Interview with Southern Summit Videographer Mario Valencia
|January 11, 2022|
In November 2021, the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation gathered fellow funders, nonprofit leaders, civic leaders, and educational stakeholders in Las Cruces, New Mexico for the New Mexico Education Funders Southern Summit. Together, participants took stock of the current state of education in New Mexico and the Borderplex region and identified areas where philanthropy might be able to make the most significant impact for young people, teachers, and communities. Over the course of an evening and one full day at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, funders had the opportunity to hear from two panels of experts in the field of education and nonprofit work and to participate in open and transparent conversations at this potent mid-pandemic moment.
As part of our reflections, we will soon be making public the videos created at the event. Our excellent event videographer, Mario Valencia, not only captured our main panel discussions, but also dropped in on many thought-provoking breakout sessions as well as conducted one-on-one interviews with our participants. As a graduate of Doña Ana Community College in the Creative Media Technology Program, Mario is also a local educational stakeholder who uses his filmmaking as a tool to advocate for the community. Since Mario got the chance to interview many of us, we thought it was only fair to turn the tables and hear his thoughts on the experience and content of the Summit. Mario’s interview reveals the struggles of filmmaking during COVID, the challenge of complacency in improving New Mexico education, and the importance of storytelling within his family and broader community.
Hi Mario! Thanks for taking the time to let us interview you!
Absolutely! Thank you for having me on your platform! This is exciting!
My name is Mario Javier Valencia, I am a migratory filmmaker based in New Mexico. I’ve been working in the industry for 5 years and I am very interested in working with people who are helping their communities as well as people who have a story to tell.
Since you were filming the event, you were a captive audience member the whole time! You’re also a graduate of Doña Ana Community College (DACC), and a lot of what we were discussing was about the state of education in New Mexico. What was something you heard during the convening that surprised you?
One of the things that really surprised me is how everyone who participated had so many excellent ideas, so much passion, and so much fire to make a change in the community. So much work has already been done, but the fight is not over just yet. The panelists at this event are true heroes of the community, and I am extremely grateful to have been part of it.
Was there a moment when the discussion at the convening felt particularly relevant to you or hit especially close to home?
One of the panelists [Las Cruces Public Schools Chief of Staff Dr. Tim Hand] was talking about how college graduation rates [in Doña Ana County] were the best that they have ever been, that we were doing so much better than other states and communities, and how much of a struggle it had been to get there. I was happy about this news and thought, “man, we crossed the finish line, we did it!” Then [Dr. Hand] explained that this isn’t the end of the fight, that the graduation rate isn’t 100%. I realized that we need to stop taking things like our graduation rates for granted—”Oh, 78% percent is enough, we are better than other places!” That mentality won’t get us anywhere. It really hit home hard that a lot of people like me just accept things as they are. The job is not done. We all have a lot of work to do; but I know now what I need to do for myself and members of my community.
How did you get interested in filmmaking?
I have always been a storyteller. My grandfather, Osvaldo Aguirre, was a very famous radio host. He conducted interviews, related anecdotes, narrated sports, but each of his segments was always structured like a story. And he taught me the power of telling stories from a young age. Everything has an act one, two, and three. I became obsessed with telling stories; I used to grab my old Nokia phone and tell little stories like he did. Growing up with these roots in storytelling, movies were always my go-to. My mom has always been a movie-goer. Every Friday we went to the movie theater and watched whatever was on—dramas, thrillers, comedies. When I found out years later that it was possible to make a living AND tell stories at the same time? I was all in. It isn’t easy to work in this business. But I learned from my dad that working in something you love and making a living out of it should be more than enough in your life. My dad has always been a hard worker; he always taught me to be the best in all that I do, or at least, try my hardest to become the best. Thanks to him, I work hard and always with a smile on my face.
All of this has molded me into a filmmaker through and through. I wouldn’t change a single thing.
What attracted you to the Creative Media Technology Program at Doña Ana Community College?
What attracted me to CMT is how dedicated the staff is to the students—how involved they were with the students and how much they wanted to help them become better versions of themselves. I learned some real-life hard lessons in my time at DACC thanks to my teachers, which I never thought I would in a school environment. To this day, I am extremely grateful. I love DACC, I only have good memories, and only have good things to say about it.
How did COVID-19 affect your work as a filmmaker? What were the big challenges of working during a pandemic? Were there any silver linings?
COVID-19 really tested how filmmakers… well… make films. But that did not stop us from pushing forward and creating awesome pieces. One example; every year, Las Cruces hosts a 48-Hour Film Challenge, where locals create a short film in 48 hours or less. Last time the competition was held, lockdown was still in effect, so filmmaking teams could not be in the same room together. My team and I were tasked with creating a demo film for the participants to show them that [making a film remotely] was absolutely doable; that they just had to think outside the box. It was not an easy task, but we did it. Our film was featured in many newscasts and at New Mexico State University. We showed people that being isolated wasn’t the end of filmmaking.
Is there a local leader or educator who has been a particular mentor or inspiration for you?
Yeah! Steven Osborn, a veteran in the filmmaking business and an awesome teacher at Doña Ana Community College, showed me everything I know, from how to set up a tripod to how to be a human being. He’s been my mentor since I started at DACC. Thanks to him, I have achieved so many dreams in my career already, and I’m still going! We still work together on film shoots and I always learn something new to improve my work in the future. I don’t know what I would be doing if I hadn’t met him, but I’m extremely grateful and lucky. Aside from being my mentor and my teacher, he is my friend. Gracias Steve.
It seems like your film business is doing quite well already! Where do you see your career going in the next few years?
In the upcoming years, I see myself working with more community members that care about, well, the community! There are so many voices out there that need to be heard, and it’s my job to help them do that. I see myself helping them to reach certain outlets, to ask for support, to call for action or get advice. Through this work, I aspire to create a better environment of equality, solidarity, and compassion in our community.
You’ve already worked with some of the other nonprofit leaders who participated in the November convening. One of those leaders was Daisy Maldonado, Executive Director of the New Mexico Empowerment Congress (EC), an organization that helps communities in southern New Mexico to exercise their agency and elevate the voices and the needs of everyday residents. Can you tell us a little bit about the film you shot for Empowerment Congress?
Daisy Maldonado hired me to shoot and edit a documentary about a small community called Anapra. Some of the wonderful people I met in this community were not being heard by the local authorities, and it was our job to shine light on this. Some filmmakers would have just shot the film and been done with it, but I became extremely involved in this project; I poured my heart and soul into it. Do check it out, it really shows that we need to be proactive in our community and fight for what is right. Empowerment Congress is such a great organization to work with. You can see that every member wants to help, teach, and protect the communities that need support. I’ve continued to work with EC and am extremely grateful to be associated with them and their ideals.
For our readers who haven’t been lucky enough to spend time in southern New Mexico, what is one thing you’d like them to know about this part of the state and the community you work with?
Southern New Mexico is made up of hardworking and proactive communities that are always looking for equality. We are always open to collaborating with other communities and we treat them as family. We all are in the same boat. Come visit and meet these great people and hear their stories.