Inaugural festival aims to celebrate film, grow filmmaking in southern New Mexico
By Tracy Roy
Las Cruces Bulletin
The Las Cruces International Film Festival (LCIFF), in its inaugural year, has lofty goals and one heck of a lineup. It’s slated for Wednesday through Sunday, March 2-6, with nearly 150 films being screened at Allen Theatres Cineport 10 and a series of workshops at various locations throughout Las Cruces.
LCIFF Executive Director Ross Marks said one of the important functions of a film festival is training a crew base, which means involving students in the process, creating databases of area resources and people and advocating for Las Cruces as a great destination for shooting films.
Tune Up Las Cruces
The festival is offering a variety of workshops, sponsored by the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees (IATSE) Local 480 union. The program is designed to grow film and train people to work in the industry in Las Cruces, as well as work closely with the union.
“The LCIFF is going to train crew…in all capacities,” Marks said. “We’ve got a makeup and special effects workshop. We’ve got a screenwriting workshop with (Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff, television writer Bill True and “Machete” writer Alvaro Rodriguez). We’ve got a comedy workshop with Robert Wahl. We’ve got a casting workshop with several major casting directors in the state, so for all of the local actors and people that are coming in who want not just feature roles, but want to be extras, this is an opportunity to get in front of the major casting directors who cast most of the film and television in the state.”
There’s also a filmmakers’ Q& A panel about independent filmmaking with visiting artists who have films in the festival, and special to Marks, a car-casting event. Car enthusiasts who have a film-worthy ride can go to Cineport 10, have their car photographed and entered into a database in the event a filmmaker needs to call on them.
One event that really solidifies the festival’s commitment to growth of the industry is the “Doing Business with Show Business” workshop.
“We’re going to take local business owners and the people who want to be involved with Las Cruces, as the industry grows, and teach them what to do, what to expect and how to manage that process,” Marks said.
All of the bells and whistles at LCIFF are not meant to take away from the celebration of film, which remains the core of what the festival is all about. There will be about 25 feature films, 20 documentaries, 60 narrative shorts and 40 student shorts screened over the five-day period. Also, filmmakers will have the opportunity to join a location scout who will showcase unique spots Las Cruces offers the film community.
“So we’re not just saying ‘come to Las Cruces and represent your film,’ we also want to show you what we have to offer as a film community,” Marks said.
VIP ticket holders will have special access to events involving honored guests and filmmakers. A red-carpet event at La Posta de Mesilla on March 2 features celebrities from opening-night film “The Night is Young.” A reception for Danny Trejo, in which he’ll be presented with an “Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment” award will be held March 3 at Hotel Encanto. Finally, a filmmaker’s social on March 4 offers a mix and mingle with filmmakers and Rodriguez will be honored during the party, which will be held at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.
Shoot Las Cruces
Another aspect of the festival is a pilot contest called “Shoot Las Cruces.”
“We’re asking people to submit a 60- or 90-second trailer for a television series idea,” Marks said.
An audience will weigh in after a screening at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 5, then selected judges will vote on it.
“The rule is that the series has to be shot in and around Las Cruces,” Marks said, but the contest was open for everyone – in-state or out.
The winner of the contest gets $30,000 in goods, services and cash to make an actual pilot. The winner will be flown to Los Angeles to meet with Lionsgate to work with producers on finding a potential home for the pilot. The program is inspired by a similar program in Santa Fe.
“There’s real history of success with this program,” Marks said, “And there’s no better way to get a steady stream of revenue than a television series. ‘Breaking Bad’ was a game changer for entertainment in the state, because it’s an ongoing thing.”
Film students have been instrumental in getting LCIFF off the ground. In fact, the festival planning began inside a classroom.
New Mexico State University’s Department of Arts & Sciences former Dean Christa Slaton backed the idea, and a summer class was set up. There were 18 students whose entire class was planning a film festival, covering all bases such as film solicitation, social media marketing, brand creation and film selection.
“It was a really comprehensive approach to figuring out how we’re going to make this happen. And it started as an academic exercise with those students,” Marks said.
More than 30 students have signed up to work the festival, some volunteering, others earning internship credit. One major task leading up to the festival was film solicitation.
“We asked students to find films and aggressively solicit them, with the idea that our festival would be a celebration of the best of the best,” Marks said.