October 18 – 22, 2017
The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival begins on Wednesday, October 18, and will run through October 22 in theaters all over town. The festival opens with The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund), which won this year’s Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Set against the backdrop of a flashy contemporary art museum, the film is both a loosely structured satirical critique of that institution and a character study of its director. Christian (Claes Bang) commissions the eponymous Square as a social-media-ready attraction: a vague call to social consciousness as a minimalistic lighted square installed on the ground. All the works displayed in the film’s museum look somewhat familiar if you’ve visited a contemporary art museum in the past twenty years, and Christian’s diluted, Duchampian explanation of what contemporary museums do, during an interview with a journalist (Elisabeth Moss), is an apt dig at the contemporary art world which, if unchecked, skews toward jargon. Likewise, a performance at an expensive donor dinner also skewers elite art-world events. It’s a bold choice for the Film Festival to set the tone for its program, which contains several enjoyable and critically conscious films.
The documentary For Ahkeem (dir. Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest) takes place in the St. Louis of late 2013 through 2015, which spans the height of the Ferguson protests. The film does not focus on the activism of the protestors but on the life of Daje Shelton, who at the beginning of the film is instructed by a judge to attend a court-supervised alternative high school. For Ahkeem’s cinematography and editing is so elegant that the documentary retains the feel of a narrative feature; Levine and Van Soest employ techniques such as voice-over and shot-counter-shot editing to inject both empathy and drama into the story. Daje’s diaristic accounts of her life as she navigates school, romance, and family life provide the anchor of For Ahkeem, and the visual culture that appears in the film—twin futures of police brutality as Ferguson rages on television, and the presidency as embodied by a poster of Barack Obama—emphasize Daje’s own crossroads.
Told largely through flashbacks, Sami Blood (dir. Amanda Kernell) tells the story of Elle-Marja (Mia Erika Sparrock), an adolescent girl living in 1930s Sweden. Elle-Marja is Sami, an indigenous race native to Scandinavia. In carefully composed shots that emphasize the vast beauty of the Swedish landscape, Elle-Marja herds and marks reindeer, sings with her sister, excels in school, learns Swedish, faces overt racism, and slowly realizes that she has a unique ability to code-switch between Sami and Swedish. Ultimately, Sami Blood investigates the long term effects of a lifetime lived in denial of one’s identity. Sparrock, who is of Sami descent and has already garnered much critical acclaim for her performance, moves and carries us through the complexities of her journey and decisions with subtlety and grace.
What happens when one half of a couple becomes more successful than the other? It’s a question that serves as a sincere but comical pretext for Fits and Starts, the directorial debut of Laura Terruso. David (Wyatt Cenac) and Jennifer (Greta Lee) are a smart and beautiful couple, and Jennifer has just published a highly publicized novel. Much of the film’s action takes place at a salon run by a wealthy couple in a Connecticut suburb just outside New York. In a fitting but tonally opposite parallel to The Square, the party is replete with ambitious literati and clichéd scenarios, another send-up of the art world—but whereas The Square promises cruelty and darkness to leaven its humor, Fits and Starts is mostly light-hearted. Cenac, who strikes a delicate balance between bafflement and wit during his interactions with the party’s poseurs, is especially amusing.
A full schedule of films and tickets are available at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival’s website.