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Cherry Reel Film Festival reinvigorates UNM's stagnant film festival scene

This year’s student film festival has a new name, a big-time sponsor and, as a result, almost triple the number of submissions than it has ever had in the past.

The Cherry Reel Film Festival, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the SUB theater, has 30 submissions in its fourth year of existence, up from 11 last year, 10 in 2013 and 9 in 2012.

Southwest Film Center Executive Director William Dole attributed the growth in participation in large part to making the event more visible to students, especially film majors.

“I think a lot of people just didn’t know about the film festival, honestly,” Dole said. “Past directors never had a liaison between the SWFC and the film students…giving an opportunity to all student filmmakers, whether a film major or not.”

Nonetheless, Dole said a majority of this year’s submissions are indeed from film majors, giving them an outlet to showcase their work.

Dole and his staff worked with Mikel Cruz, a sophomore in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program, to connect and advertise to those students.

“It caught traction and we were able to double our numbers. I think what’s lacked in the past is a sense of urgency with the film festival. We’ve been working on (this year’s) film festival for five and a half months now, so it’s crazy that it’s the week of and everything's coming together,” Dole said.

Along with exposure to UNM’s film students, Dole and Cruz also worked together to enhance the image of the festival to make it unique and instantly recognizable. They modified the name – before it was simply the UNM Student Film Festival – and gave it a new logo: the Albuquerque city skyline and Sandia mountains silhouetted in red underneath the Zia symbol.

“If you put a symbol on it, something people can relate to, it gains a personality. And that’s what this festival was missing,” Cruz said.

The results were almost instantly noticeable. Dole said that last year’s number of entries were so low at first that the SWFC had to extend the deadline.

That wasn’t a problem this time around.

“This year, just with our first deadline we got around 23, which is purely based on us reaching out in different mediums,” he said.

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The dramatically increased number of entries is evident in its variety. Dole said this year’s slate of films caters to all skill levels and genres. Among the entries shown will be documentaries, music videos, short dramas and even animated shorts.

“It promotes diversity. We wanted to really improve the situation with bringing in more filmmakers and advocating for our showcase that will properly (exhibit) their work,” Dole said.

Cruz, who also submitted a film to the festival, said he had been planning to begin his own film festival independent of the University. That is, until he met Dole, who had aspirations to enhance a relatively weak student film festival hosted by the SWFC.

“The whole idea with this film festival is not only to give students a platform to show their work…but as a whole to make them aware of other people doing things so it raises the standard of friendly creative competition,” Cruz said. “And that is extremely vital.”

The enhanced credibility for the festival is also evident in this year’s supporters. The SWFC was able to lock up Canon as a major sponsor for this year’s film festival – the biggest sponsor the event has ever had, according to Dole. They will be tabling before the event on Saturday, and are presenting the top prize: a $2,500 camera.

“That definitely adds credibility, and we’re so thankful to Canon. That deal came really late in the game,” he said.

There are also a variety of local coffee shops sponsoring the event, including Satellite, Field and Frame and Olo.

Among the film students that Cruz and Dole reached out to were first-time entrants. That includes sophomore liberal arts major Jose Rodriguez, who said that this year was the first time he summoned up the courage to submit a film that would be screened to attendants.

In fact, he submitted four entries.

“I finally gained the confidence in my work to actually showcase it,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said that having an opportunity like the Cherry Reel Film Festival is critical for film students to be successful.

“Last year it was difficult for me to even say what major I was in,” he said. “‘Film major’ sounds like such a limp degree, and it was very hard to admit it. It was hard to take pride in what I was doing and in what I loved.”

Success in other local film contests, as well as support from students, helped bring Rodriguez to the point where he said he is now ready to be involved in events like Saturday’s.

Dole said he and his staff’s – as well as Cruz’s – mission was for students like Rodriguez to feel comfortable in wanting to get that exposure. Giving students that incentive was the focus of this year’s event, he said.

“I’ve seen the past two (festivals)…and I just saw the lack of interest from the student population that I felt obligated to try and do something to properly give that platform to UNM filmmakers,” Dole said.

For more information on Saturday’s event, visit the Cherry Reel Film Festival’s Facebook page.

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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