After a 15-minute countdown to the live premiere on the YouTube channel for the Southwest Film Center (SWFC), the Cherry Reel Film Festival premiered after 7 p.m. on Oct. 14 to a group of over 100 participants.

As a precursor to the main event, panelists from IATSE Local 480 — the New Mexico branch of SAG-AFTRA — and New Mexico Women in Film gave advice and provided networking opportunities to students in a series of Zoom sessions.

The nine-year-long Lobo cinema tradition was made possible by staff at the film center who crafted a social media strategy to maintain student engagement up until the festival, despite the physical challenges presented by COVID-19.

LeAnna Walters, executive director of the SWFC for 2020-21, said her team really wanted the festival to be “an outlet for students to have space to share their work together, and for the community to come together and celebrate their work.”

Cherry Reel chair Britonya Fleming-Ponce said they “really just wanted people to have a good time, even though it was all virtual.”

The lineup for the festival included a wide range of genres, from shorts, romantic comedies and darker experimental pieces, all of which went through a rigorous judging process.

“A few different criteria like editing, cinematography and acting … We also definitely judged on a few other things,” Fleming said. “We wanted to get a good variety from all of the films so the festival wouldn’t be so one-noted.”

Students who were used to sinking into their seats at the SWFC as the lights dimmed and their work was projected onto the big screen seemed to be quick to adapt to this new rendition of the Cherry Reel festival.

“I’m definitely a little disappointed, but under the circumstances it doesn’t matter where it’s shown,” Zong Muas, a junior in film and digital media arts (FDMA) said. “I’m just happy to show my work.”

Muas noted that simply having his short horror film “Happy Anniversary” picked out of the more than 30 submissions was a great honor for him, regardless of the size or the location of the festival.

Junior FDMA student Dorian Anderson accepted the most coveted prize of the night: the first place award for Best Short Film and the title of “winner” of the Cherry Reel. The documentary that he submitted, “Take the World by Storm” about transgender women performing drag, was confirmed by Fleming to be the only documentary submitted to the festival. Anderson won the award along with director Cesca Segarra and assistant director Violet Collins.

“It was a big boost; I was feeling really down in quarantine, and it was a really big morale and emotional boost,” Anderson said.

“(The winning announcement) made me really really excited — I was in disbelief and didn’t really know what to say when they announced it,” Anderson said. “I was super shocked, because everyone else’s films were awesome and they showcased the talent at UNM.”

Walters echoed the sentiment, explaining how she was impressed with the submissions they received and was “so glad we had so many people show up to support the work of their peers.”

Other accolades for best short films included second place winner “Tucker” directed by Jose-Carlo Martinez and third place winner “Yucca Lust” directed by Gus Tafoya.

The Best Music Video award went to “YoungSpool/LoveLife” directed by Daveian Serna. The Audience Choice award, which was voted on by participants in the Zoom ceremony, went to “Master Bassist” directed by Alexei Pacholuk and produced by Dana Agatha and J. Keenan Wallace.

Shelby Kleinhans is a freelance photographer and beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99