The Associated Students of The University of New Mexico Southwest Film Center (ASUNM SWFC) is preparing for the 2024 Cherry Reel Film Festival. This event, sponsored by the Albuquerque Film Office, is a marvelous showcase of UNM student filmmakers' work and fosters both competitive and collaborative opportunities.

The festival will kick off with an LGBTQ Filmmaker Panel on Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m. in the Student Union Building Theater. Screenings for the festival will take place at Popejoy Hall on Friday, April 19, at 6 p.m. sharp. The event continues with a networking panel at 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, in Woodward Hall. 

ASUNM and Southwest Film Center Executive Director Rylee Norman.

The networking event boasts industry professionals such as Jordee Arvin, owner of Bunkhouse Studios, Tiffany Cole, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Film Foundation, actor Austin Kane of The Santa Clauses, and Bryan Benning, a production coordinator from Eddington. Aspiring filmmakers will have the chance to interact with these experts. The event concludes with a table reading of student scripts at 6 p.m. in the Student Union Building theater.

Cherry Reel is a black-tie event. Free merchandise and general admission seats are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. An awards reception will follow in the lobby providing a chance for students to mingle with filmmakers of all experience levels before the April 20 networking panel.

This year, the festival will screen 19 student film submissions at Popejoy to celebrate student filmmaking. The winners will receive a total of $6,000 in prizes. In addition to audience choice awards, Cherry Reel submissions are evaluated before the festival.

During the judging process, a committee of 10-15 members reconvenes in the Student Union Building theater to program the festival. They've already viewed the submissions, discussed any overlapping interests, and then sent 20-30 films off to Cherry Reel’s five judges.

Alan De Lira-Richards, ASUNM SWFC staff concessionist, spoke highly of the diversity of submissions this year. “What I love about Cherry Reel is the sheer variety of the short films shown every year. Nothing feels repetitive or done before. Every single film is more unique and original than the last, and the connections you make during the event are priceless,” he said. 

Rylee Norman, the executive director of ASUNM and Southwest Film Center, has been with the Film Center for over two years and was named the Cherry Reel Film Festival chair in her second year at UNM.

Norman recalled that Cherry Reel, originally the UNM Student Film Festival, started in the 1990s. Until 2015, Cherry Reel films were shot on tangible, 6-millimeter or 35-millimeter film, and the organizers expected around 50 submissions each year. The team expanded their programming in 2023 and received a whopping 123 submissions in 2024.

"We're open to all film genres for submissions," Norman explained. “We're looking for narratives, experimental, documentaries… all of it. If you made it for a college class and it fits our timelines, you're in."

According to Norman, ASUNM considers what the UNM student body would be interested in each year. Then, outside reviewers can help assess the films, vote, and deliberate.

“We're taking into account what's going on in the world right now.” Norman said, “What are students saying in classes? What are they wanting to see? What is important to them and what uplifts their voices? And then on the flip side, we're also looking for short, funny ones that people will enjoy and make them really love the festival.”

For many new UNM film students, Cherry Reel offers their first glimpse into the UNM Film and Digital Media Arts Department. Later on in their academic careers, many students return to the festival as participants, often presenting their Capstone films.

"What drives students and alumni to keep coming back and participating in Cherry Reel is the culture of collaboration, community, and celebration. When you go to Cherry Reel, you come to enjoy the films, celebrate with one another, and meet new people. You get that experience that you've been looking for when you first joined the film program,” Norman said,

“I think first and foremost, it can refire your passion for filmmaking or even refire your passion for loving movies. It's a palate cleanser from your typical Hollywood, pumped-out films. And secondly, I think you can make lifelong friends at Cherry Reel and meet people to make films with in the future.”

Staff on the Cherry Reel team find the festival to be invaluable to the student experience and production value of their shorts. They are very excited for this year’s festivities. In addition to Norman, and Lira-Richards, the ASUNM SWFC team also includes Assistant Director Emma Harrison, Cherry Reel Chair Ava Thomas, Projects Coordinator Jax Maloney, and Marketing Director Cassie Kaplan. 

"Cherry Reel is full of student masterpieces and so much fun to experience!” said Harrison. 

Festival tickets are available for public purchase here. UNM student tickets are discounted.