Local filmmaker Carlos Corral has an ambitious goal to make his latest project, the El Paso Film Festival, a launchpad for the city’s reputation as a movie-making hub. While the filmmaking community is small, it’s backed by an army of supporters who wish to see more talent grow in El Paso and stay here.
Corral, who founded MindWarp Films in 2008, gave locals a taste of what’s to come with a screening of nine short films and networking reception at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on April 8. Each film had a connection to the Borderland, whether through its narrative or the cast and crew behind it.
“All of the filmmakers were either filmmakers from El Paso who had gone on to other cities, or they were filmmakers who came though El Paso and had hired a cast and crew locally,” Corral said.
The official festival will also be at Alamo Drafthouse. Corral said he aims to launch the event in fall. The Paso Del Norte Charitable Foundation is the main supporter of the festival, which Corral plans to turn into a nonprofit. He formed a festival advisory committee with Broadcast Film Critics Association members Charles Horak and Felipa Solis, film producer Lisa Elliot and Teresita Gonzalez Corral, who has extensive experience running nonprofits.
“The purpose of this film festival is to not only award cash prizes to filmmakers, but to also send out a signal filmmakers who are in places like Los Angeles, New York, Albuquerque and Austin.” Corral said. “By having them submit their films here, it gives them a reason to come back.”
One major way Corral hopes to attract international filmmakers is by making the festival an Academy Award qualifier.
“The way it works is that out of 7,000 film festivals all over the world, only 63 have Oscar-qualifying accreditation. Only 26 are in the United States,” Corral said. “Those are film festivals like the Atlanta Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival – they’re all name festivals.
“The goal is that if people win awards at our festival, they can move on to become Oscar-qualifying nominees. That’s going to really put us on the map. We would become a destination for people to compete here.”
The festival preview came right after the city of El Paso’s Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, or MCAD, hosted application orientations for their new Local Filmmakers Program, which will award $30,000 to original film projects.
“We’re very fortunate that the council back in July of last year had approved this budget request,” city Rep. Peter Svarzbein said. “What things like the filmmaker incubator program and the El Paso Film Festival do is create these platforms for us to tell our authentic stories and celebrate ourselves. When that happens, the world can’t help but watch and want to come down and invest in us.”
Svarzbein, who has a master’s degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, has supported local filmmakers’ push to make Texas competitive with other markets.
“One of the items that we pushed for back in 2016 and 2017 was to make it a legislative priority to increase film incentives on the state level,” Svarzbein said.
The push was unsuccessful, but Svarzbein said that by starting with programs like MCAD’s filmmaker grants, the local support could have a ripple effect.
Collaboration is the driving force behind the goal to make El Paso a filmmaking destination. Corral has worked closely with local production company DoubleScope Films on multiple movies and commercials. Owner and cinematographer Jaime Blanco was involved in several of the films that were screened at the festival preview.
“I think now is the right time to have a film festival because the industry is starting to grow,” Blanco said. “That’s why we’re working on giving film workshops, so we can teach people how to be on set. Carlos Corral will also be a part of those workshops.”
Makeup artist Letty Peña also worked on several of the films that were screened at the festival. The owner of Red Door Vintage, she teaches makeup and special effects workshops and has worked on many films that have come through El Paso like 2014’s “Fort Bliss” starring Michelle Monaghan.
“It’s a great thing what Carlos is doing,” Peña said. “I’ve worked with him for a few years now. He’s always helped me get a lot of work, so I’ve learned a lot from him.
“There’s a lot of talent in El Paso. There’s just not enough work, so I think things like this festival will bring a lot more opportunities here.”