An undergraduate thesis film created through New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute will premiere this month as part of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner.
Written and directed by NMSU alumnus Julian Alexander, “Buffalo” is the first CMI production to premiere at Cannes – one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. The film stars actors Craig Tate (“12 Years a Slave” and “The Butler”) and Israel Hall.
For Alexander, a 2014 graduate of the Creative Media Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences, the childhood tales his father shared of Buffalo Soldiers helped to inspire the 20-minute fictional drama set in post-Civil War New Mexico.
The story follows a Buffalo Soldier who, while on special assignment escorting hunters through Apache territory, forms an unlikely friendship with his white officer. On their journey, the soldier is forced to confront a painful chapter of his past as a slave on a Southern plantation.
“As they travel together, they learn to overlook their differences in order to protect each other,” Alexander said. “The film’s about letting go.”
Though the film takes place more than 100 years ago, Alexander explained that its racial dynamics are still relevant in today’s society.
“This film is so contemporary, and I guess that’s why people may be relating to it so much,” he said. “It’s based in 1877, but it’s so current – it’s the same dynamic with authority, especially with black folks and white authority, where racial tension might still be prevalent.”
Ilana Lapid, assistant professor in NMSU’s Creative Media Institute, supervised the project.
“Julian is a remarkable young filmmaker with a generous spirit and boundless enthusiasm,” Lapid said. “He is committed to making films that matter to him and to the world.”
According to Lapid, Alexander spent weeks honing his screenplay into a “poignant story engaging race, history and human connections that transcend boundaries.”
“The film serves as a great example to our current CMI students that with a good story, clear vision, dedicated team and strong work ethic, you can make great things happen,” she said. “At CMI, we strive to give our students the tools and skills to enter into their chosen path in the film industry, and also encourage them to tell stories that matter to them. I encourage my students to lead from the heart.”
With production elements involving horses, a herd of buffalo and the only white buffalo in the state, Lapid said this project would have proved challenging for professional filmmakers.
The team, including producer and fellow CMI alumnus Keagan Karnes, also worked with various historical organizations and Native American groups on campus prior to filming on-location in Cubero, New Mexico, near Grants.
“All of these people really believed in the script and in the words that I wrote, which is crazy and I still can’t believe it, honestly,” Alexander said. “It’s such an amazing experience to have.”
Alexander plans to attend the film’s premiere during the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, May 16-22. Joining him will be Karnes and the film’s director of photography, Andrew Griego, all of whom attended Las Cruces High School together and have maintained a close friendship for nearly a decade.
“Everybody is feeling great,” Alexander said. “It’s so amazing to be able to do something like this with your best friends.”
Alexander is now studying for a Master of Arts in filmmaking from Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. He is currently preparing to direct his thesis film, “Leo,” about the relationship between a human smuggler and the Syrian migrants he is transporting through Italy.
For more information on “Buffalo,” visit http://www.buffaloshortfilm.
Author: Dana Beasley – NMSU