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LETTER: Not enough cameras: the recent influx of film and digital media students at UNM

In the recent fall 2022 semester, there has been a major increase in enrollment of students into the film and digital media program at the University of New Mexico. Intro classes have noticeably increased in number of students present. Classes that used to be 16-18 people in number have increased to 23-25 students per class. This means more students per instructor, bigger groups to work in and less cameras per student.

This offers a wide range of problems, but it also offers a lot of hope. Hundreds of new students have appeared seemingly out of nowhere, surprising employees, instructors, and other students who have been in the program for a while.

I was able to talk to a new assistant professor here at UNM: Sylvia Johnson. Johnson worked for an independent film production company and a immigration legal services organization. She attended grad school at American University in Washington D.C..

“My classes were much smaller than here,” Johnson said. “In production classes, I had 10-15 students.”

Compared to the 10-15 classmates Johnson had while she was in school, she now teaches a video production II class of 24 students. I asked Johnson if she was aware of the influx of students there has been of UNM film students.

“I’ve heard that there has been a huge increase in students to this program, that it’s one of the top three fastest growing programs on campus along with nursing and engineering.” Johnson said. “The number of students seem to be doubling, which is good, but there is an attempt to try and keep up with that many students.”

The number of students that have shown up for the film program brings smiles and hope to faculty here at UNM, but it has also challenged them. On the one hand, people in the film community are more than happy to see a bright new world filled with up-and-coming filmmakers. On the other hand, in a production focused curriculum, everything is hands on and personal. So, with the number of students far outnumbering the number of professors and instructors, it is harder to teach on those hands on and personal levels.

“I think that’s one of the biggest problems: it’s hard in production class for everyone to get their hands on equipment. It’s hard when there is not enough equipment or classrooms,” Johnson said.

She also stated that the film and digital media program is, “one of the fastest growing and least funded programs on campus.”

Johnson had some great insight into the world of filmmaking as a first-year assistant professor, but I also had the pleasure of speaking to a student employee who has been with the UNM film program for the past five years.

I was able to talk to Noah J. Facko, a fifth-year student enrolled in the film and digital media department with a focus in gaming and animation. Facko is also a student technical specialist at “the cage,” which is the primary resource for student filming equipment at the University of New Mexico. Facko performs administrative and clerical work on Cheqroom, the program/website used by UNM to keep track of filming equipment. Facko also inspects and maintains equipment and, on occasion, performs equipment repairs.

I asked Facko what he thought was the cause of a major increase in enrollment of students into the film program and he responded, “hope.”

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“There’s an outstandingly good chance for a person who graduates from UNM with their bachelors in Film and Digital Media Arts to get into the IATSE Local 480 film union,” Facko said.

The IATSE Local 480 goal for its members is to provide its members with the benefits of safe working conditions, health coverage and retirement benefits. Albuquerque in general has been ranked one of the best places in terms of the film industry because of its affordability, diverse locations and work opportunities. It is rumored that Albuquerque is rising in the ranks to become number three in the film industry behind Los Angeles and New York City.

I asked Facko how he felt about the state of Albuquerque in the film industry compared to the top two and he confidently responded: “I think we’ve surpassed them.”

“New York is more theatrical and performance type Broadway focused, and that’s pretty cutthroat,” Facko said. “Hollywood is oversaturated, so the odds of actually getting into union in Hollywood, without doing a union transfer from another state, is slim to none.”

Facko went on to talk about the major tax benefits major film companies get for filming in New Mexico and how it’s caused companies like Netflix and Amazon to set up base in Albuquerque.

I must admit that I am part of this new influx of film students at UNM. Although I am not getting my bachelor’s in film and Digital Media, I have discovered a newfound love for both this program and this city. I cannot speak for everyone in terms of why this new generation of film students have arisen, but I can speak for myself.

Over the course of the pandemic, lots of days I found myself confined to my room with nothing to do but watch movies, and I believe this may have been the case for many other people like me. I think that the pandemic may have played a factor in bringing in new film students along with the state of Albuquerque in the film industry. I am happy to see so many more people who share the same love for the artform of film as I do, and I think the future of the Albuquerque film industry rests in good hands.

Christian Sky Miller is a UNM student studying Architecture with a double minor in communications and journalism, and film and digital media arts

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