ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Karen Criswell’s love affair with New Mexico began decades ago.
It was when her first short film was accepted to The Taos Talking Picture Festival.
After that experience, she was asked to come back as a judge. The festival folded in 2003.
In 2017, she became the executive director of the Field Trippin’ Fest in Taos.
“I’ve been coming to New Mexico and loved it,” Criswell says.
At the end of April, Criswell was named as the new film liaison at the Albuquerque Film Office.
A move that makes it feel like she’s come full circle.
“I fell in love with New Mexico for two decades and it took me a long time to relocate,” she says. I’m planning to live here the rest of my life.”
Less than two months in, Criswell is still getting her feet wet. She’s using the pause in production for the film industry as a chance to get ahead of the highly anticipated production restart.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the film permitting process would be digitized.
The move was due to both Netflix and NBCUniversal planting roots in Albuquerque. Having the two film studios with a home in Albuquerque has increased the number of film permits. In 2019, film permits issued by the city increased by 50%, with 448 issued.
In mid-May, the system became a reality and productions can view the film permitting process in real time.
“This digital process will allow us to efficiently deal with the increased requests and demands that comes with having two major production studios in the Albuquerque city limits,” Criswell says. “The new process will also decrease human error for all users and create more transparency.”
Criswell is now part of the Film Liaison Program overseen by the NM Film Office.
“These experts, who are dotted all over the state, both in rural and non-rural areas, are an invaluable resource for producers looking to learn specifics about an area and are key to helping pinpoint local resources, crew, locations, businesses, accommodations and other production support,” says Amber Dodson, NM Film Office director.
Some film liaisons also manage film permitting, which helps keep the film industry working in New Mexico both safely and according to local regulations and codes.
Criswell’s entire career has been spent in the film industry.
For 17 years, she was Vice President of Operations for DreamWorks Studios, which is now Amblin Entertainment Partners.
She’s also been the director of operations at Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Games + Animation. She continues to run her own independent film company – Koncept: Films.
Criswell takes the helm at the Albuquerque Film Office at a time when Albuquerque is the hot spot for film.
For the past two years, Albuquerque was named by MovieMaker as the top big city to live and work as a filmmaker.
“I’m excited to keep the momentum,” she says. “We’re waiting like everyone else to resume production. ‘When’ is the big question. The New Mexico Film Office is taking the lead on what those practices will be and once they give us the green light, we’re be ready to go.”
As for goals in her new role, Criswell’s primary goal is to bring her experience in the film industry and explore educational opportunities.
“I have spent the majority of my career bringing people up in the industry when I was at DreamWorks,” she says. “Working with Gnomon, I learned a lot about visual effects and technology. There’s such an opportunity for growth for the business development. I feel like there’s an opportunity to continue that progress.”