New Mexico State University Creative Media Institute students Samantha D’Amico and Fernando Rivera introduce the film they created as part of a social impact course. | Photo courtesy NMSU
New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute not only teaches state-of-the-art filmmaking and animation techniques to make students marketable for jobs in the film and television industry, but one course is helping them use the tools of filmmaking to make a difference in the Las Cruces community.
“I think a lot of people think about the kinds of movies you see at the Allen Theaters, when they think of what it is we do as filmmakers and creating moving images for entertainment is definitely a big part of what we teach at CMI,” said Amy Lanasa, CMI professor and department head. “But film is also a medium that allows us to tell genuine human stories about complex societal problems, and it can be used as a catalyst for organizing, network-building and civic action.”
Recently, one team of NMSU student filmmakers shot a film and coupled it with a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to raise $10,000 in 45 days to fund one year of resources for 50 people at Camp Hope, which serves Las Cruces’ homeless population. The campaign, launched in late March, encourages the community to donate a portion of their stimulus checks to Camp Hope. In its first two weeks, the project has raised nearly $2,500.
“I have worked with Mesilla Valley Community of Hope before at Jardin de los Niños, so I was aware of some of the basic ideas of what they did for their residents in that area,” said Fernando Rivera, a senior studying digital filmmaking.
Samantha D’Amico, Mario Martinez and Kyle Ivy teamed up with Rivera on the project for NMSU professor Ilana Lapid’s Creative Media Institute course about the social impact of filmmaking.
“I want to encourage my students to harness the power of visual storytelling to not only entertain, but also to engage with the pressing issues of our time,” Lapid said. “Issues that matter to them. I want to train my students to be content creators who can also be change makers in the world, who can choose to create media that has impact in their community.”
Camp Hope is a self-governing transitional living community that provides services including day shelter, temporary overnight shelter at Camp Hope, intensive case management, housing programs as well as assistance with transitioning out of homelessness and into stable housing.
“I had a preconceived idea of what causes someone to become homeless yet after hearing all of their unique stories I gained a fresh perspective and a deeper compassion,” D’Amico said.
The students based their fundraising goal on supporting one year of services for high-cost items like tents, sleeping bags and laundry detergent.
“The residents of Camp Hope were excited to share their stories with the students from NMSU,” said Nicole Martinez, executive director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope. “We had more participation for interviews from the residents than we typically have had in the past. From those we asked, they said they were surprised that students wanted to give up some of their stimulus checks to help homeless people they did not even know.”
As student filmmakers interviewed residents at Camp Hope for their film, they were surprised to discover the range of diversity among Las Cruces’ homeless population and the various stories that led them to Camp Hope.
“The backgrounds of their experiences ranged from being an engineer and having everything to escaping an abusive family,” Rivera said. “Through film we not only express our ideas but we have the power to express our emotions.”
Martinez, director of photography, knew nothing about Camp Hope before filming began. He hopes their student film will help others gain empathy and compassion for those who are struggling.
“Film is a way to advance our society and our culture,” Martinez said. “It’s an art form that can reach the masses and effect change both at a micro and macro level. I think it is important that we realize the responsibility that we hold when we make our films.”
Ivy was the public relations director for the project. As he prepares to graduate in May, he is hopeful the response to the campaign will continue.
“I hope that after people in our community see the film that they really understand the severity of the issue of homelessness in Las Cruces, and ultimately it inspires a change and gets more people to be involved in community partnerships and programs for Camp Hope,” Ivy said.
Lapid said the project has been an empowering experience for all students involved, helping them to step into their power as leaders and influencing their peers in the CMI program.
“They are also learning how to run a crowd-fundraising campaign, which they may have to do again in the future, as this is a common way for independent filmmakers to raise funds for their projects,” Lapid said.
Author: Minerva Baumann – NMSU