By Beth Sitzler
LAS CRUCES BULLETIN
What began eight years ago as a small film festival in Alamogordo, N.M., has transformed into a five-day, star-studded, film-filled extravaganza known as the White Sands International Film Festival.
After moving from Otero County to the City of the Crosses, WSIFF has taken off, increasing in not only attendance – from 500 to 600 that first year to 5,000 to 6,000 in 2012 – but also in the quantity and quality of the films shown.
“As a filmmaker, I’ve been to Sundance, which is the pinnacle for an independent filmmaker, and I wanted (WSIFF) to replicate that,” said Ross Marks, artistic director of the film festival for the past three years.
Each year, WSIFF organizers scour the globe to find the best independent films available and ask the filmmakers to participate in the festival, Marks said.
“We’re very proactive – that’s why the quality is so high,” he said. “Each year, the slate gets better and better.”
The hard work has paid off – this year, there will be 24 student films from around the world, 19 narrative shorts, 20 documentaries and 27 feature films, for a total of 84 films shown during the festival. An added bonus: 36 film representatives will attend the 2013 WSIFF.
“I think it’s a very unique and exciting opportunity for the community to see films and interact with the filmmakers,” Marks said.
With so many films being shown on the big screen, WSIFF Board President Rob Sharp said, “there is a movie from everyone.”
“There is a wide range of stuff,” he said. “I’ve seen everything from slapstick to new animation techniques to film noir.
“I’m probably most excited about the movies. … Several have caught my eye. I think I decided I’m going to take Friday off and sit in the theater.”
While the film festival will feature an array of “don’t miss” movies, it will also include several after-parties, social events and workshops for writers and actors.
“I’m excited for the Chris McDonald acting workshop,” said Marks, adding that the actor, probably best known for his “Happy Gilmore” character Shooter McGavin, is returning to Las Cruces after visiting the city to shoot Mark Medoff ’s “Refuge” in 2010.
Also new this year is the Open Range 48-Hour Film Frenzy, an event that challenged filmmakers to put together a film that contains certain elements in only two days.
“I wanted to involve the local film industry in the process,” Sharp said. “We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback about it.”
Also generating attention is the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Lou Diamond Phillips, well known for his workin “La Bamba,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Young Guns” and the TV series “Longmire.”
“We wanted to honor someone who has a big body of work and has dedicated themselves to independent films,” Marks said.
This year, the featured film of the festival will be “Roswell FM,” written by David Spence and directed by Stephen Griffin.
“‘Roswell FM’ has so much involvement with the local film community and the filmmakers are really energetic and excited guys,” Sharp said. “I’m so proud that it is really a New Mexico-made film.”
As the film festival continues to gain recognition within the Las Cruces community and independent film industry worldwide, organizers say there are only bigger and better things to come.
“A goal for me, in programming the festival, is to bring films to town that the community would never have a chance to see,” Marks said. “Allen Theatres donates the theaters and gives these filmmakers the chance to see their movie on the big screen. And then after, there is a question-and-answer session and interaction with the audience.”
Sharp said many of the films don’t have a standard rating, but those interested can visit www.wsiff.com, and view movie trailers to get a feel of the flicks.