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Film festival about more than its stars


A film festival is a little bit like a film itself, in that the first thing to get our attention is usually the stars.

Ron Perlman, who I remember for his role as the crusty but wily leader of an outlaw biker gang in the series “Sons of Anarchy,” will be the star of the Las Cruces International Film Festival this year. He will be screening his movie, “Hellboy.”

The costar is Eric Roberts, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1985 for his role in “Runaway Train” and has more than 700 credits during his lengthy career. He will lead a workshop along with his wife on how to create and maintain a career in filmmaking.

But, like a movie, stars alone are not enough. Remember “Heaven’s Gate?”

The Las Cruces International Film Festival, which runs from April 3-7, has always been able to attract big names. But at the start, it seemed like a traveling roadshow that came through town once a year and then moved on.

Now it’s a part of something more permanent, the year-round effort to build a film industry in Las Cruces. And it has grown to become one of our community’s signature events, attracting film buffs and industry executives from throughout the country.

The Las Cruces International Film Festival is now the largest student-organized film festival in the nation, Executive Director Ross Marks said. That’s due in large part to the year-round work of NMSU film students.

NMSU students screened more than 1,000 films in order to select the more than 100 that will be on the bill for this year’s festival. Students proactively encouraged filmmakers to submit movies that they wanted for the festival.

Along with the films, there will also be workshops on hair and makeup; film production; writing for film and television; and animation. And many screenings will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmaker.

All of this will be at the Allen Theatres Cineport, which has been donated for the festival, Marks said. Outside the theater, filmmakers will have a chance to scout for locations and see the new facilities in Las Cruces.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was here last August to announce a $3 million investment by the state to bolster the $75 million investment by 828 Productions to build a 300,000-square foot film studio and 20-acre back lot in Las Cruces.

In January, film executive Tyler Perry announced that he will shoot the feature, “Tyler Perry’s Joe’s College Road Trip” in Las Cruces. They expect to hire 45 crew members and 45 background talent.

The film “In the Summers” was shot in Las Cruces last year, relying heavily on a local crew and cast. It recently won best narrative feature and best director at the Sundance Film Festival.

Marks, who is a film professor at the NMSU, said one of his great frustrations has been that all of his graduates have had to go to Albuquerque or Santa Fe to start their careers. That’s getting better, he said.

It’s expected that more than 10,000 people will attend the festival, providing a significant economic boost for the city.

It’s time to dim the lights, settle in and get swept away to someplace far away from here, if only for a little while.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com

Film Festival, Ron Perlman, Eric Roberts, film industry