I had a Roswell, New Mexico local relate this story to me: He was on vacation near Transylvania when a Romanian found out he was from Roswell and asked him, “Have you ever seen an alien?” The guy paused for a moment and asked the Romanian, “Have you ever seen a vampire?”

Roswell is an international brand name. It fires up the imagination of anyone familiar with the infamous 1947 incident, one that spawned a hundred conspiracy theories and an industry in its own right. Roswell itself is a sleepy little town in the windy, dusty plains of southeastern New Mexico. The town is quirky and funky, especially the Roswell UFO Museum, a huge attraction (considering the event actually occurred 90 miles away). You can see the evidence and hear oral testimonies, musing that perhaps there was something more than just a weather balloon coming to earth.

People come from all over the world to make the pilgrimage to this idea of Roswell. Sure, outside of the UFO-themed museums and shops, Roswell is pure small-town Southwestern Americana. But the romance of going to Roswell, for UFOs, the film festival or otherwise—that’s the key.

I met Christina Custode, a terrific singer songwriter from Buffalo, NY, who came all the way to perform in Roswell because, well, it’s Roswell. (The Roswell Film Festival, founded in 2016, added a music division this year.) I saw lots of great music from musicians who, like us filmmakers, were looking for an audience to appreciate their art.

I met two young filmmakers from Boston, Nick Sabia and Nick Valaskatgis, who brought their outstanding short “Uncanny Harbor” to Roswell because, well, it’s Roswell. They were out to explore an area in the U.S. far different from their home.

For myself, my journey to Roswell was in part to take a look at filming in New Mexico for future projects. I visited with Jon Foley, the deputy film liaison in Las Cruces, toured White Sands National Monument and stopped off in Alamogordo and Ruidoso—all great filming locations. With a producer’s hat on, you can see why New Mexico is such an attractive filming locale.

(L-R) The Aliens producer and actor Byron Yee with Roswell Film Festival Director Donovan Fulkerson. Photograph by Zane Rader

By all means, if you get accepted into the Roswell Film Festival it’s worth your while to attend. Festival organizers Donovan and Karen Fulkerson are extremely supportive of all the filmmakers who attend their fest, and have created a great environment for creativity to thrive. Among the roster of film winners, Keishi Suenaga’s Inherit the Stars took home Best Feature Film, and Bradford Hill’s “Mirrored” won Best Short Film; on the music side, L.A.-based band The Sound of Ghosts won Best Live Performance while Christina Custode received the Best Singer-Songwriter prize. Most fantastic of all: My feature The Aliens was honored with the Best Actor in a Feature Film Rossy Award—a beautiful piece of sculpture art that “landed” on me. MM

Byron Yee’s directorial debut feature is The Aliens. He was also executive producer of 2011 Sundance breakout Bellflower.

Roswell Film Festival ran April 26-30, 2017. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Summer 2017 issue.