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Feminist Border Arts Film Festival and Zine Fest comes to the NMSU Art Museum

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams

The 2024 Feminist Border Arts Film Festival and Zine Fest will take place June 28th and 29th at the NMSU Art Museum. Scott Brocato spoke with the festival’s founders, NMSU Gender and Sexuality Professors Dr. M. Catherine Jonet and Dr. Laura Anh Williams, about what to expect, including the premiere of local filmmaker Ryan Rox's feature film debut, "Hidden Flora."

Scott Brocato:

The Feminist Border Arts Film Festival is now in its ninth year. What is the philosophy and theme of this year's festival, and how does it differ from past festivals?

Dr. M. Catherine "Cat" Jonet:

Well, essentially, since we've been chipping away at this for nine years, they are all ultimately connected; that we are featuring film, digital and material media like Zines by women, LGBTQ, and men who collaborate and are forward-thinking that want to work in these areas to help either promote work that's already existing, or to relieve gaps.

And for this year, our overall theme is Out of This Binary, where we have traditionally and continue to embrace UFOs, aliens, spaceships, as a symbol of a new future. A new tomorrow. A way of how our systems and our ways to paraphrase (a great writer), “the old won't die, and the new can't be born”. We have to lift out of this. We gotta go somewhere else. And our boundary crossing, our intersectional ideas, come to fruition in the festival because it's not purely an entertainment thing, and it's certainly not purely an academic thing. It's a way to reach in with the public, and to reach out for the university.

NMSU Gender and Sexuality Professors Dr. Laura Anh Williams (left) and Dr. M. Catherine Jonet, founders of the Feminist Border Arts Film Festival and Zine Fest
Dr. Laura Anh Williams
NMSU Gender and Sexuality Professors Dr. Laura Anh Williams (left) and Dr. M. Catherine Jonet, founders of the Feminist Border Arts Film Festival and Zine Fest

Scott Brocato:

Well, it's a big festival. It's going to be featuring 15 feature-length films as well as 54 short films. This is the first year for the feature-length films, is it not?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

Yes it is. I wanted to fill in a couple of things. The ways that it's different this year is that in the past we have typically featured only short films, so films 15 minutes and shorter. And so we've gotten, you know, quite a range of programming. And this year, we opened it up to short films as well as feature length films. And the other component is that we're also including a Zine festival too, so that's another way that the Film Festival is expanding this year. So it's a film and zine festival.

Scott Brocato:

What is the zine festival?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

To back it up a little bit: a zine is a small circulation, usually homemade, or even handmade publication. You can think of it as like a small, inexpensive piece of art, and these can range from poetry or art zines to fan zines like pop culture zines. They're just publications that sort of go around the typical mechanisms of publishing, because it's a way of an individual instantly sharing their ideas, their obsessions, their interests, even research, with a public audience. And so they're intended to be homemade, quickly and cheaply duplicated in order to disseminate your ideas immediately to a public audience. And people trade them, people leave them out like people hide them in libraries or bookstores, or, you know, wherever out in public. And so a zine fest is just an opportunity to collect a bunch of people across the region who are interested in making these and sharing them and sort of collecting them all in one place, so that the folks at NMSU and Las Cruces in the region can sort of see what these different artists and creators have made and want to share with us and trade and even purchase them. They're usually like a dollar or two or maybe $5. They're inexpensive, but it goes directly to the artist so that they can make more.

Scott Brocato:

And that's happening on the 29th, right?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

Right. Yes, that's the second day of the festival. So the film festival goes on Friday and Saturday, and the zine fest is Saturday from noon to five.

Scott Brocato:

Well, as you said, it starts on the 28th and 29th. It's going to be all at the NMSU Art Museum, and the opening day happens to fall on International Pride Day and the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City. What is the importance of Pride when it comes to the festival itself?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

I think that it's an opportunity for us to sort of contextualize. I mean, the title of our film festival is a Feminist Border Arts Film Festival, and we're interested in marginalized voices and sort of a really broad and expansive definition of what feminism means. And so it refers to all kinds of sort of oppressive hierarchies, including not only gender and sexuality, but like all of the different hierarchies that we’re sort of shaped by. And so homophobia and transphobia is certainly one of those things that feminism addresses, and so it's really important for us.

I know there isn't a lot of opportunity for...June is typically when many places celebrate Pride, and in New Mexico it's just too hot, and so we tend to celebrate in October. So this is a way of sort of honoring that legacy, that history, and also giving people a chance to have space for community indoors, where it’s air conditioned and you're surrounded by beautiful art.

Scott Brocato:

What will be some of the film highlights? You mentioned binary artists, I know it's going to be the premiere of “Hidden Flora” made by local filmmaker Ryan Rox. Talk about that film, and also the premiere of the documentary “Kim Carnie Out Loud”. Talk about those.

Dr. M. Catherine "Cat" Jonet:

We have so many amazing films. I can't even begin to even think about one individually. It becomes so hard because what happens is, when you program these things, they start talking to each other. And you start picking up, through watching them all, “Ohh, this film goes so good with this film. But wouldn't it be interesting if we didn't put them in the same program together?” Because you want people to have multiple experiences. You don't want to dictate to them that like, well, “these two films have similar themes, you must go to it.” And, you know, almost dogmatically walk away with a certain idea. You want to nuance things, you want to complicate things.

"Hidden Flora", directed by local filmmaker Ryan Rox
Ryan Rox
"Hidden Flora", directed by local filmmaker Ryan Rox

And I would say one of the great things about our wonderful local Borderlands filmmaker Ryan Rox is that “Hidden Flora” definitely complicates things. One of our former students, who now teaches in the English department and with us, is working with us this year: Juan Ricky Araiza. He wrote something for our program about “Hidden Flora”. And what he wrote was, “It's the queer coming of age film you didn't know you needed, but you were so happy that it existed”. I think that is a wonderful description, because Ryan's film needs to exist. It needs to be there. It's a different take on LGBT coming of age films. And if you know anything about LGBT cinema, the coming of age film is like 99.9%, no matter your age range. You know, discovering the self, and coming out. So Ryan is trying something new with this where there's (A) no clear path, and (B) the person experiencing their own life, and the sexual situations in which they are confronted with or faced with, do not lead necessarily to a path of sexual discovery or liberation, but one in which it becomes so introspective that the main character starts seeing it's also a journey of self and gender. Laura, what would you like to say?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

Yeah. I mean, I think what Cat is hinting at is that, like, a ton of LGBTQ coming of age narratives tend to be like, you know, young love and coming out. Like that tends to be the sort of narrative trajectory. And "Hidden Flora” is much more complex, in that sometimes a love story is about self-love too. I mean about like learning to love the self and embrace the self and value the self. And that's super important for anyone who identifies as, you know, marginalized in any way; that their identity or that their desires, there's something fundamentally going against the grain of society, and so where does that identity belong? And how does that identity find love, find acceptance, even for themselves? Because, you know, they deserve it.

And so it's really exciting to see a new kind of story, a new kind of love story. And you know, it's unpredictable, because it's going against all of the sort of conventions of the genre of the coming of age (film). We're constantly surprised for the length of the film because you're like, where's this going to go next, you know? And you want to go on that journey with the main character, Roxii.

Dr. M. Catherine "Cat" Jonet:

On “Kim Carnie Out Loud”, I think "Kim Carnie Out Loud” is going to be a really big film, and one that probably KRWG people are going to appreciate because they love music. They love world music. Kim Carnie is a Scottish singer. She can sing traditional Scottish Celtic music in the original language. I encourage you to find her on Spotify and Instagram to get to know her. She's LGBT, and she lived closeted in silence for many years. And it became really hard and unbearable for her to continue in that vein, and so she took the brave step of being a public professional person and coming out, and her documentary is about that story. But she also uses her small spotlight as her career emerges. And it certainly is, and this film. I think, it's really supporting her. It's not hurting her in her public career. But she finds other people, she comes to the United States, who have also experienced in our contemporary moment. I don't like to say “closeted” for this. This is about being in a situation where you need to remain silent in order to continue, like her being a professional musician, and being told this will destroy your career, that kind of thing. So she talks to other people. And then she takes what she learned and creates songs from her interactions with these other people, and she performs them at the end of the documentary with her band. So it's super cool.

And the other one that's also we found out most recently as a US premiere, is a Polish film directed by the wonderful Konrad Kultys. He's an emerging Polish director. It's called “Radiant”. It's totally my kind of movie. It's like Sapphic, lesbian, underworld, criminal just getting out of prison, worn down by the world. He's got the most gorgeous angles, you know, trying to get back in “the life” but not get back in “the life”. It doesn't work out. You know, that kind of film that has a strong tradition in queer cinema. Some of you may be familiar with the Wachowski sisters’ early film, “Bound”. It's like that. It's like "Bound’s”, little kid sister. It's like that. I enjoy very much. So that's one I would look for, and I would also say that's a crossover film. It’s created by a straight guy, but it's very respectful and well done and wonderful.

Scott Brocato:

Well, a couple more questions for you. You touched upon the process of selecting the films. First of all, by how many films were submitted or did you sift through?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

I think we sifted through about 55 hours of programming. This is a range of feature and short. So I mean if we we’re watching that many features, you would imagine like 25 movies or whatever, if you add in the shorts--I mean some of these are like one minute long and some of them are like 3 or 10 minutes long--that could 54, 55 hours. It represents a lot. I don't know how many, but yeah.

Dr. M. Catherine "Cat" Jonet:

I do! Because we changed our format this year to also include full length, we didn't accept as many in numbers as we did as allotment of time like Laura was saying. So we compared it to past years when we only did shorts and we used to get like 3000 films. So this year with our new configuration, we got 175. That's the combination that came out to around the same amount of time.

Scott Brocato:

And your students were involved in choosing the films?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

Right. This year, this past spring, my students--I taught a class called Gender and Film Studies--and there was a unit, I think they spent several weeks over the course of the semester where I would assign each student a batch of films. Like previously in the semester, I would assign a particular film for them to watch, and they would write about it or engage with it in in some way. But for those weeks, they would be assigned about two, maybe even 3 hours of programming. And I asked them to judge them based on some criteria, including originality and acting, and there's different sort of technical aspects. And then I asked them to rate them on a scale from 1 to 6, and then any kind of comments—like, would you like to see this in the Film Festival? You think this should be on the film festival? Oh, and the and the unit before that was actually inviting them to do some research about the Film Festival, because this is the 9th year. And so we actually have kind of a body of press releases and previous programming, so that they could learn about the Film Festival, and figure out what they how they understand the Film Festival, what it's about. And so that by the time they got to the film submissions, they could see, like, would this be appropriate? Would this fit? Would this contribute to the goals of the Film Festival?

Scott Brocato:

And ultimately, the two of you made the final choices?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

It was largely Cat, but yeah, I was...It's always largely Cat. She's the brains behind this operation. This is her idea and she's like “the film buff” for this project.

Scott Brocato:

Where can folks find out more about the festival, the schedules, the itinerary?

Dr. Laura Ahn Williams:

We have the full festival schedule with also some in person presentations, some workshops, some speakers, some invited speakers, at our website, fba.nmsu.edu. And we have the printed program as a PDF and also descriptions of all of the films and all of the events. And even the Zinesters, some descriptions of who we're going to see.

Scott Brocato has been an award-winning radio veteran for over 35 years. He has lived and worked in Las Cruces since 2016, and you can hear him regularly during "All Things Considered" from 4 pm-7 pm on weekdays. Off the air, he is also a local actor and musician, and you can catch him rocking the bass with his band Flat Blak around Las Cruces and El Paso.
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