California.

SFFF executive director Jon Bowman observed, “There were some films that were able to get some bounce because they played so well at our festival, so distributors that were looking at them are taking them more seriously now.” These also included The Gymnast, a lesbian romantic triangle drama that won the Audience Choice Award and may be picked up by Wolfe Video.

In its unique position as a potential Oscar harbinger, the SFFF offered the North American premiere of Miss Potter and showcased Venus for its closing night gala.

Santa Fe local Ali MacGraw—looking fabulously sleek in a black form-fitting top, black pants, and concho belt—emceed the Milagro Awards ceremony, which honored director Gregory Nava and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs. Nava commented, “You can make movies that build up the barriers between people or movies that break down the barriers between people. All the movies I’ve done from El Norte onward are about bringing people together.”

Other honors went to Mojave Phone Booth, Best of the Southwest Award; Cinematographer Style, Creative Spirit Award; Recalling Orange County, Best Latino Film; 5 Seasons, Best Indigenous Film; Borderlands, Best New Mexico Film; City Paradise, Best Animation; and The Rose, Best Short.

Garnering attention as a work in progress was Start Misbehavin’: The Life & Time of Wavy Gravy, a documentary about the sixties activist based in Northern California.

Ensemble pieces with Altmanesque overtones were a trend, and documentaries comprised almost half of the program. There were 200 films, about 40 of them features. Ticket sales were just over 19,000 with 7,000 attendees, up slightly from the previous year. There were just over 1,000 submissions.

Most the fest talk centered on New Mexico’s own filmmaking boom due to its 25% tax rebate and $15 million interest-free loan incentives, with New Mexico Film Office director Lisa Strout pointing out that 60 features and TV projects have shot in New Mexico in the last four years, contributing to more than $300 million in direct production expenditures. There are now 1,300 crewmembers in state. With Albuquerque Studios opening its first two stages in January 2007, business looks bullish. Promised Nick Smerigan, VP of Albuquerque Studios, “We are totally confident that we can build a facility here that will be a production center.”

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