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Spotlight: Big win for New Mexico

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Submitted Photo According to former Goddard High School graduate and film producer Jenn Garcia, the actors of the award-winning short film "Pozole" became almost a real family. The entire team has high hopes on winning the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars.

Former Goddard student’s film takes home “Best Narrative Short” at Oscar-qualifying Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

New Mexico-shot short film “Pozole” was awarded the top honor for a short film at the 2019 Cinequest Film Creativity Festival held every year in San Jose, California. The festival is one of a select few determined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to qualify short films for an Academy Award, also known as the Oscars, eligibility.

In a recent comment, writer/director Jessica Mendez Siqueiros noted how rare this is for a Latinx film. “I can guarantee not a single one has ever been a comedy film directed by a U.S. Latina about U.S. Latinas: our love, our positivity in the face of hardship, our power.”

“Pozole” was shot in Albuquerque in the summer of 2018, and has already amassed an impressive festival line-up.

The film centers around a mixed-race Latina woman who, after an estrangement from her family, reconnects only to “accidentally” kill her grandmother by admitting to being a vegetarian. A dark, poignant comedy, “Pozole” explores what it means to identify with your ethnic group and what it means to be the other within one’s own family.

“Pozole” was produced by Viscera Productions, in association with New Mexico’s own Hardline Films. Produced by Mendez Siqueiros and former Roswell Goddard High School student Jenn Garcia.

“I grew up in Roswell, I went to Goddard High and I joined the media class in my sophomore year,” Garcia said in a phone interview. “I was able to get into it in my senior year. I also took some editing class for credit at ENMU-R (Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell) in 2010 and that’s where it all started.

“I applied for the creative media program at NMSU (New Mexico State University) and got in and that’s where I got into producing,” Garcia said. “After I graduated, I started a company with two other alumni and we started making commercials.”

Asked where the idea for the short film “Pozole” came from, Garcia said, “It started about a year ago. The writer and director Jessica Sequires wanted to tell a story about a Latina woman who is trying to reconnect with her family, just because she is older. It is based on her own life. She started crowdfunding and the day she won a grant from WeTransfer, a company in the Netherlands, she decided to film in New Mexico because of the tax incentives here.”

Garcia grew up, spelling the stew posole, with an “s” — she learned that it was spelled in Arizona with a “z.” “Same recipe, but different spelling,” she said.

Garcia said that she was in charge of finding the locations of the film, she helped hiring the crew and with the budget. “We are in production through my own production company,” she said. “We filmed last June and spent about five to six months in postproduction editing and finding the right music; working with different composers and musicians; working on color and sound editing. We started sending it to film festivals in the fall and started hearing back at the beginning of the year. We’ve gotten into eight so far. Our biggest one has been Cinequest, which is an Academy Award qualifying festival. Only 140 short films get qualified a year. About 300,000 short films are made around the world this year and out of them only 140 get qualified. It is a pretty rare award we didn’t think we’d win. It is really exciting.”

The crew attended the festival and the screening. “It is a two-week festival and we stayed the whole time,” Garcia said. “A week later, we found out we won one of the awards, and it turned out being one of the top ones. We won Best in Short Comedy. We were really excited, we didn’t think we were going to win because we were in our own little screening block that we screened our film with. There were films that went to Sundance and really great high-quality films — we were overjoyed when we found out.

“We knew it was going to be a great film making it, because our team was amazing. We had another producer who put money into the film. It was Maegan Simpson, she really helped, making the crew feel appreciated.”

According to Garcia, Laura Araqul came in from New York and became the cinematographer. “The way she lit each scene and framed it, it was beautiful,” Garcia said. “She had worked with the director a few times before. When Jessica had the funding for this film, she immediately knew that Laura was the person who had to shoot this. This story was funny and relatable — we knew we would capture audiences because Jessica worked so hard on the script. Our actors were great, we had this really fun family. When we built the cast, the extras, it’s not such an intense process. We really connected and we were able to build a cool family for the film. It really helped — their reactions and expressions — it looks like an authentic Mexican family and we love that.”

Unusual is that the film is a female-led team. “It’s not super common, we are getting to the point where it is more common — we’re working on it,” Garcia said.

Most of the cast and crew were from Albuquerque, Las Cruces and the El Paso area. Garcia is the only cast member from Roswell.

“I want to thank my professors who helped me get started,” Garcia said. “My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles live there.”

To follow Garcia and find out where the film will be shown, visit jennicolegarcia.com. The big goal and the team’s dream is to win the Academy Awards. Garcia said they were too late to participate in the Roswell Film Festival, but are planning to send in the film for next year’s consideration.