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Santa Fe film fest honors John Sayles, Maggie Renzi for lifetime achievement

A screenwriter.

An actor.

A novelist.

An independent film director.

U.S. director John Sayles at the podium during a photo call to promote his film “Amigo” at 58th San Sebastian Film Festival in San Sebastian, Spain, in 2010. (SOURCE: Alvaro Barrientos)

These are all parts of John Sayles’ life.

Each one has brought attention to his brilliance.

This is part of the reason Sayles and his partner, Maggie Renzi, are being honored with the lifetime achievement award at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival on Friday, Oct. 20.

Sayles and Renzi have been making films for more than 40 years. Sayles is usually behind the camera, and Renzi produces the projects.

The pair met while studying at Williams College and released their first film together, “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” a few years after graduation. The film went on to win major awards and launched both of their careers.

Since then, each has become an icon within independent cinema.

The duo will stop in Santa Fe next weekend to receive the honor.

Chris Cooper in a scene from “Lone Star,” which John Sayles directed. (SOURCE: Castle Rock Entertainment)

“Our friend Haskell Wexler was always uncomfortable getting lifetime achievement awards,” he says. “I guess it’s because it makes you feel like your not going to achieve anymore and that your life is over. On that note, we’re honored to get this award.”

The awards ceremony will be followed by Sayles and Renzi’s Oscar-nominated film “Lone Star.”

The film follows Sam Deeds, Sheriff of Rio County, Texas, and son of former Sheriff Buddy Deeds, who is revered for replacing the corrupt Sheriff Charlie Wade.

The young sheriff is called to the small town of Frontera, where a skeleton, the body of Charlie Wade, has been uncovered in the desert.

Deeds soon finds himself caught amid the town’s long-buried secrets and suspicious that his father may not be the just man he’s made out to be.

Maggie Renzi

It is written and directed by Sayles, produced by Renzi and stars Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey and Elizabeth Peña.

During Sayles’ career, he’s seen the film industry change immensely.

“I think it’s almost more, how has your ability (to make films) changed?” he says. “It’s gotten harder to raise money, and to get it distributed is difficult. There was a very short period in the ’80s when it was doable. It’s gotten really hard. The best thing about having a career this long is that we get agents and good actors to call us back now. Sometimes we get really good actors to work for scale.”

Sayles has also worked with both film stock and digital productions.

He recalls worrying about running out of film while working on his first movie.

“We didn’t want to over-buy. We had to worry about how many takes we were doing. With digital, you don’t worry about that. You can keep rolling. I edit my own movies, and it helps me save time when I edit as we’re shooting. With digital, it also allows me to be up near the actors as much as possible. We move faster, and that helps when you’re under time constraints.”

Sayles makes his living as a writer for hire.

He’s also finished his next book, which is going out before publishers.

“I’m a writer that can keep moving along,” he says. “Each story is different and has its own demands. I adjust to each project I’m working on.”

Sayles has filmed in 12 states and is looking to film his next production in New Mexico.

“If we can raise the money, we’d be shooting in April through June,” he says. “It would kind of be all over the state – White Sands, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.”