For area cinephiles craving a film fix, the eighth annual White Sands International Film Festival, running September 4-8 in Las Cruces, is just the ticket.
As the name suggests, the event began in Alamogordo, but as it expanded, moved to Las Cruces in 2009.
“We’ve got some great films,” said WSIFF executive producer Dawn Starostka. “We have 80-some independent films that are being shown. We have one from Kosovo; we have a couple from the UK; from Canada, from France, so we truly are an international independent film festival.”
The selections, which include documentaries and student-produced shorts, will be screened at Allen Theater Cineport 10 at Mesilla Valley Mall, with other events taking place around town.
“We have almost 40 teams coming into town, which is amazing,” Starostka said. “So you can actually meet the filmmaker, talk to them, ask questions, try to figure out what their motivation was. There’s a lot of collaboration and connection that goes on when the filmmakers are here.”
One of the highlights of the festival will be the appearance of actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who will be receiving the WSIFF Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He’s graciously going to be here for almost three days,” Starostka said. “Friday we’ll give him the award, Saturday he’ll be hanging around, introducing a couple of films at the theater, he’ll be presenting at the awards gala Saturday night, and then he heads out on Sunday. We’re very fortunate that he is going to spend that much time with us.”
Although a handful of the movies were filmed in the region or feature local talent, including “From Zimbabwe to Santa Fe” and “Among the Dust of Thieves,” one film in particular has been garnering acclaim. “Strength and Beauty,” an American documentary that follows three ballerinas at the North Carolina Dance Theatre, was chosen as one of ARTINFO UK’s Top Five Films to Watch at the recent Portobello Film Festival and showcases Traci Gilchrest Kubie, an El Paso native.
Gilchrest Kubie, a graduate of Andress High School, began dancing at a young age with Ingeborg Heuser at Ballet El Paso, and credits the El Paso icon with shaping her career.
“I don’t think I would be a professional without her training and the training I got in El Paso,” she said. “That’s not even a question.”
After a career that took her on a winding path that included the Hartford Ballet and Ballet Arizona, Gilchrest Kubie landed in Charlotte at the North Carolina Dance Theatre. Recently retired, she was winding up her 17-year stint as a dancer there when “Strength and Beauty” began filming two years ago.
Gilchrest Kubie, who still works with the company, has mixed emotions about the time but is excited about the film.
“It was during my last season, and also during my last actual show,” she said. “So I was very emotional, a lot of ups and downs, reflecting, looking back and all that stuff. But now that I have some distance from it, I can definitely see it for what it is and what it was, which was a transition time. For something that’s been my main relationship, it was like I was going through a breakup, if that makes any sense. There was good and bad.”
Chelsea Wayant, director of “Strength and Beauty,” said the idea for the film came about organically as a convergence of her joint passions for dance and cinema.
“In ballet, the woman is sort of celebrated, and she’s the lead, the driving force in the art form,” Wayant said. “And then for me in filmmaking, I wanted to be able to look at celebrating women, and seeing what their lives were like and trying to give an appreciation for women in film.”
Production of the film was fraught with challenges. Wayant was teaching in Greensboro, N.C., at the time, and had hired college seniors to work as interns. After they graduated, she was left to do the majority of the work on her own, making the film a true labor of love.
Wayant hopes people will be surprised and touched by her efforts.
“I think that’s the point of the documentary for me is showing that even women in these situations, with all these pressures, they still have lives,” she said. “And that these pressures are kind the same things that all women are dealing with.”
The varied selections at the festival ensure that moviegoers of all stripes will find something to suit their tastes.
“It’s different than the Plaza Film Festival that you have, which tends to be the more classic films,” Starostka said. “It kind of showcases the other side of things.”
White Sands International Film Festival
Wednesday-Sunday, September 4-8
Most screenings at Cineport 10 (Allen Theatre)
500 S. Telshor Blvd., Las Cruces
For more info, including movie and event schedules and ticket prices, visit wsiff.com.