New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness is the nation’s first designated wilderness area. This year, the United States Forest Service will celebrate the Gila’s 100th anniversary in early June in Silver City with help from more than a dozen New Mexico State University film students.

The Gila Film Showcase consisting of seven short documentary films will premiere June 1-2 as the centerpiece of a week of festivities hosted by the U.S. Forest Service for the Centennial Celebration of the Gila Wilderness. Visit the Gila Centennial Celebration calendar of events.

The Gila Film Showcase will have two screenings at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1 and 1 p.m. Sunday, June 2 at the Silco Theater in Silver City. Watch trailers for the films.

Professors Ilana Lapid and Kristi Drexler launched the project after creating the Gila Film School in NMSU’s Creative Media Institute, an immersive three-semester program led by Lapid and Drexler with support from a team of educators. The project includes not only the student-produced documentaries, but also a package of educational materials to be shared with fourth grade students across the state.

“The objectives of the Gila Film School were fourfold,” said Lapid, Gila Film School director and CMI professor. “Our goal was to connect students to the wilderness, empower the next generation of diverse environmental filmmakers, harness the power of visual storytelling for conservation education and inspire audiences of young people to love and protect the wilderness.

”In the summer of 2022, Drexler and Lapid led 13 student filmmakers into the Gila Wilderness for a field school joined by Julian Alexander and Kyle Ivy, who co-produced the project with Jarrett Gladstone involved in postproduction. What emerged is seven short documentaries that reflect the unique natural, cultural and conservation history of the Gila, including Indigenous and Latino history. Through compelling human-interest stories, they explore the relationship between people and their natural environment and the importance of protecting public lands.
The innovative program in immersive environmental filmmaking was funded by a U.S. Forest Service Youth and Veterans Engagement grant, along with support from the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences, NMSU’s Vice President for Research, Creativity and Economic Development, the Creative Media Institute and American Rivers, a collaboration and trust that prioritizes protecting and restoring rivers throughout the country.

“Kristi and Ilana presented the idea as a transformative journey for the students that would result in student-created films we would showcase during the Gila Wilderness Centennial celebration,” said Henry Provencio, district ranger of the Wilderness Ranger District of the Gila National Forest. “Taking the students backpacking into the wilderness where they could experience firsthand the natural beauty and solitude, and then watching them grow as they conducted interviews and learned more about how wilderness positively impacts the world around us, was inspiring to witness. I am very excited to share the films with others, and I look forward to the films being incorporated into a curriculum for fourth graders across this great state.

”Drexler led a team of educators from universities, public schools, federal agencies and nonprofits to create educational materials to go with each of the seven films. These materials, including discussion questions and vocabulary designed specifically for fourth graders, will be included along with the films in a Digital Suitcase that will be sent out as a resource for fourth grade teachers across the state of New Mexico, in honor of the Gila Centennial Celebration.

As conservation director, Drexler, who earned a doctorate from NMSU, provided guest lectures on conservation, coordinated program logistics and helped to strategize how to use the student films for educational, conservation and social impact.
“Through these films and educational materials, we hope to inform, excite and engage youth to value and protect wild areas like the Gila Wilderness and other special places across New Mexico,” she said.
During The Gila Film School, student filmmakers spent time in the field with forest firefighters, wildlife biologists, U.S. Forest Service wranglers, trail users, archeologists and community leaders. These are the films and the students who made them:
“Stewardship of the Gila,” exploring the relationship between Indigenous ways of knowing and modern conservation. Directed by Ezekiel Soliz, Ingrid Leyva and Sigidavid Trevizo.
“Legacies of the Gila,” about Gila Hot Springs and communities alongside the Gila Wilderness. Directed by Noah Montes and Gayla Lacy, with sound design by Iliana Aragon.
“Fire Season,” about wildland forest fire management in the Gila. Directed by Julia De La O, with cinematography by Bardo Sanchez and sound design by Jarrett Gladstone.
“Tales of the Gila Trout,” about conservation of the threatened Gila Trout. Directed by Patricia Soto, Reyes Gabaldon and Luis Roman, with cinematography by Angel Salgado and sound design by Jarrett Gladstone.
“To Love the River,” about protecting the endangered Gila River. Directed by Samantha Jaso, Nidia Jimenez and Jackson Markman, with sound design by Iliana Aragon.“Finding My Own Trail,” about the empowering benefits of spending time outdoors. Directed by Lexi Minton, Cherish Pena and Ky Blohm.
“What We Hold Sacred,” about the making of the Gila Film School. Directed by Araceli “Blue” Hernandez and Dom Adame.“I think the project that Ilana and her team are leading with this group of students is a wonderful ‘Creative Campus’ endeavor because this experience demonstrates the power of media and how creative content lies at the intersection of so many different areas,” said Amy Lanasa, CMI professor and department head. “I am confident that this work will have a greater impact than any of us can imagine.”

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