The 2017 Cherry Reel Film Festival is a one-of-a-kind production that gives student-filmmakers an opportunity to share their work with the community.

“Every year, you’ll never see the same film twice. It’s always something different. It’s amazing watching filmmakers be so proud of their work, and to watch them watch it on the big screen is amazing,” said Victoria Martinez-Varela, executive director of the ASUNM Southwest Film Center.

The film center, located in the Student Union Building, began coordinating dates and setting up the event starting in September. Submission genres include: horror, sci-fi, comedy, experimental, documentary, animated short and music videos.

“It definitely takes a village to plan this event, but it’s so worth it and so rewarding,” said Martinez-Varela.

This year one of the festival’s films will include work from co-founder Mikel “Kel” Cruz. It will be the first year he is not involved in the operations of the festival and will solely be a filmmaker participant, Cruz said.

“Cherry Reel itself started in 2015 with the help of student filmmaker Kel Cruz,” Martinez-Varela said. “He came to us with the idea to rebrand and to market further in the Cinematic Arts department and in the Albuquerque community. He helped mold the festival into what it is today.”

This year, he was selected as a 2017 New Mexico Filmmakers Showcase finalist in the student category for his film, “Strange Love.”

"‘Strange Love’ is a story that follows a lonely-hearted Celia and her journey to mend her broken heart after the unexplained loss of her husband. The dream home Celia and her husband bought together, three years later, is now but a hollow shell of what it once was. This is a love story...but something strange and twisted lies beneath the surface,” said Cruz.

Cruz worked with Producer, Editor and frequent co-conspirator Tony Rodriguez along with a cast and crew for hours on end to create this masterpiece.

“Making a film is a mission, and with every film it takes the effort of a team working long hours and spending a lot of time together to get it done,” Cruz said.

This film festival has given students the opportunity to express themselves and have the chance to learn what it is like to create a film from scratch. It is a platform for filmmakers to completely expose themselves through their art.

The inspiration for Cruz’ film came from his high-school sweetheart.

“When I began writing ‘Strange Love,’ my high school sweetheart and I moved in together into a small one-room studio apartment, and for the first time I experienced the kind of love of building a home and a life with another person and what it meant to be each other’s support system, but I also experienced a new fear,” Cruz said. “The fear of losing this person that I love and that I’ve created a home with, and the thought of how fragile the idea of home is. ‘Strange Love’ was a reaction to that love and fear translated into something artistic and consumable.”

The Cherry Reel Film Festival has become a tradition at UNM, with each filmmaker living through their own ups and downs while putting their heart and soul into a film to share with the UNM and Albuquerque community.

“We want attendees to walk away saying that UNM has a bunch of amazing talent,” Martinez-Varela said. “We want them to leave Cherry Reel with their favorite film and to tell their friends about it.”

Amy Byres is a culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @amybyres12.