Getting to work in downtown Albuquerque proved to be a bit of a chore last week. Employees trying to negotiate Central found themselves routed around the city’s downtown hub. The reason? John Travolta, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence were busy filming their new middle-aged biker comedy Wild Hogs for Touchstone Pictures.
Generators, catering trucks and makeup trailers lined the streets. Film technicians rolled out miles of electrical cable and draped whole buildings in sunlight-dampening scrims. Office workers lingered on the sidewalks, taking pictures of Mr. Travolta’s monogrammed chair. But, apart from the occasional roar from a pack of motorcycles, it was just another quiet working day in downtown Albuquerque. Funny, but it’s actually gotten to the point where New Mexico is hosting so many Hollywood productions that shutting down Central to accommodate John Travolta and company is just another minor inconvenience in our workday commute.
While New Mexico continues to assert its rapidly growing position as Hollywood Southwest, scores of local, homegrown filmmakers are struggling to realize their visions. “New Mexico filmmaking appears to be diverging into two groups: production crews and independent artists,” says filmmaker Dan Otero, whose locally shot feature Zen & The Asteroid debuted at last year’s Santa Fe Film Festival. “The production crews on larger projects are making tremendous progress and growing in numbers. They are gaining traction and respect.” But, points out Otero, “The independent artists are growing as well.”
Otero will be one of an entire host of New Mexico filmmakers unspooling their cinematic work at the second annual New Mexico Filmmaker’s Showcase, taking place Friday, May 19, through Monday, May 22, at the Guild Cinema in Nob Hill. The Showcase is sponsored by the New Mexico Film Office, which recently started turning its full-time attentions away from blockbuster Hollywood productions and devoting a little time toward helping local writers, producers and directors get their voices heard above the din of Travolta et al.
So far, the response has been “great,” according to Jodi Delaney, the Film Office’s recently installed program director for New Mexico filmmakers. A total of 47 short and feature-length films and videos were submitted for this year’s nonjuried festival, all produced on small budgets, but with big ambitions. From karaoke comedies to Taoist sci-fi films to documentaries about diabetes, this year’s New Mexico Filmmakers Showcase seems to run the gamut of talent, showing off what Delaney terms “the wild-and-woolliness of New Mexico filmmaking.”
Albuquerque-based writer/filmmaker Lisa M. Polisar has two short films in this year’s showcase, both produced with her partner Tobias Katz. “Vanishing Voices” is a documentary about a Zuni painter and storyteller. “Big Island Bohemians” introduces viewers to two organic farmers on Hawaii who discuss their personal ideologies. “This is the world debut for both films, and we’re really excited about it,” says Polisar. “[We’re] so glad the Film Office is doing something for local filmmakers like this!”
In addition to a four-day slate of films, this year’s festival has added an opening night Meet the Filmmakers Reception on Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Laru/Café Cubano, just down the street from the Guild Cinema. Not only will the reception give movie lovers a chance to see what their local talent looks like, according to Delaney, the get-together is also important in “getting people to meet each other and see what other [filmmakers] are doing. If they hit it off, maybe they’ll make a film together. The more we can connect people, the better.”
Already, Delaney has ideas for next year’s Showcase. “I want to try and grow this, so next year we’ll have it at the Guild and a couple other cities in the state. That will give people more exposure. This is a community event, but it’s also about exposing the work [of filmmakers].”
Who knows? Perhaps in a few years’ time, it will be a New Mexico filmmaker crowding the streets of downtown Albuquerque with generators, catering trucks and makeup trailers.