As night came, the silver screen glowed, outshining the stars and towering over the dozens of cars sprawled across the abandoned horse track at the Downs in Santa Fe.
These moviegoers, who have long been deprived of their cinematic fix for more than half a year, found refuge in the hilarious, tragic and powerful short films created by local New Mexican talent on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at BITE SIZE, a drive in movie event by Jenn Garcia with Arabela Films and Alexandra Renzo.
The evening at Motorama, a drive-in event series hosted at the Downs, started with the uncompromising voices of live poets and musicians like Ashley “SayWut?!” Moyer and Hakim Bellamy from the Albuquerque Poet Laureate Program. Other musicians like TwoLips orchestrated a groovy jive to the event with her sensuous funk and energetic soul.
Also on the list was Harlem-to-Santa-Fe jazz singer Jasmin Williams, who, by all accounts, is jazz. Williams used her voice, triumphant and majestic, to reflect on and express the plight of social injustice and systemic racism as she recited a litany of names of those who suffered under police brutality, framed by the beats and rhythms of a lone acoustic bass.
The openers set the mood for the evening and introduced the audience to the type of passion, dedication and artistry that pervades each frame of the 16 snippets.
In a world where cinematic universes and Netflix dominate the collective psyche, BITE SIZE offered a retreat from expensive Hollywood blockbusters and platformed films which captured the deep beauty of New Mexico that only locals would know and love.
BITE SIZE’s set list of short films was a cornucopia — fruitfully diverse with radically different mediums, narratives and themes between each creator’s work culminating into a generous collection of art. Still, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of Asian/Pacific Islander American filmmakers and perspectives.
As difficult as it was distilling which of the 16 films to review, the following retained their place as the most memorable.
“Wide Open Skies,” for starters, created by Jazmin Ontiveros Harvey, is a music video that captures the complexities and nuances of a queer realtionship, set to the splendid folk ballad of Albuquerque-based indie group Eileen & the In-Betweens. The video, the music and its lyrics all felt like the liberating cold air of the montés in winter.
Another music video, “No Le Digan” by Carlos Medina and Ryan Thompson, was boisterous and madly entertaining. Medina boasted his operatic mariachi chops as puppets, figure skaters, lowriders and a pink tentacled creature come together to tell a very loose love story set at a bar. The six minute video, of course, was oozing that unmistakable Norté swag.
But BITE SIZE hosted more than uplifting and hilarious stories, like “LOW/FI” by Alejandro Montoya, which had the cinephilic tang and self-aware charm of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or the acid fever dream of an eclectic artist in “The Reality Blorp” by Amy West.
The film festival also provided apt and necessary time for reflection about race and ethnic identity in the United States, like the powerfully written poem-turned-short film “Matter of Black” by Robby Dugan and the modern classic “Pozole” by Jessica Mendez Siqueiros and New Mexico producer Jenn Garcia, which qualified for the Academy Awards.
One documentary, “Moving Arts Espanola” by Jody McNicholas, follows Salvador Ruiz and Roger Montoya and their program Moving Arts, which provides an outlet of artistic expression for the youth of Española. It’s the innate intimacy of the documentary and its beautiful subjects that will grip your heart as the young leaders and participants share their experiences with terminal illnesses, families suffering from substance use disorders and structural poverty. The documentary provides a deeply raw sense of empowerment and inspiration as the youth forge their own identities through art, music and dance despite their tribulations.
“Jackrabbit” by Jesse Littlebird traces the feet of a young man as he runs and runs to connect with his land and identity as an Indigenous person, as he is caught between a father who abuses alcohol and a mentor uncle who in turn abuses the child’s father. It was a somber but empowering contemplation of Indigenous youths’ present and past, the trials they were born into and must overcome and where they are running toward in the future.
“YÁ’ÁT’ÉÉH ABINÍ” by Morningstar Angeline was my favorite of the mix. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus, where a young woman survives after the death of her father, her only companion. Although the film never specifies the virus, it is a clear allusion to the current state of the Navajo Nation and the Indigenous population as they fight one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country.
Angeline captured a haunting and reflective tone as our solitary hero ventures and encounters the destruction of the virus across the lonely desert. The story wasn’t without hope, though, as she finds the strength to persist through the legacy left behind by her late father.
The BITESIZE Film Festival spotlighted not only the remarkable passion and skill of local filmmakers, but also the stories New Mexicans can hold, bond over and be proud to share.
Shelby Kleinhans contributed to this article.
Gabriel Biadora is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora