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Film/Television Editor, Copy Editor Devin D. O'Leary served as film/television editor at Weekly Alibi for 28 years. He wrote and produced four feature films here in New Mexico and has been the booker/host of Midnight Movie Madness screenings at Guild Cinema for 13 years.

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New Mexico’s film and TV industry continues to grow, bulking up past pre-COVID numbers in just the last few months. Although it amounts to a lot of money in New Mexico’s pockets, the majority of those big movie studio jobs are as background extras or in “craft” fields like construction, electrical and transportation. Coveted “above the line” jobs like directors, screenwriters and producers remain firmly in the grip of Hollywood proper. But the hope remains that a burgeoning industry, teaching a variety of filmmaking skills, will inspire more local artists to spin their own stories on the big screen. And the truth is our state has a wealth of independent filmmakers, operating just under the radar of Hollywood at large and waiting for their big break.

Carmen Dahlman, an Albuquerque-based actor/model/director, is doing what she can to boost the local movie scene. She is the founder and director of High Desert Screening, which launched in 2017. She says her homegrown annual film festival “started as a fun showcase with a small group of New Mexican filmmakers. The basic motivation behind this film festival is to encourage, inspire and promote local artists while also helping to connect them with others in the industry.”

Unlike larger, multi-day festivals, High Desert doesn’t rely on finished feature films. Shorts, trailers, TV pilots, music videos and works-in-progress fill up the schedule. This allows more up-and-coming filmmakers to test the waters, to get their work in front of eyeballs and to make connections.

This year’s High Desert Screening takes place on Friday, July 16, starting at 6pm. “Due to the pandemic, the Broadway Cultural Center wasn’t available,” says Dahlman. “So we found this great new business, Zing Social Club, who will be providing their lovely facility to make this festival a fun and safe in-person event.” In addition to the film selections, there will be live music, food and Q&A sessions with many of the filmmakers. An awards ceremony and “wrap party” takes place immediately after the event at the newly opened event space at 10124 Coors Blvd NW.

Among the selections audiences get to see at the 2021 High Desert Screening are a smorgasbord of movie trailers including Ryan Fox’s Crawl, Jonathan Gonzales’ En Tu Brazos Esta Noche, Aeryn Lee’s Permafrost and Paul Ingles’ Moontime Legend. Music videos include “Handmade Blues” by Ariel 11e, “How Can I” by Riley Del Rey and “Reign Down” by Andrei Lapionak. Among the 10 short films is Chris Ranney’s “Cranky Village,” a TV sitcom about a narcissistic widow who inherits a rundown retirement home. Well-known local casting director Angelique Midthunder helmed the dramatic short “Zenophobia,” about an Asian-American nurse experiencing prejudice during the COVID pandemic. And the festival’s founder even steps up to the camera contributing “Lost,” a short she wrote, directed and stars in.

If you’re curious about the local talent bubbling just under the surface of recent high-profile Netflix and NBCUniversal announcements, tickets for this year’s High Desert Screening are $20 each and can be purchased in advance at bit.ly/3r3aCAt. For more info go to highdesertscreening.com.

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