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NMSU prof’s film focuses on endangered parrots in Belize

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ilana Lapid set out to tell a compelling story.

And people are listening.

Her latest short film, “Yochi,” will premiere at the 2016 Belize International Film Festival on Thursday, Nov. 10.

If it wasn’t enough just to be in the festival, Lapid found out it is going to be the opening-night film.

“When we found out that we were accepted, we were really excited to premiere our film there,” she says. “Then we found out about opening night and it took it to the next level. The Belize Film Commission has been supporting us, and they invited me to be on part of a panel.”

“Yochi” is a story of a 9-year-old selectively mute Mayan boy who guards a nest of endangered yellow-headed parrots in Belize’s pine savanna.

When his beloved elder brother, Itza, returns from the city, Yochi learns that he’s in debt and has turned to poaching – setting the brothers on a collision course.

“This film is a story about connection and finding your voice,” says Lapid, a professor at the Creative Media Institute at New Mexico State University. “And it poses the question, what are you willing to sacrifice to protect that which is most sacred to you?”

Lapid was approached in March to do a documentary about the decline of the yellow-headed parrots.

The global populations have decreased over 90 percent since the 1970s, due to poaching and deforestation.

The Belize Film Commission identified “Yochi” as a film that can have a positive social impact.

Lapid says she is working with the Belize Bird Rescue to plan a screening tour in towns and villages across Belize to educate pine savanna communities about alternatives to poaching.

“We’re actually going to do a small tour this month and hit three communities,” she says. “A bigger tour is planned next year. We’re hoping this film is educational and sparks a conversation.”

“Yochi” is a U.S.-Belizean co-production. It was filmed in May in western Belize, with a crew made of Belizean filmmakers, as well as students from CMI at NMSU.

The cast is made up of Belizean non-actors who were found in the villages in the Cayo district in western Belize, Lapid says.

The film is also in four languages – Yucatec Mayan, English Creole, English and Spanish.

Lapd is the writer, director producer on the film. It is also produced by Kristi Drexler and Daniel Velazquez and executive-produced by Craig Holden.

NMSU CMI students and recent graduates on the crew include Robert Dugan, Joaquin Chavana, AJ Johnson, Nicholas Duron, Jennifer Garcia, Whitney Guaderrama and David Morales.

The group also recently had a successful crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter, raising $15,000 in 13 days.

“I had a really spectacular team in both locations,” Lapid says. “This is an incredible opportunity. This is also just the beginning of the journey with this film.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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