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Santa Fe Independent Film Festival studded with star power

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank star in “The Homesman,” which was filmed in New Mexico.

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank star in “The Homesman,” which was filmed in New Mexico.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Since its inception six years ago, the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival has been carving out a niche for itself.

Mission accomplished.

The annual festival has garnered some accolades along the way. Indiewire has called it “a young Sundance.” Meanwhile, MovieMaker Magazine named it as one of the “25 Coolest General Film Festivals” and “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2014.”

The 2014 festival begins in one month – on Oct. 15 – and will feature some films making a New Mexico debut.

“We’ve always focused on showcasing the best in film,” says Jacques Paisner, executive director and festival co-founder. “We’ve got some exciting things planned with programming for the entire festival.”

Paisner says the festival will screen more than 33 feature films at four venues.

As usual, the SFIFF continues to have a focus on New Mexico-made films. In previous years, the festival has premiered “Bless Me, Ultima,” “Tiger Eyes” and “Tapia.”

This year will get started with “The Homesman,” which stars Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader and Grace Gummer. It is directed by Jones and tells the story of a claim jumper and a pioneer woman who team up to escort three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa.

“This film is going to be huge,” he says. “I saw a screening of it at the Telluride Film Festival and everyone was pleased with it.”

Along with “The Homesman,” there will be the world premiere of “Sun Belt Express,” which also was filmed in New Mexico.

The film stars Tate Donovan, Rachael Harris, Stephen Lang and Ana de la Reguera. It was filmed last summer in and around Belen.

It follows a down-on-his-luck ethics professor who ends up on a completely unhinged run across the Mexican border with his teenage daughter in tow – and four undocumented immigrants in the trunk.

“This film is really well done and showcases what New Mexico film is about,” he says. “The film is set in Arizona and Mexico, but you could never tell. It’s a little indie that has a lot of star power in it.”

HBO’s “Olive Kitteridge,” which stars Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins, will screen at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.

HBO’s “Olive Kitteridge,” which stars Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins, will screen at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.

While the slate of films is chock-full of something for everyone, the SFIFF is adding something completely new to its programming. The festival has teamed up with HBO and will present “Olive Kitteridge,” which is the network’s original miniseries and stars Frances McDormand and Bill Murray.

The miniseries will premiere later this year and follow middle-school math teacher, Olive, and her relationship with Henry, which spans 25 years, over the four parts.

“HBO has only worked with two other festivals in this capacity,” he says. “The great part about this partnership is that New Mexicans will be the first to view the series. It won’t premiere in New York until a later time.”

Paisner says getting the relationship with HBO is great for the festival as it continues to grow. In fact, SFIFF had more than 700 submissions this year for the festival.

“We’ve grown the festival slowly and are now offering more programming throughout the year,” he says. “We had eight events this summer and they were all successful.”

Along with the film screenings, Paisner says there will be master classes and awards given. Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin will be getting the Lifetime Achievement Award from the festival.

Paisner says fellow New Mexican Hampton Sides also will receive an award and will participate in an author master discussion.

“The programming has gotten stronger and we’re happy to see how it’s grown along with the festival,” he says. “We’re finding that the films that don’t fit in the timeline of Telluride and New York Film Festival are finding us. A lot of our festival crew grew up here or was born here. It’s been our goal to provide these world-class film events to Santa Fe.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.