Interview with Festival Programmer Aaron Leventman (Santa Fe Film Festival)

The initial idea for a Santa Fe Film Festival was first introduced in May, 1980 when Bill and Stella Pence, founders of Taos Talking Picture and Telluride Film festivals, started an event with a New Directors/New Film program, co-sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Pences led a festival for four years, with such notable guests as Francis Ford Coppola, Charlton Heston, Sam Peckinpah, and Lillian Gish.  The current form of the Santa Fe Film Festival was inaugurated in 1999 as a nonprofit and began showing films in the year 2000. Festival awards varied over the years. Initial categories included: Best Short, Best Documentary, Best Feature, Best Native American, and Best Latino Film. By 2006 the awards became the Milagro Award (best American independent film), the Independent Spirit Award, and the Audience Award, Honorable Mention in the Creative Spirit Award and Lifetime Achievement Award.The Film Festival has now continued for 16 consecutive years. The special setting of the festival in the unique and historic City of Santa Fe allows filmmakers, journalists, industry leaders and audiences from around the world to gather together in celebration of film. The festival’s annual program includes curated selections of over 40 film programs including narrative and documentary features, shorts of all types, tributes to world-renowned film artists and industry professionals as well as a spotlight on local, New Mexican filmmakers and crew. Embracing the full spectrum of cinematic arts, the Santa Fe Film Festival extends beyond screenings in theaters to panels, workshops, art exhibitions and fabulous parties. Come experience the beauty of Santa Fe and join us for our upcoming celebration of cinematic arts.

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Aaron Leventman: Our festival has provided an opportunity for filmmakers to screen their work for a film savvy audience of both locals and international attendees. There is also the opportunity to educate oneself on industry related topics with experts and celebrities at high-powered panels. They have the chance to make both industry and personal connections that in some cases has resulted in distribution deals and the development of new projects particularly for our festival award winners.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend your next festival?

You will be able to see a variety of shorts, documentaries, and narrative films for both mainstream and underserved audiences in a beautiful southwestern environment with many great historic and cultural tourist attractions.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

They must tell a good story, whether fiction or documentary, with high quality filmmaking. Locally made films are also given special attention.

4) Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Sometimes a submitted film with a similar theme from a major release comes out in the same year. Those films are often not selected because festival programmers are afraid that they won’t have an audience. For example, the year the 12 Years a Slave came out, other films with a similar topic had a hard time getting into festivals.

5) What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

I love the chance to showcase important works by lesser known artists and to provide additional opportunities for them. I also appreciate the chance to celebrate the life of seasoned filmmakers that have contributed to the industry for many decades.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

We appreciate receiving submissions by both first time and famous filmmakers on FilmFreeway. We receive many shorts but would love to receive more features.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

We will have more international attention because of the increase in popularity of the community of Santa Fe. Cross promotion with other film festivals will result in more recognition. I think we will receive more sponsors from major companies because of the increased interest in our film industry which will allow us to show more major titles and be able to bring in more filmmakers to present their work from around the world.

8) What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Annie Hall

9) In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Good structure, a well paced narrative, relatable themes, identifable characters, and strong visual storytelling makes a great film.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

We have a thriving film and TV industry where many Netflix and other major networks are shooting in New Mexico in additional to Hollywood films, independent features, and shorts. Local theatres are committed to showing both commercial and foreign cinema supported by our diverse audiences.

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  Bio for Head of Programming, Aaron Leventman

Aaron Leventman was previously the producer of the Bioneers Moving Image Festival, part of the Bioneers Conference. and previously worked for the Sundance Film Festival. Most recently, he was the Director of Programming for Santa Fe Film Festival and the premiere event of the Albuquerque Film and Media Experience. Aaron has also given presentations with the Popular Culture Association Conferences around the country and has been on the awards jury for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, CA. He has an M.F.A. from Columbia University’s film program, and is an actor who has appeared in many feature films, shorts, commercials, and industrials as well as theatrical productions in Santa Fe, San Francisco, Boston, and Provincetown, MA. He is also a published playwright ( whose works have been performed all over the U.S., most recently in New York City. Aaron is currently a writing coach and film and acting instructor at the Santa Fe Community College and Renesan for Lifelong Learning.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.