NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Many local film festivals that had planned for in-person events last year had to cancel them due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. However, with nearly 10 months of time to plan, many have pivoted to holding virtual festivals this year. At least five festivals are planned for the earlier part of 2021, with more to be announced later on.

The ABQ Winter Virtual Jewish Film Fest, hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, is happening all throughout the month of February. The festival curators research current films showing at Jewish film fests worldwide to select a representative line-up of the finest films for Albuquerque audiences to enjoy. Films featured come from Argentina, Canada, Israel, France, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. The eight selected films are representative of the best of each genre and showcase the Jewish journey around the world from past to contemporary times.

The Santa Fe Film Festival began on Feb. 17 and will run until Feb. 21. They partnered with a local company that created a streaming service, which is the platform the festival will use to screen their films. Executive Director NaNi Rivera said the transition from an in-person event to a virtual one had its ups and downs. There are some filmmakers who don’t want their films to be streamed online because they’d prefer to share their films in a theater setting, or their distribution contracts won’t let them be streamed online. The festival staff has taken this opportunity to enhance their programming this year, focusing on the issues they felt are important like minorities and people who don’t have as many opportunities, Rivera said.

Rivera said many of the filmmakers they work with are also disappointed they can’t come to visit the state like they had planned to initially. “Many of them would have been here which is obviously a disappointment. New Mexico is such a beautiful place to visit, and to be accepted into any festival in the state of New Mexico has to be such a reward for any filmmaker,” Rivera said.

The Las Cruces International Film Festival runs from Mar. 3 through Mar. 7 and will screen 102 films instead of the usual 80 shown at previous festivals. The festival also has added a Native Cinema program this year to honor Native American films and filmmakers. Something unique about this festival is that it is almost completely student-run.

Ross Marks, festival director and New Mexico State University professor in the Creative Media Institute said his students find independent films, reach out to the filmmakers, ask them to submit, and the students work with the festival’s artistic director to choose the selection of films. “They find sponsorships, they do marketing, they filmmaker liaison, they coordinated celebrity appearances, they work with our VIP party host, they sell tickets and handle the merchandising. So the festival is 90% student-run,” Marks said.

Taos Shortz Film Festival kicks off Mar. 19 and will feature films selected for 2021 as well as their 2020 selections. Program Director Duprelon Tizdale said last year the COVID-19 shutdowns began one week before they were set to begin their 14th edition, so they decided to combine last year’s and this year’s films to show over two weeks as opposed to their normal weekend run.

Each edition features about 70 short films from around the world and will allow for virtual interviews and Q&A’s with the filmmakers, something uniquely positive about this year’s festival. “That’s one thing that Zoom has been really able to help, more and more filmmakers are actually able to participate from places like Iran and Europe,” Duprelon said.

The 13th Annual Santa Fe Independent Film Festival takes place Oct. 13-17. The Native American Advised Fund recently awarded the Santa Fe Film Institute, the parent organization of the festival, a $5,500 grant. The festival annually presents an Indigenous Film Program presented by the Institute of American Indian Arts. This program includes feature films, short films, and IAIA student shorts, highlighting Indigenous tribes from around the world and reflecting the experiences of Native Americans. The festival screens over 50 feature films and 75 short films during a five-day fest.