In its second year, El Paso MediaFest founders Chris Hanna and Daniel Valdez, have brought a jam-packed weekend of films to the Sun City from upcoming filmmakers from across the region.
Day one kicked off smoothly, each block of films was followed by a discussion panel and then a good 30 minute break to grab something to eat or stretch your legs, before the next block of films.
Since we are on the heels of the Academy Awards snubs, I was excited to hopefully meet some of the female directors that were featured.
As the first day drew to a close I would have liked to have had more female representation, but I was thrilled that I was able to meet filmmaker Leslie D. Lanier – the only female director to present for the ‘El Paso/ Texas’ block – with her short film Doll Delirious written by Zack Guzman, an Ardent Moon Pictures production, featuring local talent Victoria Molinar as the lead characters and Laura Guzman in production.
What caught my attention about Doll Delirious was that the film had a female lead and broke away from typical storylines usually reserved for female characters (especially Women of Color (WOC) storylines) she wasn’t misguided, or a victim, she wasn’t hyper sexualized nor facing an unexpected pregnancy etc., in fact, she was the one to be feared.
Another thing I appreciated in this short was that they touched on mental health, we – the audience – witnessed the main character descend into a psychotic break, played out in the way that it does happen for some people.
When the credits rolled it made perfect sense that the director was a female.
Afterwards, I sat down with the director, she told me that one of the changes she made to the original script was how they ran the mental breakdown scene. She personally had a family member share with her the experience of being recently diagnosed bipolar and how friends were then frightened away, and the loneliness that followed.
Having heard a first hand account, she then went back and made changes to reflect that added sentiment, which I definitely felt as I was watching it.
This is exactly why it is so important to have female filmmakers and directors.
Leslie D. Lanier is originally from New Jersey and moved to the borderland almost nine years ago. When she arrived, Leslie had already had worked as a model and an actress but saw the void in media as she was constantly being offered roles that were portraying black women in a negative light. This is what prompted Lanier to create space and become a director.
In 2018, Leslie made the switch and set out on a new journey as a director and began to seek out fellow female filmmakers. What began as a search eventually turned into her next project, Film Femme (2019) an impactful short-doc on the women making things happen behind the camera here in El Paso.
Now, just one year later, this same film is being honored this weekend as an official selection at the Black Women in Film annual showcase in Charlotte, NC and also at the Faith and Film Festival in Inglewood, CA.
This is what I love about Leslie’s story, she is a mother of 3, she didn’t have a typical film makers background, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in something unrelated and yet two years ago at 36 years old she said “I’m going to do this” and she went right ahead and did it.
As she was telling me her story I was truly inspired, she is a great example of how we are all capable of creating change at any time, any age, nothing is stopping you but you. Her desire to give women of color a voice in filmmaking has sent a ripple across the nation.
Not only is Leslie’s star rising but she is taking El Paso with her. As we continued our conversation one thing that stuck out to me was that she made a choice to stay, she is not like other folks who often relocate here for work, military, etc., and then as soon as their time is up, they are gone…but not Leslie. She is an active part of our art community, she is building her career here, creating new spaces in film and as she is receiving recognition for her achievements, she is – in turn – shining light on the talent in El Paso.
A mom, filmmaker, director, co-owner of Summer-Set Pictures, founder and owner of her own production company as well, Ardent Moon Pictures, there is no doubt that big things are coming up for Leslie D. Lanier.
One of the announcements she was able to share with us was that the company she co-owns, Summer-Set Pictures, was authorized by SONY to produce a Ghostbusters Fan Film in anticipation of the next movie in the franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife (scheduled for release later this year.) How exciting to have El Paso be a part of that!
I asked Leslie if she had any parting words for us, and she shared this heartfelt message:
“I want the filmmakers here to watch my films and respect what I do. I am not trying to be competitive with fellow artists, I am simply telling stories, that happen to be different from theirs.”
Which is exactly what I love most about El Paso, we have a woven tapestry of history, that is part of our beauty in the Sun City. I am always excited to learn from – and listen to – stories and voices that are different than mine, voices like Leslie’s.
It was such an honor to be able to sit down with one of our trailblazing female directors here in the borderland and I can’t wait to see her next project up on the big screen.