Musician Joe West is widely known as one of New Mexico’s best songwriters, but he also excels at bringing people together for uncommon projects. I’m principally a novelist, and was already having a blast working with him on our rollicking musical about Billy the Kid. That’s why, when Joe asked if I’d be interested in producing a short film festival with him, I readily agreed. Joined by technical wizard Doug Speer, we clicked together and pulled it off.
Now in its sixth year, the Madrid Film Festival is an official nonprofit foundation designated to encourage amateur and professional filmmaking in New Mexico. The 2023 festival will be screened at the Engine House Theater in Madrid over the weekend of September 8-10. The popularity of our humble festival is proof that local and statewide endeavors to support movie-making are having an observable effect.
The patient investment in New Mexico’s film industry was initiated by longtime senior advisor to multiple governors, Eric Witt, who died suddenly on July 18, 2023. Thanks to his advocacy, New Mexico has grown from merely offering tax incentives to now furnishing complete crews, facilities and infrastructure. There are plenty of screenwriters here too, myself included, but thusfar all development remains staunchly in LA.
Our festival has seen an increase in submissions from aspiring filmmakers already working as everything from transportation coordinators to camera operators. The film industry’s growth has driven on-set training, access to classes, and a technological revolution which has put the power of an entire production facility inside every personal computer. Meanwhile, the next generation is already miles ahead, with kids as young as middle school submitting school project films to this year’s festival.
It was started just for fun, but the Madrid Film Festival’s mission to promote filmmaking has always been in earnest. We figured that a low-risk, high-reward scenario would be appealing, so we offer substantial cash prizes and don’t charge an entry free for submissions.
That inaugural festival in 2018 was a surprise runaway hit, instantly selling out two nights at the historic Engine House Theater (up behind the Mine Shaft Tavern at 2846 State Highway 14, in Madrid). The only hitch was hearing how many people were unable to get tickets. So, the following year the festival added a third day, and in that autumn of 2019 we took the prize-winning films on a successful short tour around New Mexico. The Madrid Film Festival was poised to hit the bigtime!
Scenes from: “Hatchlings” by Cat Jones, winner best thriller 2022
Our sure path to worldwide media domination was thwarted in 2020 by the Covid shutdown, which was a grievous challenge to filmmakers and also made it hard to stage a public screening. Yet our third filmfest was another big hit, with original heartfelt movies, warmly hosted on the large socially-distant patio at Beer Creek Brewing Company (3810 State Highway 14, midway between Santa Fe and Madrid.). We live-streamed the whole event for free.
In 2021, we were all able to get together a little easier, and celebrated by screening the movies outside, under the stars at the Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark. Having a filmfest on the field brought back a favorite memory from my early years in Madrid, when the entire town turned up for an outdoor short film festival at the ballpark called Noché Delicious, way back in 2003.
The comfort of nostalgia blew away like a quilt in the wind when the wild monsoon thunderstorm descended upon us with great dust and fury. Rather than quit, the audience gamely hustled inside the grandstand, we flipped everything around, and we watched the films against a backdrop of dramatic lightning, rain, and thunder.
If that were not memorable enough, I had completely lost my voice after catching a mega-dose of ragweed pollen doing yardwork. The audience thought I was doing a bit at first, and laughed at my hoarse, dying whisper. When they realized it wasn’t a bit? They still kept laughing. Jokes abounded at my expense – normally so voluble and multiloquent, I suppose I had it coming.
The next summer, I got to the ragweed early before we returned to the ballpark again for our “ace” fifth annual festival in 2022, so I was at full voice. Just in time, as our largest-ever audience showed up that night. After that triumph, my co-producers took the opportunity to gracefully go out on top. Joe stepped away to concentrate on his other demanding music and theater projects. Meanwhile, Doug finally will be able to enjoy his long-deferred retirement. Though my partners were irreplaceable, local enthusiasm for the festival convinced me to keep it going.
Scenes from: “All Styles Welcome” by Allonzo Armijo, winner best doc 2019
Thankfully, I haven’t had to do it myself. I recruited a new crew of collaborators, with Monika Gannon as co-producer and Timothy Willis as technical director and Charlie McCarty as graphic designer. Together, with significant help from many town residents and businesses, we’ve rededicated the Madrid Film Festival to its community.
Fundraising became an area of critical importance for establishing the festival as an independent entity. The Santa Fe Film Office got us off to a great start with a timely donation, and we enjoyed vital fiscal sponsorship by local charity “Friends of the 769.” Thanks to a successful campaign of crowdfunding and the valuable support of local businesses, we reached our fundraising goal and triggered a matching funds grant from the Kind World Foundation. Now fully funded, it confirms the fact that the festival has a life of its own, and I’m grateful.
This year, the filmfest became a 501c3 nonprofit. This means that donations to the Madrid Film Festival are fully tax-deductible. This year, we’ll be launching a membership drive to deepen community engagement and participation.
Our successful fundraising has enabled much greater outreach with our call for entries. This has resulted in the largest number of submissions in the history of the festival, an avalanche of 97 movies. Audiences will benefit from this healthy competition of short films, trimming down eleven hours of aspirants to a two-hour selection.
The best asset of the Madrid Film Festival is the wealth of local talent our program can draw from. Film is the most interdisciplinary storytelling medium, and its collaborative nature rewards the skillsets of many diverse artists, an exceptional selection of which is found around New Mexico and especially in Madrid itself. Even solo filmmakers must wear a dozen hats. A big thrill about making a movie is being able to show it to a theater full of people. An even bigger thrill is the chance to win cash prizes for it.
The top film from the Madrid area wins the $500 “Oscar” Huber award, paid for by the Mine Shaft Tavern and named after the one-time boss of the former coal-mining town. The single best film overall takes home the coveted “Palme d’Coal” and a $500 prize, paid for by Beer Creek Brewing Company.
The winner of 2021’s “Oscar” was created by Madrid residents and (then) first-time filmmakers Lori Schwartz and Patty Bilbro It is called “Squirrel Slip” and is shown here with their expressed permission.
For more of their work, visit Mudmittens.com
The 2023 Madrid Film Festival will return to the Engine House Theater. There will be one single program, so each performance will screen the same set of movies. All shows begin at 7 pm, convivially hosted by myself and a surprise guest. Tickets cost $25, go on sale at the end of August, and are only available at the Mine Shaft Tavern.
Aspiring filmmakers can mark their calendars for next year, as the 7th annual festival will open for submissions from May 1 – July 30, 2024. All filmfest details can be found at Madridfilmfest.org.
As for “The Queen and the Kid,” the musical by Joe West and Andrew Wice? We’ll be sharing that as a staged reading this winter. But that story deserves its own article, in my transparently self-serving opinion.
Andrew Wice is a writer who has lived in Madrid, New Mexico, since 2001. He produces novels, audio tours, and the Madrid Film Festival. Please visit AndrewWice.com.