With graduation less than a week away for University of New Mexico film student Gus Tafoya, they have come to find peace and success in the process of creating art. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film and digital arts, Tafoya plans to take a break from school and get real-world experience in Albuquerque’s booming film industry.
The last year has been a busy one for Tafoya, and while they wrote and produced films almost all on their own time, they have been able to explore their artistry in a variety of mediums and settings. Tafoya has multiple published films under their belt already, setting them up to achieve their film goals in the future. In 2021 alone, Tafoya released five short films.
The COVID-19 pandemic made a significant impact on Tafoya and their art, creating an isolated environment that Tafoya has tried to change in their last semester at UNM. They’ve made a serious effort to collaborate and foster a sense of flexibility and openness through the creative process, which they said has been “super exciting but also challenging.”
Tafoya’s thesis project, “A Picture of You in a Thousand Years,” wrapped shooting in early December and is now in postproduction. This project — Tafoya’s final film project at UNM — will be released into the film festival circuit in 2022. Tafoya’s close friend Caleb Schuh returned to Albuquerque briefly after moving to California to study film and television to work as a crew member for this project
“Gus is brilliant — a very good writer, a kind person … What I admire more than anything else, they have this moral compass that is just unshakable,” Schuh said. “I’ve always been a fan. Gus has this way of making these poetry videos, which I think are very cool.”
Tafoya’s film “Yucca Lust,” which was a “goodbye poetry video” for Schuh after he moved away, was showcased in the 2020-2021 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and took home third place in the UNM’s 2020-2021 Cherry Reel Film Festival.
“I learned (that) making decisions is the most important thing you can do, whether they're good or bad … You just have to give something the ax and deal with the consequences later,” Tafoya said. “Letting (the consequences) happen and trying not to control it too much is more interesting and more fun.”
While Tafoya was ecstatic to be featured in the festivals, “a lot of the magic of it was gone” due to the virtual setting.
Another point of pride is “Wilson City Stadium,” which is an ongoing animated series with over 1,000 YouTube subscribers that Tafoya works on. This has been in the works for approximately a year with the guidance of director and writer Schuh, who has released both the pilot and a Halloween special. Back in high school, Schuh and Tafoya drew dogs together while attending the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School, and those dogs eventually became the characters of “Wilson City Stadium.”
“Since Gus and I would draw the dogs together, it was only natural that we’d work on the show together … These little cartoon dogs that would stand up and walk around — inappropriate things for dogs to do … (It was) a fun thing to do with my friends,” Schuh said.
Tafoya worked as an apprentice with the Harwood Art Center during the summer of 2021 in the second phase of a two-year project called Camino, a public art structure built by local artists with the help of paid student apprentices. The designs had been created the summer before, so they worked with a group to lay the concrete and assist in erecting large metal welcome beacons. Through the center they also began designs for next summer’s piece, which has yet to be announced to the public.
Also in summer 2021, Tafoya worked on a project that toyed with light projection and live human movement using sensors and projectors through a class at Central New Mexico Community College with professor Mamman Rezaee, who also teaches film at UNM. Tafoya said it was meant to encourage thought regarding the physical projection of oneself in conjunction with the actuality of self, where the two versions of self converge and diverge.
“Me and my mentor Mamman, we really just worked from (the idea of) someone being dissolved of their body, seeing what’s left behind — not feeling at home in your body and trying to bridge that gap again,” Tafoya said.
The support of the wider film community has been key in Tafoya’s exploration of the arts, and his immersion at UNM played no small role in making it to graduation.
“I really like getting to know people and feeling more a part of the community here at UNM,” Tafoya said.
Tafoya might return to UNM to earn a graduate degree in dramatic writing or film in the future but currently plans to “step away from school for a while.” In the meantime, Tafoya plans to enter the film industry in Albuquerque with a variety of artistry under their belt to share with the world.
Natalie Jude is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @natalaroni