Driftless, starring local actress Monique Candelaria

With big-ticket movie and TV productions continuing to flood into New Mexico—courtesy of major Hollywood players like Netflix, NBCUniversal and Nickelodeon—independent local productions are still struggling to get off the ground and get noticed. But there are people in and around the industry doing what they can to promote this small but dedicated local film scene. Founded in 2017, the High Desert Screening is an annual film festival dedicated to encouraging, inspiring and promoting local artists while also helping to connect them with others in the industry.

According to High Desert founder and director Carmen Dahlman, “The main goal of High Desert Screening is to entertain, educate and inspire the community. By doing this we nurture our community, we create jobs and support local businesses. We also make our city an artistic destination.” Over the years, Dahlman has seen the industry from the inside-out, working as a model, an actor and a director.

The daylong High Desert festival hits the South Broadway Cultural Center (1025 Broadway Blvd. SE) on Saturday, August 13. Previous incarnations of High Desert have concentrated entirely on showing off short-form productions: short films, music videos and trailers for proposed features. This year, the festival has added a feature film and a selection of educational panels.

It all starts at 12:15pm with a screening of Driftless. Dahlman describes the film as, “a feature-length drama about Nova Abbey, a park ranger at work during a state government shutdown on a busy 4th of July weekend, protecting the park from the people and the people from each other.” The film is directed by Harper Philbin, and the lead actress is Native American New Mexican actor Monique Candelaria.

Following that is an Actor Development Forum and Filmmakers Symposium. The Filmmakers Symposium includes founder of the Santa Fe Film Festival Kurt Young, executive director for the New Mexico Education Channel Candice Neu, screenwriter Michael Toby Sanchez, IATSE Local 480 Union studio technician Joe Lonesome, filmmaker Michael Perez and others. “The panels are not only informative but also a way to connect and network,” says Dahlman. “High Desert Screening is here to elevate New Mexicans’ talent and to promote them nationally with the opportunity for exposure and to grow.”

High Desert closes out its day at 5:45 with the main Festival Screening. This serves to introduce audiences to some of our state’s “storytellers” and includes a wide selection of the sort of locally made short subjects on which the festival was built. Tickets run between $15 and $25 per event, and VIP all-access passes can be picked up for $75.

Despite all the effort that goes into assembling a film festival, Dahlman herself is busy working on her next project, a short drama called “Domino Effect.” She is collaborating with other New Mexico film talents both behind and in front of the camera. The filmmaker and film festival director believes that “New Mexico has a lot of potential, knowing that more movies and TV series are landing here to be filmed.” From her perspective, “These projects are providing jobs and also making it easy for actors to pursue their dreams.” Between job-providing Hollywood productions and homegrown industry efforts like High Desert, Dahlman is convinced that our state is “the right place to start a career in the film industry.”

To get tickets for High Desert Screening, go to tickets.holdmyticket.com/tickets/398106. For more details, head to facebook.com/highdesertscreening/.