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Students make Las Cruces International Film Festival possible

A class full of NMSU students has been working hard to bring about the third annual Las Cruces International Film Festival, which kicks off this Wednesday, March 7. Between reaching out to different filmmakers in and out of the area, creating awards for each film genre, and organizing different hands-on workshops for attendees, the students of the Creative Media Institute “Special Topics” class (CMI 398) are gaining valuable experience preparing for the festival.

NMSU CMI professor Ross Marks started the LCIFF in 2016. This isn’t the only festival that Marks has worked on. He served as the artistic director of the White Sands International Film Festival for three years. After it ended, Las Cruces city officials approached Marks about putting on another film festival. Marks agreed on the condition that it would be hosted by New Mexico State. This means the faculty and students at NMSU gather the materials needed to put together the festival and receive all of the profits made by the festival.  According to Marks, the LCIFF has become one of the largest film festivals created by a major university.

“I have been a filmmaker now for 25 years, so I have been in the entertainment industry a long time, and my greatest thrill and biggest reward is when my students get the experience that I wanted them to have, so it’s not just in a class talking about it. It’s not just the theory. It’s not just watching it. It’s actually doing it,” Marks said.

The class has run the festival for three years and has been very successful. Many students from New Mexico State have been able to participate and Marks is not expecting this festival to end any time soon.

Students in Professor Marks’ CMI 398 Special Topics class plan for the upcoming Las Cruces International Film Festival. (Photo by Amanda Byars/Kokopelli)

Planning for the festival starts in the summer and continues all the way into March. In the summer and spring semesters, students discuss the most recent festival and what should be changed to improve it going forward. They then start searching for films they think would be a good addition to the festival and start asking filmmakers if they would be willing to submit their films.

With the help of Professor Marks, students then decide what different celebrity appearances would be good to have at the festival. They also discuss what different kinds of workshops that filmmakers, in particular, might be interested in, and who could lead these workshops. The students then talk about the different films that have been submitted and start setting up the different VIP parties. In the spring semester, students start making calls to put the festival together. They also get assigned their different roles for the festival.

Alison Hinkle, 21, is one of the students who volunteered for the festival last year and decided to take the class this year. “I feel like I get to learn about the different breakdowns [of the film festival] — it doesn’t just happen. This class taught me the different aspects to put the festival together. Not to mention it looks good on your resume, you get to meet actual filmmakers, you get to see the films before and make important decisions that would impact the film festival,” Hinkle said.

The film festival brings together celebrities, filmmakers from all over the world, students and locals to see creative stories. The first year of the LCIFF, Danny Trejo was the celebrity guest. Trejo won the Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment award and was instrumental in generating local interest in the festival among Hispanics.

The following year, celebrity guests such as Brendan Fraser, Johnny Galecki, Don Foster and Jon Heder all came to enjoy the festival, accept awards and run various workshops. This year’s celebrity guests will include actresses Cybill Shepherd and Pam Grier; RJ Mitte, a New Mexican actor who played Walter White Jr. on the award-winning show Breaking Bad; actor Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in the Lord of the Rings movies; and director Ralph Bakshi.

The Las Cruces International Film Festival opens Wednesday, March 7 at 7 p.m. at Cineport 10 in the Mesilla Valley Mall. On each successive day, screenings and workshops and VIP parties will take place throughout Las Cruces from 10 a.m. to 11:55 p.m. through Sunday, March 11. For more information and to purchase tickets visit http://lascrucesfilmfest.com.

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