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Ready for liftoff: Screening of ‘Astronaut’ launches Las Cruces International Film Festival

Richard Dreyfuss and Richie Lawrence in a scene from the film “Astronaut.” (Courtesy of AQUTE MEDIA INC.)

Life imitates art – and vice versa.

In the film “Astronaut,” Richard Dreyfuss plays Angus Stewart, a lonely widower. He battles his family, ill health and time to win a competition for a golden ticket to space.

This film will be screened on the opening night of the fifth annual Las Cruces International Film Festival, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at Cineport 10 in Las Cruces.

“It’s about the first commercial spaceflight,” says Ross Marks, executive director of the festival. “Down here, we’re getting ready to have Virgin Galactic, who is working on giving flights to space. They are also sponsoring the film for opening night.”

Richard Dreyfuss in a scene from “Astronaut,” the opening night film at the Las Cruces International Film Festival. (Courtesy of AQUTE MEDIA Inc.)

Marks says director and writer Shelagh McLeod and the film’s producers are delighted to be able to screen the film at what they consider “ground zero” for the reality that inspired the film.

Virgin Galactic staffers plan to join them, along with cast members such as Dreyfuss, Graham Greene and Krista Bridges for the Q&A after the screening.

“The thing is that it’s really neat for me, because I want to make it a filmmakers’ festival,” Marks says. “Having these opportunities really gets an audience a better understanding of the subject.”

Giles Panton and Bella Heathcote in “The Man in the High Castle.” (Courtesy of AQUTE MEDIA Inc.)

The festival begins on Wednesday, March 4, and runs through Sunday, March 8, at locations around Las Cruces.

The five-day festival will feature 108 films, along with panel discussions.

Marks says the LCIFF’s mission is multidimensional. Organizers strive to produce an outstanding film festival to promote independent filmmaking, entice tourists to the area and showcase the area as an attractive film location because its unique scenery, mild climate, and talent base to create a positive economic impact.

Dreyfuss will receive the Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Award on Thursday, March 5.

Tom Schulman

Academy Award winner Tom Schulman will receive the Mark Medoff Lifetime Achievement Award for Screenwriting at the festival.

Schulman is an American screenwriter who is known for writing “Welcome to Mooseport,” “What About Bob?” and “Holy Man.” He picked up an Oscar for best original screenplay in 1990 for “Dead Poets Society.”

Actress Bella Heathcote will present a panel on Amazon Prime’s “Man in the High Castle” along with the series’ showrunner and stunt coordinator. She will receive the Outstanding Achievement in Drama Award.

Judge Reinhold will be honored at the Las Cruces International Film Festival. (Dan Steinberg/Associated Press)

And Judge Reinhold of “Beverly Hills Cops” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” fame will receive the Mark Medoff Legacy Award.

“We like to honor a writer every year, and we’re very fortunate to get Tom Schulman,” Marks says. “Because streaming is so prominent now, we’ve picked ‘Man in the High Castle’ to do a panel to educate the audience on the project. And we’re also doing a panel on stunts. We have a lot of students in this arena, and we want to teach them how to safely stage fights.”

John Keating, played by Robin Williams, begins teaching his students the meaning of self-expression and personal passion in a scene from “Dead Poets Society.” The film’s screenwriter, Tom Schulman, is being honored at the Las Cruces International Film Festival. (Courtesy of Francois Duhamel)

Marks says the number of films screened at the festival has grown over the years.

The selections consist of feature films, documentaries, shorts, animated films, music videos and student films.

The festival is also hosting its first 48-hour film contest, which begins on Friday, Feb. 28.

The winning films will be shown at the festival.

“LCIFF continues to grow and gain attention from around the world,” Marks says. “There were 1,200 submissions this year, which is double what we had last year. Getting the word out about this being a filmmaker’s festival is the top priority. It’s something to showcase Las Cruces and southern New Mexico.”

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