By Sarah Meyer, PNT Staff Writer
Eastern New Mexico University will host its first film festival from 1-5 p.m. Sunday at the University Theatre Center.
The High Plains Film Festival will feature a Martin Luther King Jr. documentary, filmed in 1969, and a discussion led by the editor of the film, Jack Sholder.
After a break for refreshments, the winning films will be shown and discussed.
Forty-one filmmakers from four states entered the festival, said Robert Vartabedian, vice president for academic affairs at ENMU.
“I’ve screened every entry. Some of them are phenomenal. I think we have some young Steven Spielbergs out there,” Vartabedian said. “I think they’ll really knock people’s socks off.”
Michael Sitton, dean of ENMU’s College of Fine Arts, said the event will be an opportunity for the audience to see the MLK documentary and hear from its editor about what it was like to work in the 1960s. It will also be a chance “to see the wonderful creativity” expressed in the festival entries, he said.
Janeice Scarbrough, a member of the event’s organizing committee, said the film festival was planned to draw attention to the university’s new cinema arts degree and as an opportunity for students.
“It’s every young filmmaker’s dream to have someone in the industry look at their work,” Scarbrough said.
The judges include Sholder; Joan Leslie, a distinguished film actress; Diana Ossana, an academy-award winning screenwriter; and Eric Witt, director of legislative and political affairs, and media arts and entertainment development for Gov. Bill Richardson’s office.
“Any time we can get our governor involved, it’s just wonderful,” Scarbrough said.
“We have some very wonderful films — every type and style you can imagine,” she said.
Witt said he was impressed by the quality of the entries.
“There’s clearly some production talent out on the High Plains,” he said. “Tremendous interest is shown in the number and range of entries.”
The festival will serve to showcase talent in the region and “encourage development of our (New Mexico’s) own indigenous film base,” Witt said.
Sitton noted that many movies are being made in the state.
“We’re interested in tapping into that developing industry,” he said.
Vartabedian said university officials plan to continue the film festival and dream of it becoming a major event, like Sundance or Taos.
The winning entries in each of four categories — pre-college, animation, documentary/experimental and dramatic — will each receive $500.
Funding for the festival is being provided with discretionary funds from Vartabedian’s office and from ENMU president Steven Gamble’s discretionary funds, Vartabedian said. He added that he has applied for a grant from the Portales Lodgers Tax fund for the event.
Attendance is free, but those who plan to attend are asked to call 562-2373 so enough refreshments (think movie theater snacks) can be provided and so that organizers can plan for an overflow crowd if necessary.