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Indie films in spotlight

SANTA FE, N.M. — This year’s Santa Fe Independent Film Festival showcases the man William Burroughs dubbed “The Pope of Trash,” a Johnny Tapia documentary, a John Sayles thriller and a semi-Western blood triangle filmed in New Mexico.

Famed indie director John Waters (“Pink Flamingos,” “Hairspray” and “Crybaby”) will present his one-man show “This Filthy World” at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Oct. 19.

Movie buffs can also see director Chris Eyre (“Smoke Signals,” “Hideaway”) read from his new screenplay “Up the River” and watch a documentary about Taos author John Nichols (“The Milagro Beanfield War”). The New Mexico-filmed “Sweetwater” was directed by brothers Logan and Noah Miller and stars Ed Harris and “Mad Men’s” January Jones. The story revolves around a fanatical religious leader, a renegade sheriff and a former prostitute turned farmer’s wife.

The five-day feast includes movies, social events, workshops and 10 New Mexico shorts. Cinematographer Lee Daniel (“Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise”) will give a master class discussion on Oct. 20.

An event launched five years ago on a $1,000 budget, the indie fest has blossomed into a $250,000 celebration projected to lure nearly 10,000 film fanatics to venues around Santa Fe, co-founder/executive director Jacques Paisner said.

Last year’s festival brought the state premiere of “Bless Me, Ultima,” based on the Rudolfo Anaya classic.

“The quality of programming has helped,” Paisner said. “Who else is going to realize the importance of ‘Bless Me, Ultima’ to New Mexico?”

This year, that honor belongs to “Tapia,” premiering at the festival on Thursday.

Eddie Alcazar initially wanted to produce a short piece on the Albuquerque boxer to develop into a feature film. The Los Angeles-based filmmaker (and Albuquerque native) followed the five-time world champion around for about a year.

“I just walked into the gym and told him the idea I had. He was very excited about it,” Alcazar said.

Then Tapia died of a drug overdose.

Alcazar decided to continue with a full-fledged documentary using footage of Tapia as the narrator. The rape and brutal murder of his mother wove a continuous loop in his mind despite the boxer’s unprecedented success.

“A person doesn’t come out of the womb with these issues,” Alcazar said. “That just constantly rotated in his head.

“He says he saw his mother chained to a truck and screaming from the patio,” the director continued. “He was 8 years old. That was the seed for all his troubles in his life and all the depression.”

His mother’s murderer was a man she had been seeing, Alcazar explained.

“He was drunk and he thought she’d stolen his wallet. He just flipped out and took her to a quarry.”

Somehow, she survived long enough to be hospitalized.

“He finished the job in the hospital,” Alcazar said.

The case wasn’t solved until Tapia reached his 30s. But the suspect was struck and killed by a car before he could be tried. Although he was happy the killer was dead, Tapia repeatedly said he had hoped to be his executioner.

The family insisted on continuing with the film despite their loss.

“I think it was even more important (to them) to release it,” Alcazar said. “The biggest thing that saddens me is he would call me every day to see how it was coming along. He always felt like he was going to be around to see it.”

Alcazar plans to make a feature film from Tapia’s story. Still awaiting financing, he’s already cast actor Shiloh Fernandez (“Jericho, “The United States of Tara,” “The Evil Dead”) in the lead.

‘Go for Sisters’

“Go for Sisters” finds indie pioneer John Sayles returning to his signature guerilla style of filmmaking. The film stars Edward James Olmos, LisaGay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross and Hector Elizando. The writer/director shot it for under $1 million in just four weeks using 60 locations. Ross (“Treme,” “Phil Spector”) will introduce the film at the festival.

The story emerged from a combination of two ideas, Sayles said in a telephone interview from his home in upstate New York.

“One is about two women who grew up as the best of friends and lose track of each other,” he said. “When they’re reunited, the little cracks in their relationship have widened.

“These two women are reunited when one is getting out of jail with a drug problem,” Sayles continued. “Her parole officer is her old friend from high school. They were so tight they could ‘go for sisters.’ ”

The second story line concerns a disgraced police officer kicked off the force without a pension for helping a friend.

“He looked the other way while his friend was doing something illegal and he didn’t know it was a sting,” the director explained. “He needs some redemption.”

Sayles shot the film with his signature shoestring grit in Los Angeles, Calexico, Mexicali and Tijuana.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever made a movie with the leads (in mind) first,” he added. “They’re all actors I’ve seen doing incredible stuff.”

In the 1970s, Sayles studied at the feet of renowned low-budget master Roger Corman. He used the money he earned as a screenwriter and made “The Return of the Secaucus Seven” (1979) in 25 days. Legend has it the film was the inspiration for “The Big Chill.” Throughout most of his career, Sayles has worked independently to avoid studio control. He says it’s getting harder and harder to find funding, despite his DIY reputation as “The Godfather of Bootstrap Cinema.”

“None of (my movies) have gone platinum lately,” he said with a laugh.

Sayles has polished or served as uncredited “relief pitcher” for low-budget shockers as well as films such as “Apollo 13.”

Today’s he’s working on a Civil War miniseries, something he calls a “Buddhist road movie” and a proposed TV series about the Budweiser-Busch family. As for his own films, he’s penning a piece about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg after meeting their sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol.

“All this new information has come out of the FBI,” he said. “Even the brothers have had to re-assess what they know.”

He says his days as an indie filmmaker are most likely behind him.

“I don’t think I’m going to direct again unless somebody asks me and I work for them,” he said. “I can’t afford to finance them anymore.”