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Earlier this month I celebrated five years back in the Mesilla Valley, after a 25-year absence. I’ve had many occasions during those ensuing five years to make mention of how Las Cruces has changed since my bad ol’ student days at New Mexico State University. I think it’s pretty safe to say there have been some pretty dramatic changes since my return, as well.

One of the signs that Las Cruces is truly coming into its own, as the second largest metropolitan area in the state, takes place September 4 – 8, 2013. Of all the various fiestas and festivals our lovely little city has to offer, the one that truly puts us on par with other world class destinations is the White Sands International Film Festival (WSIFF). Why? I’m glad you asked. Allow me to elucidate.

WhiteSands_logo

To begin with, the film festival circuit is widely accepted as the breeding ground for future trendsetters in the world of cinema. The filmmakers who inhabit that circuit are a special breed. They’re the groundbreakers who don’t have big money executives hanging over their shoulders, telling them how to do their jobs. They’re the auteurs who have yet to be corrupted by the studio system.

As a result, they are the inventors of expression who bring life, culture and art to the hungry masses. They occupy a very important stratum in the development of our society. They are the visionaries. They are our connection to the rest of the world in a way that radio, television and even the internet can’t possibly convey.

The fact that we lose so many of them to the studio system, or the platforms listed above, is really beside the point. For a brief time, they are uncorrupted and we, the discerning audience – who are tired of slick, star-studded, multi-million-dollar, by-the-numbers spectacles – are the beneficiaries.

Which means, having a film festival that is recognized as part of that network is a calling card to the rest of the world that says, “this city is smart, savvy and in touch.” It conveys that we get it. It draws attention to our little corner of the universe in a positive way and it opens doors to new possibilities in the areas of tourism, business and those all-important buzz words: economic development. It ratchets things up a notch or two.

That’s why it is so important that our community support the WSIFF. Many of our local businesses have stepped forward as sponsors, donating goods, services and money to the cause. Our local filmmakers are volunteering their time and energy to act as good will ambassadors to visitors from all over the world – the creative men and women who travel the circuit in search of their next big break.

All that’s missing is you, the audience – arguably the most important part of the entire process. Without you, the films in the festival go unwatched and the messages they bring with them go unheard.

As a judge for this year’s WSIFF I had the privilege of working alongside some of the most creative film professionals Las Cruces has to offer. Over the course of five weeks, we each spent every available minute watching a total of 80 films. Picking winners was not easy, mainly due to the high quality of the selections, but somehow we managed to come to an agreement in each category.

Having been involved in the film industry myself, off and on over the past 20 years or so, I can truly say that this has been one of the highlights of my journey. As fun and interesting as it may have been to work alongside actors and directors such as Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, John Carpenter and John Landis, being part of this process has put me in touch with my inner movie geek.

It reminded me that sometimes putting aside personal preferences in favor of the unexpected can lead to an exhilarating ride. Of the 20 or so documentaries I viewed, easily two-thirds introduced me to concepts and ideas I had either known nothing about, or had only given peripheral attention to. That’s some serious mind expansion.

The majority of the features and shorts wowed me with sweeping visuals and methodical pacing that allowed story and character to unfold with the precision of a well-articulated poem. Many of the student entries surprised me with their meticulous professionalism and excited me with the possibilities for the future they engender.

WSIFF Poster

 

It is this experience that I am hoping to share with any and all who make the time to catch at least a few of the offerings on display during the first week in September. The organizers of this year’s event have gone out of their way to present not only package deals for hard-core cinephiles, but also individual prices for those who can only spare a few hours to catch one or two of the films.

The important thing to remember is that this film festival is organized and presented for your edification. Not to rack up points in some movie snob lottery. Not to give local filmmakers something to do. Definitely not to financially support a bloated industry.  There are plenty of other avenues for that sort of thing.

This film festival, like all film festivals worldwide, is presented as an opportunity to introduce you to the wide, wonderful world of raw, ground-breaking cinema and, hopefully, to reawaken dialog about the world around us, through the emotions that such films inspire.

I encourage you to gather family and friends together, or go solo if that’s your preference, and take part in this year’s White Sands International Film Festival. I believe you will be very surprised at the quality being offered and richly rewarded for your efforts. You may even meet a celebrity or two.

Las Cruces has a lot to offer, but this event may very well be among the best.

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in my column, “On Second Thought,” in the August 23, 2013 issue of The Las Cruces Bulletin. All rights reserved. Find out more about the White Sands International Film Festival, including times, schedules and information on workshops, by visiting www.WSIFF.com

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