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Film Symposium cultivates representation in New Mexico’s film scene

“These films are not mainstream movies; they are authentic representations that the people want to see,” shiloh burton said.

The second annual Film Symposium at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), titled “Power of Our Stories,” took place April 10-13, showcasing a diverse series of films. This included “Unseen” (2023), “Singing our Way to Freedom” (2018) and “Salt of the Earth” (1954), along with eight others.

The free event featured themes of labor unity, Chicanx and Indigenous rights and how the influence of music and art has impacted the movement for freedom among marginalized communities.

The NHCC Film Symposium initially began as a one-day, one-film event in 2023. The following year, burton, a non-binary activist, was hired as film coordinator for the NHCC.

“I wanted to include the radical aspect of these truthful stories in a way that is accessible to everyone,” burton said.

Indigenous and Chicanx representation is extremely limited in the film industry, burton said. “I did a huge deep dive for films that needed audiences,” they said.

Paul Espinosa, director of “Singing Our Way to Freedom,” spoke at a panel about the film on April 12. It follows famous Chicano singer Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez and his advocacy for Chicanx and farmworkers rights alongside Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Association.

Sanchez was one of Cesar Chavez’s favorite musicians. He would ask Sanchez, or his band, Los Alacranes Mojados, to play during his speeches, Espinosa said.

“When people are laughing, it is much easier for them to accept their problems,” Espinosa said.

burton said they were inspired to extend the event by Chicanx activist and United Farmworkers Association co-founder Dolores Huerta, who they encountered in a rights march for marginalized communities. Huerta encouraged them to show the film “Salt of the Earth.”

“I said ‘done,’ because she’s my hero,” burton said.

“Unseen,” directed by Set Hernandez, follows Pedro, a blind, undocumented man, through graduating college, securing a position as a social worker and supporting his family, despite the political restrictions that are placed on him. The documentary places emphasis on the intersection between mental health, xenophobia and disability, according to the NHCC website.

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“Authentic representation has to do with accessibility and how all kinds of people, including people with disabilities, are received,” Pedro said at the April 12 panel.

Pedro discussed how Hernandez gave him the freedom and accessibility to work on the film as a co-writer.

NHCC’s relationships with the filmmakers were developed over the six-month planning period for the symposium. burton has gathered films for the next four years and looks forward to continuing the Film Symposium, they said.

“What I hope is that people all over the nation come here for the Film Symposium, like an annual festival,” burton said.

Dannely Verduzco is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at

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