UTEP’S Student Leadership & Engagement Center hosts first student film festival


UTEP’s Student Engagement and Leadership Center (SELC) hosted the first student film festival April 9 at the Union Cinema. The winners included (from left to right) Edgar Alvarez for the Miners Choice Award, Fernanda Ponce for Best Storytelling, and Martin Renova for Best Cinematography and Overall Best Picture. Photo courtesy of UTEP’s Student Engagement and Leadership Center.

Kristen Scheaffer, Staff Reporter

UTEP’s Student Engagement and Leadership Center (SELC) hosted their first student film festival April 9 at the Union Cinema and provided students, no matter their major, an opportunity to show their work.

“A few months ago, the Student Engagement and Leadership Center wanted to create a space for some up-and-coming filmmakers, student filmmakers, here on this campus,” said Jaime Mendez, Ph.D., assistant dean of students. “And so, the idea was to put this film festival together to let some of our students that are interested in that medium to be able to showcase some of their work.”

According to Luci Rodriguez, campus engagement coordinator, the festival was open to short stories, documentaries, animation, video essays, as well as vlogs with no requirements.

Among the films shown, there were four categories that the films were critiqued on: best storytelling, best cinematography, miners choice, and overall best picture.

UTEP’s film festival’s judges included:

– Jaime Mendez, Ph.D., assistant dean of students

– Charlin Jones-Chavez, Ph.D., assistant dean of students

– Veronica Gonzalez, director of student media publications

– Katie Bird, Ph.D., assistant professor in film studies and digital media production

– Nakisha Acosta, lecturer in communication

– Greg Beam, associate professor in communication

Some of the criteria the judges were looking for in these films included visual attributes, such as editing and cinematography; audio attributes, such as music, sound, recording of dialogue; and determining if the storyline was compelling and engaging, according to Greg Beam, an associate professor in communication.

“You kind of have to adjust your expectations and how you’re applying some of these criteria to the different types of film,” Beam said, explaining that each piece needed to be critiqued differently based on whether it’s a video essay, a vlog or a story.

Edgar Alvarez’s film “Wild Goose Chase” won the Miners Choice Award. This category was left for the students to decide which film was a fan favorite. “Wild Goose Chase” is considered a short story. Alvarez was not available to comment.

Martin Renova’s film “Mexican Dream” won both Best Cinematography and Overall Best Picture. Renova is a digital media productions major, and he classified his piece as a mockumentary.

“Mexican Dream” replicates the story of border crossings, initiating a twist with immigrants traveling to Mexico from places like Honduras and Cuba, according to Renova. His film shows Mexico reacting just like America does, showcasing hypocrisy.

“I wanted to create a message, you know, to the people in Ciudad Juarez. Why, why are us Mexicans – we also treat the people that come from the outside the same way when we want to be treated differently,” Renova said.

Although this was Renova’s first film festival as a director, Renova has collaborated with others as a first assistant director in the El Paso Media Film Fest and wishes to continue producing films.

Fernanda Ponce’s piece “The Art of Living” won the Best Storytelling Award. Her film is considered a short story. Ponce is a digital media productions major and said her film seemed to be telling a story that she, herself, seemed to be learning from her professor, who encouraged her to enter the film into the festival.

“So, I wanted to go with something simple, and piece is about like, how a little bit of encouragement goes a long way, and how like, even though you feel helpless for a while, someone can come in and give you a little bit of hope,” Ponce said.

Ponce said the film festival gave her the confidence to participate in other festivals and hopes to continue producing documentaries after graduation.

Ponce’s win comes just weeks after Jane Campion’s win for ‘Best Director’ at the Oscars, making Campion the seventh woman to be nominated, and the third to win, according to NBC. Women make up about 21% of directors, editors, cinematographers, producers, executive producers, and writers in the top 100 grossing films of 2020, according to a study by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D.

“I think you got to have that representational ground, and I think it’s great to see that on the female side, that more and more are taking on that craft because I think we have to have that voice being captured on the screen,” Mendez said.

Kristen Scheaffer is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]